Introduction

I was preparing a sermon to preach about love being needed in a time of crisis for this past Sunday.  I was going to take a look at Jonah, but the more I looked at my sermon, the more I began to want to take a deeper dive into studying him.  Typically, when most of us think of Jonah, the very first thing we think about is how he was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights (Jonah 1:17).  However there is a lot more to his story, so let’s take a dive into learning his story.

Jonah's Anger Bible Study Thumb

The prophet Jonah

Jonah was a prophet of God.  God delivered messages to Jonah and Jonah was then tasked to deliver that message to the people.  We don’t often think of him as being a prophet like how we do Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.  The very first two verses of the book of Jonah show us that he was indeed a prophet.  

“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it (Jonah 1:1-2).”  Jonah is mentioned only a couple of other times in scripture.  The first time his name is mentioned in scripture happens in 2 Kin. 14:25:  “which He (God) had spoken through His (God) servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet who was from Gath Hepher.”  Jesus also spoke of Jonah when He said (Matt. 12:39), “no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

So, Jonah was certainly a real person and the events that are recorded in the book of Jonah are also real.  I say this because it is hard for some folks to believe Jonah’s story – His story is not something that was fabricated.  In Jonah we have a very special man recorded in scripture. He was a prophet that received a message from God and chose that he would not deliver the Lord’s message.  The question is, why?

Jonah’s anger and hatred

Why would Jonah refuse the task that God had given to him?  Preachers will often use Jonah as an example of “running away” from a God-given commission.  Yes, he did choose to do otherwise but he had his reasons. Let’s now dive into Jonah’s anger.  Most of my study will center around this question that God asked Jonah (Jonah 4:4), “Is it right for you to be angry?”

We must go back to the start of this whole thing to understand why it was that Jonah was angry.  The importance of this study is that I want to look at the sort of anger that can plague a genuine believer.  Things like anger, resentment, and hatred can keep the genuine believer from truly being a servant of the Lord.  James taught that we should be slow to wrath.  He said, “for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20).”

The Ninevites

So, why did Jonah choose not to do the task that God had given to him?  Well, let’s look at the task. He is tasked to go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach God’s judgment against the city.  At first glance, nothing seems out of the ordinary with this task, right? In ancient times, this is exactly what prophets would do.  So, what was going on here?

The answer is Nineveh.  Nineveh was an Assyrian city; it is said to be the “most-populous” city of the Assyrian empire.  This may not mean much to you but I want you to understand that who lived in that city meant a great deal to Jonah.  You see, the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel.

Image credits to Britannica

Jonah lived during the time of when Israel was divided into two kingdoms.  The tribe of Judah (the Jews) and the tribe of Benjamin mostly lived to the south and in and around Jerusalem.  The other ten tribes went to the north and made Shechem their capital city (1 Kings 12:1).  

It was during the days of the prophets like Isaiah and Elijah that Israel (the northern kingdom) turned away from in their apostasy.  Due to this, the Assyrian army was raised up to conquer the northern kingdom. This information is important because Jonah’s home – Gath Hepher was in the northern kingdom.  The Assyrians were not kind people in their conquering and it is likely that Jonah was a witness to the horrors of it. (You can see a full map of Israel during that time by clicking here.)

An anger motivated prophet

Because of these things, Jonah wanted absolutely nothing to do with the Assyrian people – those living in Nineveh.  Have you ever been so upset at a group of people (or person) that you wanted nothing to do with them? This is where Jonah was in his mind when God had tasked him with going to Nineveh.

The servants of God are called to love others, including those that hate them or persecute (mistreat) them.  Is this not what Jesus taught us? Jesus said (Matt. 5:44-45), “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be the sons of your Father in heaven.”

That is a tough thing for many believers to wrap our heads around, right?  There are folks who can hate you for absolutely no reason other than the color of your skin, the way you talk, or the way you walk.  Yet, the genuine believer is taught that we should love those types of people.  

Jonah, in this commissioned task, was called to love those who likely destroyed his home and maybe even killed some of his loved ones.  He was angry at the idea of going to those people and then talking to them! Some would say fear may have played a role in Jonah’s anger, but I don’t believe he was afraid to go to Nineveh.  Jonah knew exactly what it meant to preach a warning message to people on behalf of God.

The displeasure of Jonah awakens again

After refusing the task and staying three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, Jonah goes to Nineveh (Jonah 3:3-4).  We see that he preaches about God’s judgment on the city of Nineveh (Jonah 3:4) and then something happens. The people of Nineveh, the Assyrians, began to believe God and tried to correct their behavior so as not to perish (Jonah 3:5-9).

This sort of spiritual victory is the type of victory that most servants of God rejoice in to this day.  When I can open eyes to God, His salvation, and His glory, it is a great day. Jonah, however, felt differently.  When we get into Jonah 4, the very first thing we read is that “it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.”

Again, what is going on here?  Jonah is a prophet of God and yet he is not rejoicing that these people have chosen to believe?  Let’s continue on in our study by looking at this prayer that came from Jonah because it is eye opening.

Jonah’s angry and sad prayer

2 So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. 3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”

Jonah 4:2-3 NKJV

Pay very close attention to this prayer that Jonah actually prays to God.  In this prayer, we get an inside look into what was going on inside of Jonah’s head this whole time.  Inside of this prayer is the valuable lesson that we as believers need to take away.

First:  notice that Jonah admits He knew what it meant for God to send him to Nineveh.  Jonah says to God, “was not this what I said when I was still in my country?”  What is the “this” that Jonah is referring to?  Well, to answer that question I want you to simply take a look at how Jonah describes God.  He says that he knows God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness.”  When Jonah says he knows that God relents from doing harm, we should understand that Jonah knew he was going to the people he hated to deliver a saving message.

Second:  this is most important – Jonah hated those folks so much that He did not want God to save them but that harm would come upon them.  My goodness! This is the most dangerous kind of anger to have stored up inside of you – it is bitterness and wrath.  You see, Jonah had not come close to being able to forgive the Ninevites and so that anger had been sitting inside of him the whole time.

Rotten to the bones

Bitterness and wrath are the worst kinds of anger that a person can have, especially someone proclaiming to be a child of God.  In Proverbs, you will come across the proverb that says, “A sound heart is life to the body, But envy is rottenness to the bones.”  Envy is bitterness and wrath.

Paul said (Eph. 4:31), “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.”  The reason why we are to remove such from within us is because those things can destroy our souls.  Anger, hate, bitterness, and wrath are all corrupting agents of that which God gave to every last one of us when He breathed the breath of life into mankind’s nostrils.  Bitterness is what got to Cain and caused him to kill his own brother.

We are living in a time now where the world is boiling over in hatred.  There is a refusal to help one another because of anger and hatred. How in the world can we ever overcome the obstacles that we face when we’re too busy tearing at each other’s throats?  Even the believer of today is refusing to deliver a saving message because of our resentment towards those that hate us. This is very troubling.

God’s pity 

God asked Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry?”  Of course it was not. There are times when we, the child of God, should be angry and upset.  I actually preached about this once before in this sermon – The Angry Christian.  You see, when we see others being harmed and mistreated (persecuted), we ought to be angry about that because all people should receive love.

In Jonah’s heart, the Assyrian people were not worth his love or God’s love.  The problem here is: who was he to determine who it is that God loves or saves?  Jonah had made up in his mind that those folks should not be saved but he was not the judge or the jury when it came to making that judgment.  Neither are we, the genuine believers, the judge or the jury as to who God will save!

God is capable of saving any and everybody at the time of His choosing.  The Lord uses an example with a tree as Jonah was looking on to see what became of Nineveh outside of the city (read rest of Jonah 4).  In the end, you will see that God explains to Jonah just how valuable we, mankind, are to Him. Even the Assyrians who were known for very vicious people, were worthy of God’s pity.  The Lord says (Jonah 4:11), “And should I not pity Nineveh, the great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousands persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left?”

That is how the book of Jonah ends.  It ends with a lesson on the prophet Jonah having to learn how to forgive and let go or else his anger would probably destroy him.  We, God’s children, if we are still holding on to any sort of resentment must work towards letting such go. We never know how God intends to use and who we will be a testimony too.  The last thing any of us should want to do is take away an opportunity at salvation from somebody because of our resentment towards them.