Bible Society of South Africa

The Question is: Have you any right to be angry? – 7 July 2022

By Louise Gevers

Bible text(s)

3Now, LORD, let me die. I am better off dead than alive.”

4The LORD answered, “What right have you to be angry?”

Jonah 4:3-4GNBOpen in Bible reader

Each prophet that God chose to serve Him had a unique personality and outlook, with idiosyncrasies which often helped him face stubborn people; but Jonah was unusual in that he was also self-willed, not very obedient and often resentful and grudging towards God and others.

Being angry with God, or wanting to die, is not unusual when a person is processing grief after tragedy has struck, which then adjusts as healing takes place; but no tragedy had happened to Jonah at this stage to put him in this melancholic state, and God asks the pertinent question: “Have you any right to be angry?”

The reason for Jonah’s anger was in the preceding verses: “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I know you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.’” (Jonah 4:1-2) Jonah was angry because he hadn’t yet forgiven the Ninevites and he resented God’s compassion to them. Have we ever experienced that?

Holding onto hatred and unforgiveness mar our perception of God: in our minds we become VIPs and we forget who God really is; that His “ways (are) higher than our ways and (His) thoughts than our thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9) We may worship Him as Almighty God, but want Him to do what we think best.

Perhaps that’s what happened to Jonah. Through endlessly hating and fearing the Assyrians, he didn’t care if they died. In fact he wanted God to destroy them and to be his champion. But God didn’t, and Jonah was furious. All along he knew that God would be God – loving, forgiving, unchanging – and he realised that he’d actually been assigned a mission to save his enemies, which, after much procrastination and agonising, he reluctantly did.

In spite of Jonah’s best efforts to avoid God, and run away in the opposite direction, God pursued him and disciplined him – with time out in the huge fish’s stomach. After those three days Jonah was ready to preach in Nineveh.

It was so effective that the Assyrians repented in sackcloth and ashes, and God showed them mercy. God saw what Jonah couldn’t possibly see – their humble obedience and deep need. To Him they were weak and helpless: “more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well” (Jonah 4:11)

The beauty of God’s gracious, loving nature is remarkable and is revealed in the gentle manner, in which He relates to all these people, and models true values to His petulant, self-absorbed servant whose preoccupation and gloom persisted.

What kind of servant are we?

How seriously do we take God when He has a mission for us?

Prayer: Gracious Father, thank You for understanding us in our weakness and blessing us with Your love. “Let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.” (Psalm 5:11, NIV) Amen

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