God’s Word for You
Jonah 4:4 Are you right to be angry?
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, January 8, 2019
4 But the LORD said, “Are you right to be angry?”
Man is never right to be angry with God. The verb I’ve translated “are you right?” is ha-heteb, a causative question from the verb yatab “be good, right, pleasing” (as in “Learn to do right,” Isaiah 1:17). God was asking, “are you right?” and also “do you have the right?” The idea of being right or correct can be expressed in different ways (cp. ken! Ezra 10:12; tsadiq Job 27:5; mesharim Song 1:4), but the idea is the same, and Jonah was not right.
But why can’t we get angry at God? This is something that happens every day. Is it really a sin? First of all, God is incapable of any sin or error. The things that he does, he does for our eternal good. God always has our good in mind. If we become so sinful that he needs to chastise us (allow something bad to happen to us) in order to call us back to faith in him, that’s not his fault. “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).
Second, if we become angry at God, we’re putting our will above his will. I am his servant, not his master, nor even his co-worker. But the devil is delighted when we rebel against God. He doesn’t care what form that rebellion takes; it’s all the same to him. With some it’s just sluggishness and spiritual laziness. With others it’s anger. With still others it might be stinginess or miserliness. Someone else might just be sad or melancholy because they don’t get their way. Someone else might prefer to explore doubt rather than hold on to their faith. All of these are people who have let go of the firmness of the Scriptures. Luther said, “If with your heart you take hold of the Word of God and cling to it in faith, the devil cannot win, but must flee. If you can say: ‘This my God has said; on this I will take my stand,’ you will see that he slinks away, and with him will depart the sluggishness, the evil desires, anger, miserliness, melancholy, and doubt” (St. L. IX:1108). But the devil will still be after you. Chase him away today with the name of Jesus, but be ready to shout “Jesus is my Lord!” again, because like a stray cat that’s been fed once, the devil will be back yowling at your door tomorrow.
The final verb is “it burns” (charah), so perhaps we would be translating closer to the headwind if we said, “Is it right that this burns in you?” But the translation above expresses the same thought. “Anger” is merely implied in the verb “to burn.” The Lord knew what was in Jonah’s heart, and he knew that it was not just smoldering. It had ignited into a burning rage in the prophet. James warns us to be slow to become angry (James 1:19), and this means considering why it is that we’re mad at God. Is it because my life doesn’t seem to be going the way I’d hoped? Is that the fault of the sin that’s in the world, or of the world’s sinless Creator? Sometimes our own sins trip us up, and sometimes we’re sideswiped by the sins of somebody else, but it’s not God’s fault either way.
By the grace of God, we are born again through baptism as his children (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:23), and we are called to be fellow workers (synergoi, Colossians 4:11; 3 John 8) or fellow soldiers (systratiotai, Philemon 2) with other Christians. We labor for the sake of recovering lost souls (2 Corinthians 2:10). “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10). So as we work to serve God, we need to remember that his will is supreme, and we need to keep ourselves focused on the prize: the salvation of souls; not the fulfillment of my every desire.
If you find yourself filling up with anger smoldering toward God, step back right away and do the opposite of what your sinful flesh and your sinful tempter want you to do. Praise God for his blessings instead, and especially for his mercy. In the middle of his dogmatics (doctrinal) textbook, Professor Francis Pieper speaks as a pastor to us in a marvelous footnote: “Experience proves that following this rule will insure success. Do not wait with the praise of God until your heart feels that God should be praised, but in the midst of your discontent take up the strains of ‘Now Thank We All Our God’ (CW 610) and your discontent and murmuring will melt away’ (Christian Dogmatics III, 17). Run to passages like Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Take up Paul’s words in a prayer to remind God of his promise and your faith in his promise: “God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). When Jesus himself was tempted by the devil, he focused on Scripture, not even his own confident faith, but Scripture alone to drive away the devil’s words (Matthew 4:1-10). Remain in God’s Word every day, committing as much of it as you can to your memory, to be there as your weapon and your defense against the devil, against the world, and against your own sinful flesh. Don’t be angry. Rejoice in God’s grace.
Pastor Timothy Smith