Debra Isenbletter, PastorChristian Assembly, Springfield, Missouri
Jonah 4:4 – “Then said the Lord, Doest thou well to be angry?”
The Lord answers Jonah with a single question, which he will repeat after the lesson. “Then,” shows that the Lord waits until Jonah finishes, He does not interrupt, He does not stop Jonah form speaking what is on his heart. This is a picture of the Lord’s patience and wisdom. Again, it is Jehovah who speaks, it is the “self-existing one, the eternal one who reveals Himself.” Scofield writes that “this points to a continuous and increasing self-revelation.” In other words, the Lord is continually revealing Himself and that revelation never stops. That continuous revelation is seen throughout the Old Testament.
Adam, his sons and others knew God by this name (Gen.4:26); as did Abraham (Gen.12:1-7); as did Moses (Exo.3:14-17); as did God’s people (Exo.6:2-3). Jonah knew God by this name but saw it more connected with His covenant relationship with His people. Jonah knew God as a prophet called by God. Jonah learned something new about God in the belly of the great fish and here sitting waiting for the destruction of Nineveh, Jonah will again learn something about the God he serves. He will learn another lesson, it will be a lesson in Grace. The revelation never stops. As we grow, we learn and as we learn we grow. The Lord never stopes revealing Himself and it is often through lessons of correction.
So, how does the Lord begin to reveal Himself further to Jonah? He does so with a question. “Doest thou well to be angry?” Other translations read: “Do you have good reason to be angry?” (New American Standard) “Is it right for you to be so angry?” (Complete Jewish Bible). The lesson begins with this question. The Lord will follow the question with what He does but the question is important. I remember, Sister Erline Spickard, whenever she taught us, would often ask us a question. She knew the answer and wanted to see if we knew the answer and in answering the question we had to think about it, search the scriptures and we learned not by being given the answer but by searching for the answer. A question is a good way to teach. The Lord is both teaching Jonah with this question and He is chastising Jonah. We do not find that Jonah answers at this time, he will later.
All the meanings for the word “well” are positive and yet there is nothing positive about Jonah’s words, his attitude or his actions. The Lord is asking: Is your attitude “fit” for a servant of God? Is your attitude “beautiful”? Does it glorify Me? Does your attitude “benefit” or “make better”? Are you made better by it, are others made better by it? Does your attitude make you “happy” or content”? I certainly don’t see any happiness or contentment in Jonah at this time. He seems to be a most miserable person. Is your attitude “well-pleasing”? It may be to Jonah but it is not to God. Sometimes we can take a certain type of pleasure in a bad attitude, in complaining, in discontent. Since Jonah’s attitude can be summed up by the word anger, it is not a “beautiful” or “fit” testimony. He is hurt by it. Nineveh is hurt by it. God is hurt by it.
Jonah was “angry” and God knew it, heard it and saw it. The word comes from “to blaze up” and means “to be furious, displeased, to be jealous or zealous.” Jonah thought nothing was wrong with being zealous for God or jealous of the Gentiles but the Lord wants Jonah to examine his heart to see if it is justified. Is this a righteous anger or is it unrighteous? Is it selfish or fleshly anger? Is it political or patriotic anger? There is no denying that Jonah is angry, but he needs to examine why he is angry in the light of God’s Word. The Lord wants Jonah to see the consequences of his anger, that this is the wrong type of anger. Jonah is hurt, God is hurt, the Gentiles are hurt. The Lord wants Jonah to see there is no reason, no cause to be angry.
Moses is an example of someone who in his walk both did well and did not do well. The test of doing well is seen over a lengthy period of time, a lifetime. The best example of the contrast of doing well and not doing well, of obeying and disobeying in the life of Moses, is the water that is brought forth from the rock. Moses did well when he obeyed God and smote the rock (Exo.17:66). Moses did not do well when he disobeyed God and smote the rock instead of speaking to it. (Num.20:8-12). Water came forth both times but Moses’ testimony was that he did not do well. The reason was because he was angry and his anger cost him and he lost several things. He lost his patience. He lost his testimony. He lost his reward and could not enter into the promised land.
If the anger is not justified, there is a time to refrain from anger, to restrain that anger, to judge that anger. It does not just hurt others, it hurts us and it hurts our testimony before the Lord. I wonder as Jonah left the city to go and wait for its destruction, if the people saw his anger. I think it would be hard to hide. Jonah may have started out angry, angry at their sin and wickedness, angry that he had to preach to them, angry that they were Gentiles, angry that they repented. It seems as though he would not and could not let go of his anger.
Paul warns “Be ye angry and sin not” (Eph.4:26) and goes on to say if we do not do this that we can “give place to the devil” (Eph.4:27). James says we should be “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (Jam.1:19).
The Lord responds to Jonah’s anger with such patience. This question is like “a soft answer that turns away wrath” (Prov.15:1). Matthew Henry writes: “We should often put this question to ourselves. Is it well to say this, to do this? Can I justify it? Ask, ‘Do I well to be angry? Do I well to be so soon angry, so often angry, so long angry? Is this well, that I allow anger to get dominion over me? Do I well to be angry at the mercy of God?’ That was Jonah’s crime. Do we do well to be angry at that which is for the glory of God? To be angry at that which angels rejoice in? To be angry at that grace which we ourselves need and are undone without.”
The answer to this question is that Jonah did not do well, he has yet to learn this and the Lord will teach him. That is God’s Grace.