Angry Enough to Die
Throughout the book of Jonah I have described the prophet as a wayward guy with a bad attitude. And he was! I love some of the lessons J. Vernon McGee pulls from this book despite the cranky main character:
- “Salvation is not by works, but by faith which leads to repentance” - (see the Ninevites in Jonah 3:10)
- “God’s purpose of grace cannot be frustrated” - (see Jonah’s words in Jonah 4:2) 1
There are so many lessons in this small, power-packed book, but today I’d like to focus on why Jonah had such a rotten attitude. Ninevah was a great city in Assyria. During Jonah’s lifetime the Assyrians constantly attacked his homeland, the northern kingdom of Israel. Jonah probably heard tales of or even witnessed the attacks against his people.
The Assyrians were brutal. They perpetrated cruel tortures against those they took captive. History records that entire cities committed mass suicide rather than fall into the hands of these awful invaders. The Assyrians were not above raping women while slaying men and children.
Having this background information explains Jonah’s intense hatred toward the Ninevites and why he didn’t want to herald God’s life-saving message to them. Can you understand his desire to see them suffer at the hands of God for their acts of sin? I can.
As chapter four progresses, the Ninevites were spared God’s judgment, and Jonah was not happy:
“But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry” and “Yes, angry enough to die” (Jonah 4:1 and 9 NRSV).
Jonah and God had an encounter that included a bush, but by the end of chapter four (and subsequently the book) it is still unclear if Jonah ever had a change of heart in the way he viewed God’s mercy toward the Ninevites. I wonder if he ever released the bitterness that was firmly rooted in his heart?
Are any of you plagued with bitterness? Are you like Jonah and want to die? (Now I think this can include both spiritual and physical death.) I have friends who have endured awful things during the course of their lives. Some have been molested and abused. Others have had abortions and/or alcoholic parents. I even have a relative whose perceptions cause her to resent the way she was raised despite the normalcy of her upbringing. All these things can cause a bitter root to invade one’s heart, mind, and soul, just like the Ninevites planted bitterness into Jonah.
But, in the midst of these sad, sad happenings, I’ve witnessed overcomers! Despite their awful pasts, most of these people are productive citizens, great parents, and faithful Christians. Believe it or not, the one who is bitter despite a normal upbringing is the one who has not let go of bitterness. Like Jonah, this individual recognizes God, but is crippled in many areas because she has chosen not to overcome.
The biggest thing I’ve noticed between the ones who overcame and the one hindered by bitterness, is that bitterness creates a perennial victim. Maybe that is the road Jonah walked all his life. We will never know for sure, but from personal experience it is a crooked road that prevents complete freedom for those who decide to nurture a bitter root.
I hope everyone, whether they are victims of real abuses or their own perceptions, will find the freedom that God so graciously offered Jonah and the Ninevites. It’s not worth being angry enough to die physically or spiritually.
Word for Today: Be an overcomer; don’t be angry enough to die.
1. Are you bitter?
2. If so, what do you need to release?
1 McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume III, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1982), 742.