But on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. (Genesis 4:5 NIV)
But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:1-3 NIV)
In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. (Psalm 4:4 NIV)
One of the first “difficult” emotions mentioned in Genesis is anger. In Genesis 4 Cain was angry because God accepted Abel’s sacrifice. Cain thought his offering of some fruit would be good enough. But when God accepted Abel’s sacrifice of the best of his flock and rejected Cain’s offhand sacrifice, Cain became angry. He plotted and murdered his brother Abel.
Another story on this theme of anger: In the book of Jonah, first the prophet ran away from God, then was swallowed by a big fish, next he was spat up onto the land, and finally, reluctantly, obeyed God’s command. He went to Nineveh and told the people that God was about to destroy them in 40 days. Afterwards, he went outside the city, sat on a hill, and hoped to watch the city’s destruction. But, when the people of Nineveh heard his message, they fasted, prayed to God, and they repented. God saw their repentance and relented; he didn’t destroy them.
Jonah became angry, sitting on his hill, because he believed the people of Nineveh didn’t deserve God’s mercy and compassion. Both Cain and Jonah thought they knew what God wanted, and both were mistaken in their understanding of God. Neither understood God’s compassion, nor God’s desire for worship by men who were motivated by a heart that was right with God.
Look at the 4th chapter of Jonah, note how many times God questions Jonah about his right to even be angry. Jonah’s whole world view is being challenged. Both Cain and Jonah were selfish, self-centered, angry men. Neither had compassion for other people. These men flew into a rage because someone else was being accepted by God, or wished to die simply because a vine had provided shade for only one day.
If anger in a person’s life is nurtured, instead of being acknowledged and rooted out, it can produce contempt for other people. Cain and Jonah are good examples of how anger can produce sin in a person. But Jonah himself says of God, “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity,” (Jonah 4:2).
Paul quotes Psalm 4:4 in Ephesians 4:26 and then expounds on it. “In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent,” (Psalm 4:4). Wise advice – when we are angry – stop – ponder – examine our hearts – let God tell us if we have a right to be angry – then listen to His answer.