When I first started studying the topic of anger in the Bible and decided to see how it is discussed in the Wisdom Literature, I thought I would find just a few passages. Was I ever wrong! This is a topic that Solomon gives quite a bit of time too. So, let’s see some of what the wise man says about anger:
Prov. 21:24 “The proud and haughty man, scoffer is his name; He works in the arrogance of pride.”
The first thing you probably notice about this passage is that it doesn’t mention anger. However, the word arrogance here is the same Hebrew word that is translated “wrath” in Prov. 14:35. That passage specifically discusses the king’s wrath. The concepts of wrath and arrogance are linked in the Hebrew language. And don’t we often become the most angry when we begin to think too highly of ourselves? “Don’t you know who I am?” “How dare he do this to ME?” A person with a little more humility wouldn’t become angry in those situations. So, humility can help us avoid anger. Look at the company this word keeps: proud, haughty, scoffer. Those aren’t good traits. That is where anger and arrogance will take you. Again, caution is needed.
Prov. 16:32 “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; And he that rules his spirit, than he that takes a city.”
Obviously, this is referring to value in the eyes of God. He is much less concerned with how great a warrior a person is than with how that person rules himself. But isn’t this trait also valued by men? However great a warrior someone might be, if he has no self –control, he is no fun to be around. This passage also hints at the idea that it is easier to conquer a city than to rule one’s spirit, and easier to be a mighty warrior than to be slow to anger. So, while the wise man repeatedly tells us how important it is to be in control of one’s emotions, he also acknowledges that this isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Like all aspects of being a servant of God, it takes work.
Prov. 15:18 “A wrathful man stirs up contention; But he that is slow to anger appeases strife.”
This only makes the best type of sense: no one ever started a fight when he wasn’t angry, but people who are angered quickly cause all sorts of issues. Meanwhile, the guy who is breaking up the fight, who is trying to keep things from getting out of hand is the one who is in control of himself. And this is a trait valued not only by men, but by our Father. Remember the beatitudes. Matt. 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God.” Those peacemakers are the ones who are “slow to anger.”
One thing you will notice if you search the wisdom literature for passages on anger is how often anger is paired with foolishness. I think it would be fair to say, based on the writings of His wise man, that one of the major traits of a fool in God’s eyes is a lack of control over his anger. A few passages:
Prov. 12:16 “A fool's vexation is presently known; But a prudent man conceals shame.”
Notice here that the parallel of vexation is shame. The prudent man conceals his, but the fool lets it all hang out for everyone to see. When he’s angry, everyone knows. (It’s not that the prudent man is never vexed, he just controls and conceals his anger.)
Eccl. 7:9 “Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry; for anger rests in the bosom of fools.”
Given the association here, we should see that anger isn’t something we want to hold onto. It belongs in the bosom of fools, right, so if it is in my heart what does that say about me?
Prov. 14:29 “He that is slow to anger is of great understanding; But he that is hasty of spirit exalts folly.”
Here wisdom is partially defined as a control over angry impulses. You have great understanding if you are slow to anger. On the other hand, foolishness is partially defined as being hasty of spirt. It’s not looking good for those of us with temper control problems, is it?
Prov. 19:11 “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger; And it is his glory to pass over a transgression.”
This passage flat out says that it is wisdom, or discretion, that leads to controlling one’s temper. So if I don’t have a handle on my anger, what does that say about my general discretion? And notice that forgiving an insult adds to the glory of the forgiver.
Really, the only thing to say about this is that the wise have control over their tempers and those who fly off the handle are foolish by God’s definition. Not a pleasant thought for those of us who “lose it” more often than we’d like to admit, is it?
One thing that needs to be pointed out, though, is that what is being universally condemned in these passages is not the emotion of anger, but rather the actions taken because of the anger. Remember:
– Prov. 15:18 “stirs up contention” -- An action.
– Prov. 14:29 “exalts folly” -- Another action
– Prov. 12:16 “vexation is known” How? by what he did.
– Prov. 27:3 “A stone is heavy, and the sand weighty; But a fool's vexation is heavier than they both.” -- It is the consequences of the fool’s actions because of his vexation that are weighty, not merely his emotional state.
And this jives perfectly with New Testament teaching: Eph. 4:26-27 “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil.”
This teaches that it is possible to have anger without sin. The emotion isn’t wrong, it’s what we do with the emotion. (Just like attraction to the opposite sex isn’t wrong, it’s what we do with that attraction.) So, then, anger is the temptation to go too far. How do we combat it? Notice that there is a parallelism in this passage. “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath” is parallel to “neither give place to the devil”. So that would mean that holding on to anger is giving the devil an opening. If feeling angry can be a temptation to go too far, then holding onto that anger, stoking it and feeding it, is to remain in the arena of temptation. It is to give Satan chance after chance to attack at our defenses. It is dangerous. The answer, the way to defeat this temptation, is to let go of the anger. I know, that is a whole lot easier to type than it is to do, but that is what the Holy Spirit is teaching us to do, through His word. When something raises our choler, when our ire is aroused, we have to keep those feelings in check and let them go as best and as quickly as possible.
Otherwise, we are fools.