Even the great heroes of the Bible occasionally lost their tempers and dealt with anger issues. What can we learn from their examples and from scriptures on anger?
When was the last time you lost your temper? What made you abandon self-control and fly into a rage? What did you say that you later wished you had not?
In the heat of anger any of us can say and do things irrationally that we may forever regret and for which we may pay severe penalties.
The solution is prevention—avoiding such outbursts of uncontrolled emotion.
Looking into the personalities of a few biblical notables who allowed anger to boil over at times can give us insights into the temptations that can become temper traps, as well as ideas for better anger management.
Moses: meek and mad?
Most of us picture the great people of the Bible as quiet, contemplative characters of near absolute perfection. After all, don’t we read that Moses was a man of a mild temper?
“Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). In the King James Version it says Moses was “meek,” meaning mild-tempered, submissive and yielding.
But was this always the case for Moses?
We read something quite different about Moses in his younger life (Exodus 2:11-12). In this incident, Moses killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave and then hid the Egyptian’s body in the sand. Humble? Meek? Mild-tempered? Not in this case.
Later, Moses tried to get God to relent from what He was considering doing to the Israelites because of their repeated sins. God told Moses He would destroy the Israelites and make of Moses a great nation. Here, because of Moses’ humble intercession, God relented from destroying the people (Exodus 32:7-14).
But right after this, we find Moses losing his temper and breaking the tablets on which God had written the 10 Commandments.
Now perhaps being angry at such blatant sin as worshipping a golden calf, claiming it was the god who brought them forth from Egypt, is totally understandable. (It is possible to “be angry and … not sin,” as Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:26. Even God has righteous anger.) Be that as it may, for Moses to smash God’s tablets was a rash act that, undoubtedly, he deeply regretted later (Exodus 32:15-20).
The fact that Moses himself had to hew two more tables of stone just like the ones he broke and then carry them back up Mount Sinai indicates that perhaps God wanted to impress a temper-control lesson upon Moses (Exodus 34:1-4).
The temper trap that kept Moses out of the Promised Land
On another occasion the people complained again about the need for water. Moses impatiently lashed out at them (Numbers 20:1-12).
Notice, too, that Moses said, “Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” (verse 10). He was not giving God the credit and the glory.
God had given him instructions of exactly what to do (verses 7-8). God had told Moses to “speak” to the rock, but what did Moses actually do?
Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses struck it twice. In his anger he failed to follow God’s commands (verses 9-11). Did God overlook this?
God then told Moses and Aaron that they would not enter the Promised Land because they had failed to respect Him and follow His commands (verse 12).
God even had Moses’ rash actions recorded again in the Psalms (Psalm 106:32-33).
God knew that the leader of His people had to exercise self-control and avoid “flying off the handle” and making irrational decisions in the heat of anger. So to emphasize His point, He disciplined Moses.
Granted, the Israelites were a griping, grumbling, emotionally motivated people. But God simply could not afford to allow Moses to react as he did. He knew that uncontrolled anger leads to erratic and irresponsible behavior.
Moses repented and learned his lesson. He is a great hero of faith who will play an important role in the Kingdom of God (Hebrews 11:23-29; Mark 9:1-4). Yet he still had to face the consequences and was unable to enter the Promised Land that he had looked forward to for so long.
His lesson is recorded for us to help us see the seriousness of learning how to control our anger.
Anger and the Sons of Thunder
Another example of biblical characters who were not able to control their temper at times is James and John. The Bible calls them Boanerges, meaning, “Sons of Thunder.” Apparently they had the proclivity to “blow their stacks” on occasion. This was the name Jesus gave them when He was choosing His 12 apostles (Mark 3:17).
Perhaps the following example will help explain why Christ gave them this name. It’s found in Luke 9:51-56.
Jesus, James and John were traveling through Samaria on their way to Jerusalem. When they attempted to find accommodations for the night, they were met with opposition as a result of the prejudice between Jews and Samaritans. James and John’s response to the Samaritans revealed an anger that could properly be called thunderous. They said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” (verse 54).
Jesus responded, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (verses 55-56).
It makes one wonder if there were not other times that James and John lived up to their nickname.
James and John were two of Jesus’ closest friends, and seeing His example and striving to live more like Him changed them. They repented, and on the Day of Pentecost they received the Holy Spirit. Allowing God’s Spirit to lead them helped them overcome their anger and have a different approach.
John became the apostle who later in life, when writing 1, 2 and 3 John, wrote a lot about love. When he was first chosen to be one of Christ’s apostles, he was one of the “Sons of Thunder,” but after walking with Christ for several years, this “Son of Thunder” became an apostle of love.
Peter was another example of a man susceptible to instant fury. He sliced off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant, during the arrest of Christ.
Jesus immediately corrected him and healed the servant (John 18:10-11).
Peter was either a very accurate marksman with his sword—being able to hit such a small target as an ear—or a rather poor shot. I wonder if Peter was perhaps aiming squarely between the man’s ears—which would have made all the difference to Malchus! Or maybe Peter was trying to take his head off, and Malchus ducked to the left and lost his right ear. We just don’t know; the Bible doesn’t say.
What we do know is that Peter finally learned his lesson. In the end, he did much better.
Study 1 Peter 2:18-23 and 3:8-12, and you’ll find a Peter much different from the one we read about earlier. He pointed to the self-sacrificing attitude of his mentor and ours, Jesus Christ:
“For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten” (1 Peter 2:21-23).
Jonah’s anger at God
Yet another example of someone with anger issues is Jonah.
God had sent Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh—his people’s mortal enemies—that God was going to destroy them for their sins.
But when God accepted Nineveh’s pleas and spared them, Jonah lost his temper and got mad at God. How could God go back on the prophecy He had forced Jonah to give? How could God spare Israel’s brutal enemies?
The Bible doesn’t tell us the rest of the story. Did Jonah repent? We don’t know the end of the story, but we can hope Jonah did repent and change, overcoming his anger through seeing things from God’s perspective with God’s compassion (Jonah 4:1-9).
Benefits of controlling our tempers
Many doctors and psychologists agree that emotions often directly affect and cause physical symptoms. Negative emotions such as stress, anger or resentment can cause a multitude of ills, from tension headaches to digestive difficulties. Trouble in swallowing, gastric ulcers, rheumatoid arthritis, backaches, high blood pressure, hives, colds and even asthma have at times been connected with seething emotions.
A relaxed attitude, free of constant or chronic resentment, dissatisfaction or anger, makes for a longer, healthier life.A relaxed attitude, free of constant or chronic resentment, dissatisfaction or anger, makes for a longer, healthier life.
One advantage of controlling our anger is mentioned in Proverbs 14:29: “He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly.” Said another way, he who loses his temper lacks understanding.
Have you ever made a decision in the heat of anger? If you have, chances are you were sorry later.
I heard the story of a man whose car would not start in a downtown parking lot. After an hour of trying to start it, he was “madder than a wet hen.” He was on the verge of trading the car in for a different one that very day. Fortunately, after getting the car started, he cooled off and decided to keep the car. It was in fine mechanical condition—it needed only a minor adjustment, and the problem was solved. He could have traded in a perfectly good car for another one that might have given him far more trouble than the original one. And, of course, he would have had to pay additional money for the new car.
It is easy to make a foolish decision without calmly weighing all the facts. Controlling your temper will result in making wiser decisions—which will result in a smoother, more organized and prosperous life for you and those around you.
Some more anger management tips from Proverbs
Consider some more wise advice about how to manage anger from the Bible.
“The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression” (Proverbs 19:11).
In other words, a wise man restrains his anger and overlooks insults. This is to his credit.
There are two points to consider here.
- A wise man will have more friends and fewer enemies because he does not antagonize others. He will generally be well-liked—and that’s important. How can you help others, either directly or by your example, if they do not respect and like you?
- Also, a wise man does not let others rule his emotions. He does not automatically react with contempt or anger toward someone who insults him. He is not at the mercy of another person’s rude remarks. He is big enough to disregard them, step aside, ignore and forgive the person for being rude and unwise.
But a foolish person is always vulnerable. He is often like a gun with a hair trigger—always ready to discharge with just a little pressure. Don’t be a slave to your emotions.
“An angry man stirs up strife, and a furious man abounds in transgression” (Proverbs 29:22).
A hot-tempered man starts fights and gets into all kinds of trouble. Enemies, bad feelings, strife and lack of cooperation are this man’s lot in life.A hot-tempered man starts fights and gets into all kinds of trouble. Enemies, bad feelings, strife and lack of cooperation are this man’s lot in life. He lacks peace of mind and often agitates others. He lives from one hassle to the next.
His family life is destroyed by this same attitude and behavior.
“He who troubles his own house will inherit the wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise of heart” (Proverbs 11:29).
Said another way, the fool who provokes his family to anger and resentment will finally have nothing worthwhile left. He will be the servant of a wiser man. So the family atmosphere often turns into a scarred battleground. That’s a ridiculously high price to pay for a lack of self-control.
“Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls” (Proverbs 25:28).
A hot-tempered person who loses control of his emotions will often disclose things he should not, exaggerate things that are not true and reveal to everyone that he is operating on nervous emotional energy—not logical reason.
Self-control also involves controlling the tongue.
“He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction” (Proverbs 13:3).
A quick, angry retort can ruin everything. Be sure your mind is in gear before engaging your mouth.
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
“A soft answer” means a sensible answer. But if you answer with inflammatory words, the other person’s anger—and your own—will flare up hotter and hotter.
Read more about how important it is to control our words in James 3:2-10 and the article “Words That Hurt, Words That Help.”
And study Paul’s instructions for living peacefully in Romans 12:17-21 and our article “The Way of Peace.”
Guarding against hotheadedness
It is challenging to control our anger in this age that is noted for its rage and anger. The apostle Paul prophesied of today’s prevalent lack of self-control when writing to Timothy:
“You may as well know this too, Timothy, that in the last days it is going to be very difficult to be a Christian. For people will love only themselves and their money; they will be proud and boastful, sneering at God, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful to them and thoroughly bad. … They will … sneer at those who try to be good. … They will be hotheaded” (2 Timothy 3:1-4, Living Bible).
Hotheaded means to have an impetuous or quick-tempered nature. We must guard against this.
So let’s ask God to help us more than ever to control our tempers, and we’ll reap the peaceful benefits doing so will bring.
For more help with anger management, see these helpful biblical resources: