Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Anger: Only Fools Rush In (Ecclesiastes 7:9)

What lodges in the bosom of fools, according to Ecclesiastes 7:9? Anger

Ecclesiastes is a book of wisdom written by a teacher known as Qohelet (Ecclesiastes 1:1, 2, 12, 7:27, 12:8, 9, 10). In the context of discussing what is good for humans (Ecclesiastes 6:12), Qohelet advises:

Do not be eager in your heart to be angry,
For anger resides in the bosom of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:9 NASB)
Anger is not to dwell in one’s bosom. Michael A. Eaton (b. 1942) defines:
Anger (Hebrew ka‘as) is anger tinged with exasperation and elsewhere indicates ‘indignation’ over idolatry (I Kings 15:30) or unmerited treatment (I Samuel 1:6, 16), ‘exasperation’ over an erring child (Proverbs 17:25) and ‘resentment’ of a nagging wife (Proverbs 27:3). In Ecclesiastes, it expresses the exasperation at the complexities of life (Ecclesiastes 1:18, 2:23), the bitter grief of bereavement (Ecclesiastes 7:3), and here the resentment roused by unjust persecution. It is stronger than Mitchell Dahood [1922-1982]’s ‘care’ or NAB discontent. If tolerated resentment makes its permanent home in the personality of the fool (cf. Hebrews 12:15), for bosom...indicates the innermost part of something (I Kings 22:35). (Eaton, Ecclesiastes (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries), 112)
Most commentators see a connection to the previous verse which calls for patience instead of pride (Ecclesiastes 7:8). James L. Crenshaw (b. 1934) connects:
Qohelet continues the thought of Ecclesiastes 7:8 by emphasizing the damaging effect of a quick temper. Knowing that anger generates strong resentment within the innermost being, the individual who possesses a patient spirit will not become angry without prolonged cause. The sages observed that fools take quick offense but prudent persons shrug off an insult (Proverbs 12:16)...According to Proverbs 14:3a, wisdom lodges in the mind of a person of understanding...This metaphor is more felicitous than the image of resentment resting (yānûah) in the bosom of fools, for anger is ever restless. (Crenshaw, Ecclesiastes: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 137)
Iain Provan (b. 1957) interprets:
Qohelet advocates a patient attitude toward life. A wise person will not react immediately to circumstances but will take a longer term view, waiting to see the full measure of a matter before deciding how to respond. It is the fool who arrogantly or angrily makes an immediate response (cf. Proverbs 12:16, 14:29), giving speedy expression to the anger that has been nursed in his “lap” as if it were a young child in need of being kept warm...Anger directed at foolish behavior for the purposes of bringing the fool to his senses is a good thing. Anger as an indication of impatience and arrogance is itself a mark of the fool. (Provan, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (The NIV Application Commentary), 141)

As alluded, the speed with which one becomes angry is critical. This verse speaks to having a short fuse, flying off the handle, blowing one’s top, making a knee jerk reaction, etc. Daniel J. Treier (b. 1972) analyzes:

The vexation of Ecclesiastes 7:9 involves deep-seated “anger” and foolish nostalgia, preventing wise life in the present. Not being “quick in your spirit” to become angry indicates a degree of internalization. Moreover, speed is another part of the problem, so room may remain for legitimate dimensions of anger...After all, avoiding the love of money does not preclude all uses of money...Nevertheless, even if righteous anger is possible, James 1:19-20 echoes the call for slowness to anger, since “your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” The temptation is great to nourish anger so that one is ready to lash out at any moment. But the wise person is sufficiently realistic—even vexed rather than laughing (Ecclesiastes 7:3)—to take setbacks in appropriate stride, with a patient spirit (Ecclesiastes 7:8). (Treier, Proverbs & Ecclesiastes (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 186-187)
Philip Graham Ryken (b. 1966) also sees time as critical to interpreting the passage, but he feels the issue at hand is impatience with God:
One of the easiest ways to tell whether we really trust God’s timing or not is to see how angry we get when things do not go our way — the sin of exasperation. The Preacher gives us this command: “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9)...Here the Preacher-King has a particular kind of anger in mind — the rash anger that explodes whenever we think that something is not happening as quickly as it should. Usually we tell ourselves that we have a right to be angry. But Ecclesiastes sees our anger for what it is — sinful folly, spiritual immaturity, and an underlying mistrust of the sovereignty of God. As soon as we start to get impatient, we need to ask the Holy Spirit to keep us from the folly of rash anger. (Ryken, Ecclesiastes: Why Everything Matters (Preaching the Word), 158)
Anger is a choice. Though we often have little control over our circumstances we always have an option in how we respond to them. As such, R.J. Stepansky (b.1945) advises the reader to exercise restraint:
We cannot control...external stresses since we do not always get a choice. It is most important, however, that we control our personal emotions and stress levels to prevent anger and aggression that destroys the peace and harmony that God wants for us. Ecclesiastes tells us to control our emotions and not make hasty comments or take hasty actions that make us look the fool. (Stepansky, Thoughts on Leadership from a Higher Level: Leadership Lessons from the Bible, 16-17)
Millard Fuller (1935-2009) warns:
Anger comes to everyone. If you are alive, you will get angry. No doubt about it. It is okay to get angry, but anger is like fire. It has a huge potential for great damage if not kept under control...The teaching from Ecclesiastes...is not that you should never be angry, just slow to anger. (Fuller, Building Materials for Life, Volume III, 55)
Anger is not only negative when it births too quickly but also went it gets carried away, when it is allowed to rest in the bosom. T.D. Jakes (b. 1957) clarifies:
The sin blooms when anger is allowed to take root and overstay its usefulness or when that anger seduces us to take actions that should be beneath our best self. We are exhorted to not get angry quickly for “anger resteth in the bosom of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9 KJV)...If your anger doesn’t take you to a place of peace and resolution, then it is a cancer cell waiting to embed itself in your soul and multiply destruction. (Jakes, Let It Go: Forgive So You Can Be Forgiven, 99)
Gary Chapman (b. 1938) pinpoints:
Solomon warned that “anger resides in the lap of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9). The key word is resides; the fool lets the anger abide in him. The implication is that those who are wise will see that anger is quickly removed. Anger was designed to be a visitor, never a resident, in the human heart...Bitterness is the result of stored anger, and the Bible warns us against bitterness. (For example see Acts 8:23; Romans 3:14; Hebrews 12:15.) (Chapman, Anger: Handling a Powerful Emotion in a Healthy Way, 85)
When a person is easily enraged, it betrays foolishness. Charles F. Stanley (b. 1932) explains:
The Bible associates anger with foolish behavior. Why? Because the hot-tempered or quick-tempered person rarely has the discipline or takes the time to make wise, informed, rational decisions. The angry person is impetuous and acts instinctively. And, generally speaking, that kind of behavior has a far greater chance of being problematic and harmful than purposeful and helpful. (Stanley, Surviving in an Angry World: Finding Your Way to Personal Peace, 15)
Kerry M. Olitzky (b. 1954) concludes:
It is easy to get angry at so many things. It seems like the less important things are, the angrier we get about them. It makes no sense at all. And that is what this text...is teaching us. He joins us in asking this basic question: Is it worth it? But he goes one step further. Kohelet argues that anger is a reflection of who we are—and those who anger quickly are fools. (Olitzky, Life’s Daily Blessings: Inspiring Reflections on Gratitude and Joy for Every Day, Based on Jewish, 118)
When have you been provoked to anger? How did you respond? How does the wise person respond to vexation? Who do you associate with being quick tempered? Where should anger reside? What should dwell in the bosom? Compare Ecclesiastes 7:3 and Ecclesiastes 7:9. Does Qohelet contradict himself?

Highly problematic is that only six verses earlier, Qohelet utilizes the same term for anger (ka‘as) and there, he prefers it to laughter (Ecclesiastes 7:3).

Tremper Longman III (b. 1952) identifies:

An immediate question of context arises when this verse is read in conjunction with Ecclesiastes 7:3. How can Quohelet prefer anger there but warn his listener away from it here? A common recourse is to assert that the word has two different senses. Note, for instance. R.N. Whybray [1923-1997]’s comment that “ka‘as ...is used here in a different sense from that which is has in Ecclesiastes 7:3.” Michael Fox [b. 1940] puts a twist on this approach when he says that ka‘as means anger in both verses, but in the former it “is applied to the anger of reproof,” while in Ecclesiastes 7:9 it refers “to the anger one feels at unfortunate events that befall him. Neither verse is a statement about anger in all circumstances.”...Both of these are admirable attempts to harmonize Qohelet’s thought, but the text does not give any indication of these nuances of meaning. (Longman, The Book of Ecclesiastes (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 188)
Craig G. Bartholomew (b. 1961) compares:
Patience and waiting are better than haughtiness. But this is complicated by Ecclesiastes 7:9. In Ecclesiastes 7:3 vexation is recommended above laughter, but here it lodges unpleasantly in the bosom of fools, so that patience is no help when it comes to vexation. Thus the truth of Ecclesiastes 7:8 is subtly undermined. (Bartholomew, Ecclesiastes (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms), 249)
In his book, Ambiguity in Ecclesiastes, Doug Ingram frames the problem:
The question arises again: Is it, or is it not, better to be angry? Are there times when anger is at least a relative “good,” even if at other times it should be avoided? Or is it perhaps rushing to anger that is warned against...? (Ingram, Ambiguity in Ecclesiastes, 219)
Daniel J. Treier (b. 1972) deciphers:
In Ecclesiastes 7:9 attention turns from pride back to anger or vexation, which often results. The same word, ka‘as, appears here as in Ecclesiastes 7:3, where it is commended. Whatever the nature of the wordplay, blatant contradiction in meaning is unlikely within the span of a few verses. The Sage...shows far too much evidence of literary sophistication to handle a problem so carelessly. Indeed, in Ecclesiastes 7:7-12 the Sage examines the flip side of several coins from Ecclesiastes 7:1-6. It is not that he affirms exact opposites, but he shades in contours of meaning. In what sense is “the day of death” better than “the day of birth,” given the apparent tragedy involved? In what sense is “vexation” better than “laughter”? And so forth. (Treier, Proverbs & Ecclesiastes (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 186)
Douglas B. Miller (b. 1955) finds an intentional paradox:
In tension with the sage’s earlier statement (Ecclesiastes 7:3; also cf. Ecclesiastes 11:10), vexation...is not always a good thing (Ecclesiastes 7:9). Just as the point in Ecclesiastes 7:3 was the paradox that vexation can bring good, so it is also true that vexation does not always bring something good. In fact, fools (always negative examples in Ecclesiastes) are the ones who lodge vexation...within them (Ecclesiastes 7:9b; cf. Proverbs 12:16; Job 5:2). So vexation (ka‘as) is not always to be desired, and what is good may sometimes be bad. (Miller, Ecclesiastes (Believers Church Bible Commentary), 123)
When, if ever, is it appropriate to exhibit a quick temper? Do you control your anger or does your anger control you? What is an example of a positive expression of vexation? Do you have a personal policy as to how long you wait to give voice to your anger?

“Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” - Aristotle (384-322 BCE)

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