Do not be quick in spirit to be angry. For anger is in the heart of fools. [Ecclesiastes 7:9 (NLV)]
He who is slow to anger is better than the powerful. And he who rules his spirit is better than he who takes a city. [Proverbs 16:32 (NLV)]
In Jesus’ day, the Jews made animal sacrifices at the temple to satisfy Biblical requirements. Since those who traveled long distances to Jerusalem found it inconvenient to bring their own livestock, merchants sold animals at the temple. Additionally, every Jewish man had to pay an annual temple tax. No coin bearing the image of Caesar, a foreign prince, or an idol could be used, so money changers worked in the temple exchanging half shekels for any foreign coins. It’s easy to see how the outer court of the temple became both a marketplace and bank.
Unfortunately, what seemed a good idea turned into exploitation and corruption. The priests were renting out temple stalls for this bazaar. In order to pay that rent, merchants sold the animals at inflated prices and excessive fees were charged by the money changers. Moreover, the priests and Levites were reselling the animals offered as sacrifice back to the merchants. Instead of being sacrificed, the same animals were being sold and purchased over and over again. Think about the noise all those people made while conducting business and haggling over prices. Add to that the racket of bellowing cattle, bleating sheep, and cooing doves. Then consider the odor from all those animals and their droppings. Picture that sort of commotion in the narthex or on the front steps of your church. How could anybody worship in such a corrupt and chaotic environment? No wonder Jesus was angry at the way His Father’s house was being misused.
John recounts an interesting detail in his narrative of Jesus’ first cleansing of the temple. After seeing the temple’s marketplace, Jesus made a whip from ropes. With all the sheep and cattle around, it wouldn’t have been difficult to find ropes but braiding a whip would have taken some time. Knowing our Lord’s tendency to pray, I suspect Jesus prayed as he fashioned that whip. In those few minutes of prayer, He took his anger and turned it into a plan. He must have planned well because, as intense as his actions were, we don’t read of injuries, rioting, arrests or Roman soldiers arriving to quell the disturbance. While many of us would have gone off half-cocked and made a mess of things, Jesus took the time to prayerfully plan his action.
The Old Testament is filled with instances of God’s anger and we know Jesus got angry. If God can get angry, why can’t we? We can, if our anger is a righteous indignation. Anger itself isn’t the sin; it’s what we do with it that can make it a sin. The Bible tells us that God is slow to anger and we should be, too. Jesus took the time to braid a whip; let us take a lesson from our Lord to wait before expressing our righteous indignation or acting out of anger. We must never be led by anger but rather by God’s word and prayerful thought.