The Scriptures have much to say about times we become upset or angry, but this verse in the Book of Ecclesiastes summarizes much of the Bible’s wisdom on the subject. It’s a verse most of us know well, but one we often fail to understand or appreciate as fully as we might. We tend to remember the admonition as simply one of not becoming angry quickly, and that’s certainly part of what it is telling us.
But we should also notice the second half of the statement – that anger “lodges” or resides in the heart of fools. We all become upset and angry at times, but this does not mean we are all “fools” – the point Ecclesiastes is making is that we are only fools if we allow the anger to “lodge” or stay within our hearts. The verse is actually contrasting two things that are both wrong – quickness to become upset and slowness or failure to release the anger.
These are, in effect, the two sides of the “coin” of anger, but while we might give a lot of thought and effort to not becoming angry, we don’t always drop the emotion as quickly as we should. Humanly, once someone upsets us over something and anger takes hold within us, we tend to begin to justify it – and the longer we let it “reside” in us, the more difficult it becomes to shake the emotion out.
Despite our best efforts, the truth is we cannot simply “bury” our feelings of anger or resentment. We can try, but feelings that are “buried alive” never really die. Left within us, they take hold and begin to poison our attitudes and relationships. Remaining upset at others usually ends up hurting them in some way, and always ends up hurting us. The Bible contains many examples of this – beginning with Cain who was upset with his brother (Genesis 4:5, 8) through Saul who was upset with David (1 Samuel 19:9) to Nabal (whose name, not coincidentally, means “fool”) who seems to have become upset with many people and his wife in particular (1 Samuel 25:2-38). In all these cases and many others, we see a pattern of individuals becoming upset in a way that led to their permanent downfall.
So it is not surprising that the Scriptures contain many commands and admonitions urging us not to allow ourselves to continue to be upset with someone. It’s a command made in the Old Testament and reiterated in the New. The Book of Leviticus ties the command directly to the principle of love: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself...”(Leviticus 19:18). We cannot love someone if we allow ourselves to remain upset with them. From a biblical perspective, remaining upset is sin. That is why the apostle Paul wrote “In your anger do not sin” before stressing “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26). People sometimes joke that not allowing the sun to go down on our anger allows individuals living at the North Pole a full six months to remain angry, but Paul’s point is clear, and it would be foolish to ignore it.
The Bible acknowledges that we may become angry – sometimes for very legitimate reasons – but it continually stresses that we should never hold on to that anger, and that if we do, it inevitably leads to a spirit of unforgiveness that hurts us as much as others. That is also why we find the principle in Ecclesiastes 7:9 with which we began this post repeatedly echoed elsewhere in the Bible – as in the Book of Proverbs where we read: “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11 ESV). Here, we see the two necessary sides of our response to anger – we must be slow to anger, but also quick to drop it. Failing to follow the second of these biblical principles is as dangerous as ignoring the first. If we do not want our upset to become our downfall, we must always put anger away quickly.
* For more on anger management, see our post "When Your Fuse Burns Down" here.