Jonah is Angry at the Lord’s compassion (Jonah 4:1-4)
After seeing the city of Nineveh repent, Jonah becomes furious. He was angry that the Lord would show compassion to this city. In these first four verses, Jonah prays to the Lord. This is the second of Jonah’s prayers. The first one in chapter 2, took place in the belly of the fish. The writer invites us to compare and contrast Jonah’s heart and attitude between these two prayers. In this second prayer, we see Jonah’s real heart in this whole situation. We get to see why he really didn’t want to go to Nineveh in the first place. He was afraid God would be merciful to them.
You see, Jonah knows that God is a merciful and compassionate God. He gives second chances. He spares us his wrath. Jonah prays and says, “I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting form disaster”. Although Jonah loves this about God when God’s compassion is shown to him (Chapter 2), but is angry towards God when it is shown to Nineveh (Chapter 3). You see Jonah wants to receive mercy from the Lord, but he doesn’t want God to show His mercy to others, especially the Ninevites. In verse 3, Jonah gets a little over dramatic and concludes his life is not worth living. He tells God it is better to die than to live. Now Jonah isn’t suicidal here, he just is being so over the top it is comical. He is acting just like a child here. He doesn’t get his way so he pouts and says life isn’t worth living anymore. He is trying to manipulate God with his anguish. He is trying to get God to change his mind. God responds with just a simple question, “Do you do well to be angry?” I like the NLT of this verse, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?” In other words, God is questioning Jonah’s angry. Jonah why are you getting so upset about this? Why is this bothering you so badly?
The Lord Teaches Jonah to be compassionate (Jonah 4:5-11)
After this prayer, Jonah goes up to the hill to sit down at the east of the city and look over it. He is waiting to see what God will do with the city. Jonah seems to be hoping that his manipulative pity party had changed God’s mind. He waiting and hoping God will destroy it. As Jonah is sitting there God appoints a plant to spring up. Notice this is the third time God appoints something in the book. The first time was the the great wind God hurled upon the sea (1:4), the second was the great fish (1:17), and here the plant is the third (4:6). The text is reminding us of who is in control over His creation, and it is the Lord of hosts. He sovereignly appoints what he wills, and rules creation. He can make a plant spring up instantly. And the plant springs up over the head of Jonah and provides him with comfort.
This plant changes Jonah’s mood. He goes from being angry, to being glad. Then, the next day come and God appoints something a fourth time in the book of Jonah. He appoints a worm to come and attack the plant, so the plant would wither and die. Then we are told that God appointed a scorching east wind and the sun to beat down on Jonah’s head. Jonah again gets upset and says that it is “Better to die than to live”. Again, Jonah isn’t suicidal here, he is just being overly dramatic.
Then in verse 9, God asks Jonah a important question, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” Notice the parallel between God’s question in verse 4, in which God questions Jonah’s anger towards Nineveh. But Jonah says to God, “It is right for me to be angry about this plant, angry enough to die!” Notice also, that this is the first time Jonah desires that something not perish. He didn’t care if the sailors perished. He didn’t care if Nineveh perish. But when it comes to this plant providing him comfort, he cares greatly that this plant not perish! Then in verse 10, we get God’s lesson he is trying to teach Jonah. Indeed, this is the climax of the whole book.
God tells Jonah that he pities this insignificant plant, and should God not pity Nineveh, a city of 120,000 people? In other words God is telling Jonah, what’s more important a plant or 120,000 people perishing? The answer is obviously people. In fact, God closes the book with a peculiar phrase, “also much cattle”. This is God making a jab at Jonah. If Jonah will not pity the people of Nineveh, at least he would pity the animals! If the plant is so important to him, maybe the animals are! God is making a strong rebuke towards Jonah. Jonah who cared so much for himself, who cared so much for his own needs and comfort, needs to be rebuked. Throughout this whole book Jonah has been nothing but a spoiled brat. He wants to receive the mercy of God for himself, but he doesn’t want God to show it to others. He himself doesn’t want to perish in the ocean, but when it comes to the sailors or Nineveh he could care less.
Now what does this mean for you and me? When thinking about this book as a whole, and what God is trying to teach Jonah, what does this mean for us.
1. God has Compassion on All People, not just us
People are important to God. God is determined to get Jonah to Nineveh. He sovereignly orchestrates creation by appointing it to do his will. He does all this to get Jonah to Nineveh. God is passionate about the exaltation of his own name to the nations and to the ends of the earth.
2. We must repent of our self-centered hypocrisy
We must not be like Jonah. We can’t be self-centered and concerned with ourselves. We can’t expect to receive God’s grace, but then refuse to share it with others. Our lives are not about us! It isn’t about our comfort. It isn’t about what we want to do. We exist for worship, and spreading the worship of Jesus to the ends of the earth. We exist to share the good news of Jesus with everyone! However, so many of us live lives that are self-consumed. We think what’s in it for me, or what can I get out of it. The Gospel runs contrary to our self-sufficiency. We must turn away from this and lay down our lives for his kingdom.
3. We must be willing to go where God tells us to go
For some of you God is going to ask you to do some tough things. He might ask you to go some where that you are uncomfortable with. He might ask you to leave behind home and family. He might ask you to go to college further away that Wilson Tech. He might even ask you to go to college out of state. He might ask you live in another part of the country to be his ambassador. He might ask you to live in another country to be his missionary. Or it could be as simply as going to another lunch table or going down the street to your neighbors house to tell them about Jesus. However, one thing the book of Jonah teaches us, is that we must be obedient to him. When God tells us to go, we must go.
4. Remember that God gives mercy to those who repent
God is not hesitant to show us mercy. God is eagerly wanting to show grace to people. He wants them to come to know the joy found only in Jesus! The Gospel, the good news of Jesus, is an open invitation to those who are perishing to repent and believe in Him! Just like the city of Nineveh, destruction is coming to this world. God’s wrath will be poured out, but through Jesus God’s wrath is placed on Jesus in your place. You can trust in him. He is our great Savior who is eager to save. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus! Trust in him for salvation. He is abounding in love and rich in mercy.