Jonah Part 3: Jonah's Anger and the Lord's Compassion

 

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.

Jonah Part 2: Nineveh Repents

Click the link to read the first post in this series, Jonah Part 1

Have you ever seen someone’s life totally turned around? Do you have a friend who has come to Christ and it is like a 180 degree turn?  It is always amazing to me to hear the stories of these amazing testimonies of these people.  God has truly done the miraculous in their lives.  We might not always have such a radical testimony, but they are encouraging to hear none the less.  The people of Nineveh are a people with that sort of testimony.  The whole city makes a 180 degree turn when Jonah comes to preach the Word of the Lord.

Jonah Goes to Nineveh (Jonah 3:1-5)

Jonah gets a second chance at obedience.  After deliberately disobeying God and going to Tarshish, God calls Jonah a second time.  He tells him to go to Nineveh again.  God intends to use Jonah to deliver this message to Nineveh, whether he wants to or not.  God is going to use him.  Jonah goes to the city of Nineveh.  It was a big city.  The Scripture says it was three days in breadth, meaning that it took him three whole days to preach his message to the surrounding areas of the city.

What was the heart of Jonah’s message?  In 40 days, Nineveh will be over thrown.

Although I’m sure Jonah’s message was more lengthy than this one sentence, but this one sentence does reveal a little bit about Jonah’s heart.  Notice Jonah preaches the condemnation of the people without calling them to repentance.  Jonah doesn’t invite them to turn away from their wicked deeds, he just tells them.... You’ve got 40 days.

Jonah continues to remain apathetic towards the people God has called him to minister too.  He didn’t care for the pagan sailors on the boat, he doesn’t really care for the Ninevites.  He wants God’s wrath to be poured out on the people.  In some twisted way, Jonah desires that the city perish.  We don’t see that fully here, but in chapter 4 Jonah reveals to us his true heart and motivation.  The wretched hate in Jonah’s heart is despicable and describes the same hate in our own hearts.  We look at people who are different than us.  Who are maybe of a different skin color or a different nationality.  We see those who live in open flagrant sin, and we hate them.  We don’t want them to repent.  We don’t want them to turn to God.  We just want them to burn.

If we are really honest with ourselves, many of us think more like Westboro Baptist Church than we would like to admit.  We refuse to cross the rail road tracks to share the Gospel with another ethnicity.  A heart of racism runs through many Christians.  Although none of us would claim to be racist, many of us live that way.  We joke about racial stereotypes.  We segregate ourselves at our schools.  We even segregate our churches so often.  At the end of the day, we find ourselves wanting God to bring down his wrath on them rather than God’s kindness leading them to repentance.  Westboro Baptist Church is just like Jonah.  They preach condemnation and wrath, but the do not desire repentance.  The do not desire this nation come to Christ.  They hate this country and they hate the people who live here.  You and I must not be like this.  We are not to hate the very people God has called us to reach.  If God shows his love to wicked idolatrous people, so should we.  We shouldn’t hate them, but love them and share with them about Jesus in hopes that they would repent and believe the Gospel!

Yet, even though Jonah wishes ill on the city.  God does the miraculous.  Jonah preaches his fire and brimstone message of coming destruction, and the people begin to repent!  Verse 5 tells us that the people of Nineveh believed God.  The fasted and put on sackcloth, which is a sign of humble repentance.  And this wasn’t just the poor and lowly people who were repenting.  All of them, from the greatest of them to the least of them.  The whole city began to abandon their evil ways and trust God!

The People of Nineveh Repent (Jonah 3:6-10)

The word of God eventually reached the king of Nineveh, and something amazing happens.  He repents too!  He coveres himself with sack cloth and ashes.  The King of Nineveh publishes a proclamation that everyone in the city, including the beasts, fast and be covered in sackcloth.  He commands them to call out to God.  So the whole city, down to the animals fall on their face calling out to God to mercy! Imagine how extravagant this scene must have been to watch!  Seeing a whole city repent and believe God!  Imagine of something like that happened in your city. What kind of transformation would happen?  Can you picture the thousands and thousands of people falling on their face calling out to God. The whole city turned from their evil ways.  They pray that God might spare them from His wrath.  They do not want to perish!

The contrast between Jonah and the Ninevites could not be more stark.  The Ninevites do not want to perish, and Jonah could care less.  He did the same thing with the sailors on the boat.  Jonah is only concerned about number one.  He doesn't want himself to perish by being tossed into the sea, but when it comes to lost people, Jonah doesn’t want to see them saved.  He is completely apathetic towards them.  Then we see something even more amazing.  Not only does the whole city repent, but God shows them mercy (v. 10).  When God sees how the city of Nineveh turned from their evil ways, God has compassion on them.  He spares them from his wrath.  As we will see in chapter 4, Jonah isn’t going to respond to well to this!

Jonah Points us to Jesus

Despite Jonah’s failures, his life points us to the greater Jonah, Jesus.  Jesus succeeds where Jonah fails.  You see, Jesus the jewish Messiah, brings the nations to repentance and faith.  Jonah who has figuratively been raised from the dead after three days in the belly of the fish calls out to the pagan people and they come to repentance and faith.  Jesus who was literally raised from the dead after three days in the tomb calls out to the nations of the earth and they come to repentance and faith.

You see, a major theme that runs throughout all the Bible is God’s passion to bring every nation and people group to praise his glorious name.  He wants all the nations to worship him.  He says in Psalm 46, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth”.  So when God chooses the children of Abraham, the nation of Israel as his covenant people, God never intends to isolate his love and mercy only on them. The people of Israel were supposed to be a nation of priests interceding on behalf of the nations of the earth to the great and powerful God. However, Israel’s election as the people of God bolstered them with pride and ego.  They began to despise the very nations God had called them to interceded for.  They began to look down on all the other sinners, and feel self-righteous and confident.  The tragic mistake of Israel is that they would not repent of their idolatry.  They continued to become like the nations rather than reaching the nations.  The contrast between Israel and Nineveh is astounding.  Nineveh repents and turns to God at the word of the prophet Jonah.  Israel rebels and disobeys God.  The pagan nations repent, Israel rebels.

Israel fails all through out their history.  They are condemned because the do not repent.  This is why in Matthew 12:41 Jesus says, “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”  What is Jesus saying here?  He is telling the Jews that the Ninevites put them to shame.  The pagan nations repent, but the chosen people of God do not.  Jesus tells them the Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah, and Jesus tells them “I am the greater Jonah and you, Israel, do not listen to me and repent”.  This stiff-necked people refuses to believe the Prophets of God.  Indeed Israel rejected their own Messiah.  They mocked him.  They tried him.  They crucified him.  They rejected THE prophet of God, Yet Jesus tells us that the stone that the builders rejected has become the corner stone.  The rejected Messiah of Israel is the Messiah for the whole world and now invites the nations, pagan, gentile sinners like many of us, to repentance and faith.

Jesus is the greater Jonah. I know the temptation for us is to look upon Israel with disgust.  How could the people of God refuse repentance?  How could the people of God reject their prophets?  How could they become so self-righteous and filled with pride?  How could they hate the people God asked them to reach? Be very careful Christian, your thinking indicates that you might very well be like the nation of Israel.  In fact, those of us who grow up in the church have a tendency to be far more like the people of Israel than we may know.   You and I have the Word of the Lord.  We have faithful pastors who preach it to us week in and week out, yet we deliberately disobey.  We look down on others because we think that we are more moral and superior.  We refuse to share the Gospel with others, and do not desire to see our friends come to repentance and faith.  You and I are much more like Israel than we care to admit.

May we be like Nineveh and respond to our sin with incredible repentance!  May we fall on our face and be humbled.  May we turn from our wicked ways and turn to Jesus and be saved!

God's Mercy to Disobedient Prophets Like Us

20120908-071519.jpgThis is part 1 of a three part post on the book of Jonah focusing on Jonah 1:1-2:10. Part 2 and 3 to follow over the next couple weeks.

Have you ever been jealous? Have you ever gotten angry at a sibling for getting something you already have? Jonah is a book all about the gracious compassion of God towards all people. God shows his love to everybody, and the story of Jonah is of a man who wants the mercy of God, but doesn't want God to show it to others. The story of Jonah is a historical one, and it serves to teach us about how great God's mercy is towards the nations, and it teaches us how we must respond.

Jonah lived in a time of prosperity in Israel. The Assyrian Empire resided to the North-east and was growing in prosperity. Jonah is told to go to the capital city of the Assyrian empire, Ninevah. Israel didn't like Ninevah. They were pagans who did'nt worship the true God and were enemies of Israel. However, even though God asked Jonah to go, he decides to get a ticket and take the next boat to Tarshish, which is in the west. He goes the opposite direction from where God calls him.

Many of us respond to God in the exact same way. God asks us to do something and we do the opposite. He tells us to share the Gospel with our friends, and we avoid them. He tells us to repent sin in our lives, and we indulge. He directs us to a particular career path, and we choose the opposite. He calls us to ministry and we pursue comfort. Each and every one of us, just like Jonah have the tendency to rebel against what God has asked us to do. We try to run away from what God asks us to do, and as we will see in the life of Jonah, you can't run from God.

So Jonah gets on the boat and heads out to Tarshish across the Mediterranean Sea. In Jonah 1:4, we are told that God sends a might tempest out on the sea. A big theme in the book of Jonah is God's power of his creation. He rules it with absolute sovereignty. If he wants to bring in a huge wind to sink Jonah's ship, he can do so. If he wants Jonah to get swallowed by a Big fish, the Lord makes it happen. God reigns as the absolute supreme King of the universe. Creation bends to his will. He rules with awesome power.

So the sailors begin to get worried. They ship could capsize and the power of the wind and waves. Each of the pagan sailors begin to cry out to their pagan gods. These sailors are not good Torah believing Jews. They do not know or worship the true god. They are worldly and worship false gods. Jonah, the worst missionary ever, is down stairs sleeping during this turmoil. He is so self-centered he ignores the calamity of the sailors and is resting peacefully down below the deck. The captain comes to Jonah and asks him to call out to his god in hopes that they might not perish. Again, the pagan sailor did not know that Jonah's God, the God of Israel was the true God of the whole world. The captin is simply in desperation. Any god will do, the captain thinks, as long as we will be saved! The irony here is that a pagan sailor summons the Israelite prophet to prayer. The Pagan sailor is concerned that people might perish, while Jonah is asleep below the deck. How great is the apathy of the prophets of God! We who have been given a task to herald the Gospel to the nations lie in the comforts of our bed beneath the deck while the world around us is on the verge of perishing. May we not be like Jonah. May we rise to the challenge to be obedient in sharing the good news of Jesus with others!

The sailors cast lots (role dice) to decide the will of god, a common thing to do, because they believed that god controls how the dice lands. Even the Israelites practiced this to discern gods will. The lot is cast, and it lands on Jonah. The sailors inquire about who he is and where he is from. Jonah tells the sailors he is a Hebrew that fears the Lord who made the sea and dry land. The irony here is that Jonah is obviously a hypocrite. If he feared the Lord he would have never gotten on the boat to flee the God who made the very seas.

When the sailors hear what Jonah has to say, they get "exceedingly afraid". Why? Because they know that Jonah is fleeing from the Lord, because that's what Jonah said (v. 11). The sailors ask Jonah, "How do we fix this problem so we can survive?". Jonah tells them to hurl him into the sea. It is interesting that the sailors ignore Jonah for the time being. The don't want to throw him into the sea, because His blood will be on their hands. These pagan sailors don't want anyone to perish. So they try to keep rowing to dry land, but the sea is get worse and worse. Then they finally decide to throw Jonah in, it seems to be the only option. These pagan sailors call out to the Lord and ask that they not perish for this mans life, and then they threw him into the sea.

As soon as Jonah is tossed overboard, the sea ceased from its raging. The men respond in fear of the Lord. These pagan come to faith in the God of Israel. Notice the transition of the sailors emotions in the text. They sailors go from fear, to exceedingly afraid, to fearful worship of God. The Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, again we see God's absolute power over creation. God appoints this to happen. Jonah begins to pray from inside the fish. One commentator said, "Jonah’s prayer is not a request to be saved from the fish but is thanksgiving for being saved by the fish." Jonah is praising God for saving him from his near death experience. Notice again, how selfish Jonah is, even in his prayer. He is not praising God for the safety of the sailors, he is praising God for his own safety and his own deliverance. In response God vomits Jonah up for a second try at obedience in prophesying to the city of Nineveh.

The interesting thing is that Jesus himself referred to the event of Jonah as talking about himself. The account of disobedient prophet Jonah, points us to the coming of the obedient prophet, Jesus. In Matthew 12:40 Jesus says, "For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Just as Jonah went went down to the pit of death and survive, so would Jesus. Just at Jonah spent three days in the belly of the fish, so Jesus would spend three days in the tomb. Just as Jonah was delivered on dry land, Jesus would rise from the grave conquering sin and death! Jesus is the greater Jonah. Jesus rose from the grave and purchased our redemption!

May we respond to this event in awe of the grace of Jesus. We are just like Jonah as we run from God. We are selfish consumed with ourselves. We disobey God daily. But where you and I fail, Jesus succeeds. Jesus was obedient to the point of death. He took on the death that you and I deserved. He was tossed overboard in your place. He went to the pit of death for you and me, and he rose victoriously from death on the third day! He lives and reigns supreme. May we fall on our face and worship Jesus today! May we be amazed at his grace and mercy. May we put our faith and trust in Him.

Read Jonah Part 2