Jonah 2023 Bible Study (Relentless Grace)

Jonah 4, Angry With God


Jonah has been on a journey with God. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach against it. Jonah has gone the other direction. But God has shown relentless grace toward his wayward prophet and in the third chapter of Jonah we see his prophet proclaim judgment on the city. The news of God’s judgment runs through the city and all the inhabitants repent. They call out to the Lord and turn from their evil ways. Chapter 3 ends with God relenting from the disaster because he saw how the people turned away from their evil ways.

Now you would think that this would be a great victory for Jonah. You would think that Jonah would be so excited to see the people of Nineveh turn from evil and cry out to the Lord. How exciting to see the turn around the word of the Lord caused through Jonah’s proclamation. But it was not good to Jonah. Open your copies of God’s word and read the first four verses of Jonah 4.

An “Evil” God (Jonah 4:1)

Rather than joy, we are told in Jonah 4:1 that what God did displeased Jonah greatly and he was angry. Jonah is angry at what God has done. There is a wordplay in the Hebrew that is worth seeing that it is hard for translations to capture. The Hebrew word that the ESV renders as “displeased” can also be translated “evil, disaster, calamity.” We see this reading in 4:1 of the LSB translation that gives the sense of the situation.

But this was a great evil to Jonah, and he became angry. (Jonah 4:1 LSB)

God relented from the disaster proclaimed against the people and this was a disaster to Jonah. God turned from bringing calamity on the people but this was a calamity to Jonah and he was furious. What God has done in relenting is evil to Jonah and he is very upset. Jonah thinks that the Lord has done wrong. Therefore, Jonah is angry with God.

There are many people who get angry with God. Many people get angry with God for what he does and what he does not do. Why didn’t God do something? Why did he not intervene? How could God allow this to go on? Why didn’t God change what was happening? This cannot be right! Jonah feels the same way. Here is a circumstance where Jonah is angry with what God does not do. God does not bring judgment on this cruel, wicked people and Jonah is mad. I know we have never been angry with God. I know we have never wondered why God did not do something or why he did do something. If we can have a moment of honesty I think all of us can say that we have had moments like Jonah. We might be in a place in our lives where we are having that Jonah moment right now. God has done me wrong and I am angry about it.

“I Was Right!” (Jonah 4:2)

So in his anger, Jonah prays to the Lord. Notice what he prays in verse 2. Jonah prays how he was right about God all along. Jonah declares that he knew God would do this and he told God that when God came to him in the beginning. Jonah says that he ran to Tarshish because he knew that God is gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Do you hear what Jonah says? Jonah says that he knows God’s character and he does not like it. Jonah says that he knew God would do this and that is why he quit and ran. This is the very thing Jonah did not want to have happen. So Jonah uses God against God. Jonah uses God’s character to slander God. You are a terrible God because of how your grace and mercy impacts us. Jonah is angry that God relents when people repent!

Now here is what is truly ironic and crazy to think about. Jonah is angry about the very character of God that is the reason Jonah is still alive. It is only because God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love that Jonah is alive. Jonah is a rebellious prophet who has run from God. We have seen in our study the repeated grace that God has shown this prophet. It makes you wonder how Jonah has so quickly forgotten what he said in the belly of the fish in chapter 2. In chapter 2 Jonah proclaims that he will offer sacrifices of thanksgiving to the Lord. He says that the Lord brought up his life from the pit when his life was fading away. It seemed like Jonah was a new man with a new life. But he is undoing his repentance as he justifies his prior sinful actions. Jonah now proclaims that he had been right the whole time. He took joy in his own salvation but has no joy in the salvation of others.

“I Am Done!” (Jonah 4:3)

Look at what else Jonah prays in verse 3. “Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah has returned to his old way of thinking. Jonah had been running from the presence of the Lord, which we noted to mean that he had quit on God and no longer wanted to be God’s prophet. We saw Jonah asleep in the ship while it was breaking apart from the storm, not caring if they perished. Jonah’s solution to the storm was not repentance. Rather, his solution was to drown in the sea because he would rather die than turn back to God. Jonah has come full circle and now says what we saw when Jonah was on the ship. Jonah would rather die.

Jonah has no room for the grace of God. He does not want to hear about grace. He does not want to teach about God’s grace. Jonah only wants the wrathful, angry God. But since God has been gracious, Jonah would rather die than continue. Jonah is so angry with God that he prays to God to take his life. Can you imagine telling God you would rather die than keep on living? Maybe you can imagine it because you might have prayed those words yourself. What a frightening thing to tell God! I am so unhappy with my life that I would rather you kill me. I am so angry with what you are doing or what you are not doing that I want you to take my life. I would rather die that have this God run my life! Friends, it is a weighty thing to say such words to God. It should be a terrifying thing to tell God that God is in the wrong and he should kill us if life is going to be this way. Jonah’s anger has hit the maximum point.

God’s Response (Jonah 4:4)

What would you expect verse 4 to say? What would you expect God to tell this rebellious prophet who is challenging God’s character in his anger? What do you think God would say to a person who claims that God is doing evil and it would be better to die than to continue to deal with this God? Justice is certainly due to this selfish prophet. God would be right to finally judge this rebellious prophet. But look at what God says in verse 4.

“Do you do well to be angry?” Jonah, are you right to be angry? Is this a good reason to be angry? I want us to think about this question. Are you right to be angry? Should you really be angry? Do you do well to be angry? We have finally come to the heart of Jonah’s problem. Jonah is angry with God. But God wants him to think about this anger. Of course the answer is no, though Jonah does not respond to God’s question. You might have had someone try to do this with you during a time you were angry. Your spouse or your friend asks you if this is worth being angry about. Of course this will often cause us to be more angry and to try to justify ourselves all the more.

But anger is the problem. Jonah’s anger is selfish. He wanted a particular outcome in the world and does not care about what God is doing. Our anger at God is selfish because we are telling God that he is not running the world right or running our lives right. We certainly know better than him. Are we right to tell God that he is doing a bad job at running the world? Do we do well to be angry?

Do we have an anger problem with God? Do we have an anger problem with others? The scriptures are very clear in warning us about the danger of anger. James tells us in James 1:20 that human anger does not produce the righteousness of God. Paul proclaimed that men in every place are to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or quarreling (1 Timothy 2:8). Paul also taught that anger is part of the works of the flesh is not the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:20). Listen to this list that Paul tell us to do.

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. (Colossians 3:8 ESV)

I want us to see that our anger is wrong. We must not sit in our anger thinking we are right or are justified. So God comes to us and asks an important question the next time we feel anger. Are we doing well to be angry? Are we really right to be angry? Should we be so angry right now? Friends, in my younger days I wrestled with this problem. I was angry at God and I was angry at others. I was angry at my parents for the mess they created. I was angry at certain people who committed sin that caused the destruction of my family and a simple childhood. I was angry at myself for not seeing what was happening and doing something about it. I was angry at God for this to be the new circumstance of my life. I was angry enough that I wanted to die. Even though I had been sinned against which then changed everything for the seeming worse in my life, did I do well to be angry? No, I didn’t. Who am I to proclaim who deserves mercy? Who I am to proclaim who should get a second chance? Who am I to say that someone is not worthy of forgiveness? I did not do well to be angry and was swallowed up in that anger.

If you need a way to get a grip on your anger, then let God’s question come into your heart right now and any time you feel anger. Do you do well to be angry? The answer, if you are honest, will be “no.” You do not do well to be angry if your children do something wrong. Anger is not the way to handle the problem You do not do well to be angry if your spouse is thoughtless or careless toward you. Anger is not the way to handle the situation. You do not do well to be angry if your friend sins against you. Anger is not the way to handle someone’s sin. You do not do well to be angry when someone acts selfishly so that it impacts you in a negative way. Anger is not the way to work with selfishness. Friends, please believe the Lord who tells us that human anger does not produce the righteousness God wants in our lives. We do not do well to be angry. We certainly do not do well to be angry at God. We do not know better than God. We are not more righteous than God. We are not more generous than God. We are not more loving than God. We are not more gracious than God. We do not know justice better than God. Jonah cannot see what God is doing because he is consumed by his anger. His anger has made him blind to God’s goodness. His anger caused him to forget God’s mercy and grace repeatedly displayed toward this sinful prophet. We do not do well to be angry. Please think about this the next time you are ready to unleash your anger at someone or at God. God is trying to save Jonah with this important question. Do you do well to be angry? Let God save you from your anger.

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