In our series looking at the book of Jonah we have seen the relentless grace of God on display toward his rebellious prophet. After preaching to the capital city of Assyria, Nineveh, God relented from the disaster he had proclaimed against them. God shows that he will relent if we will repent. Jonah knew this was God’s character and express that this is the reason why he ran and quit from being God’s prophet (4:2). Jonah is so angry with God for doing this that he prays for God to kill him. God does not carry out his wish but asks a simple question. “Do you do well to be angry?” This brings us to the final act of this book regarding God’s teaching of his wayward prophet. Open your copies of God’s word to Jonah 4 and we are going to look at the final verses of this book.
The Comfort (Jonah 4:5-6)
Jonah has made his complaint to the Lord and now leaves the city of Nineveh. He makes a shelter for himself to the east of the city and sits in its shade to see what will happen to the city. This is a telling picture of Jonah. The Lord has questioned Jonah if he does well to be angry. Jonah has not responded in repentance. In fact, it seems Jonah has done the opposite. He makes a shelter outside the city to see what will happen to it. It appears that Jonah is still hoping for the city’s destruction even though God has relented from the proclaimed disaster because of the people’s repentance. Jonah continues to show that he is not agreeing with God’s plan and purposes. He wants no mercy for Nineveh.
But notice that God is still not done with Jonah and will attempt to spiritually rescue him again. Verse 6 reveals that the Lord appointed a plant to grow over Jonah to give him shade. But notice the reason for the plant. The Lord is trying to save him from his trouble or discomfort. There is a wordplay happening in this verse. God is not merely trying to save him from the discomfort of the sun. This word that the ESV translates as “discomfort” is the same word in verse 1 where we saw that God relenting from Nineveh’s disaster was a disaster to Jonah. It was evil to Jonah. It was a calamity to Jonah. This is the same Hebrew word here in verse 6 with the same semantic range. God is trying to now save Jonah from his evil. God is trying to save Jonah from his spiritual disaster. But how is God going to do this? I want you to see that God does this by appointing a plant to give Jonah shade.
Now I want you to notice something about Jonah. Now Jonah is exceedingly happy because of the plant. He was exceedingly displeased with God when the city repented and God relented from disaster. But now Jonah is happy because he is able to sit in the shade. We need to continue to see the selfishness of Jonah. Jonah is only happy when he is comfortable. God makes Jonah comfortable and now he is happy.
The Discomfort (Jonah 4:7-8)
But now notice what God does in verse 7. The next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant so it withered. We saw God appoint a fish in save Jonah from drowning in the sea (1:17). Now God appoints a worm to kill a plant to save Jonah from his error. Then look at what God does in verse 8. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind so that the sun beat down on Jonah. God has appointed a fish, a worm, and a wind to teach and save Jonah. This is very important for us to consider. Sometimes we think that the hand of God can only be seen through large, miraculous acts. If it is not miraculous, then we do not give God the credit and do think that God has been at work. But I want us to see that God can do his work through a worm. God can do his work through the wind. How sovereign our Lord is over the creation! God has given Jonah shade and then taken it away so that Jonah will think about his life and look upward toward him. God has sent a scorching wind to try to get Jonah to stop thinking about himself. Jonah is being pushed to the end of his rope so that he will listen to the Lord now. The Lord pushes him to his brink to save him. You will notice in verse 8 that Jonah was faint and wanted to die. So he again asks the Lord that he might die.
The Teaching (Jonah 4:9-11)
Notice God’s response is the same response he had the previous day. “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” Jonah was angry at God when God did not destroy Nineveh. God asked him if he was right to be angry. Clearly, the implied answer was no. Now Jonah is angry that his plant withered and he is suffering under the sun. God asks Jonah again if he is right to be angry. The implied answer again is no. But look at what Jonah says at the end of verse 9. Jonah says that he is right to be angry. Jonah says he is right to be so angry that he wants to die.
Now God is going to give the message to Jonah and to us. Look at verse 10. You cared about this plant even though you did nothing for it. You did not work over the plant or make it grow. God did. God gave Jonah the plant and made it grow to give Jonah shade. Now notice the contrast in verse 11. Shouldn’t God have concern and care for the inhabitants of Nineveh? Since God created people, cares for people, and has a deep interest in their eternal outcome, should he not have compassion for them? This is a crushing point for introspection. Let me modernize the teaching just a little bit. We care far more about our air conditioning going out than for the souls to be rescued from eternal punishment. God is showing Jonah that his concerns are purely selfish and he is not looking at the big picture. The parallel is so important to see. Jonah cared about the plant because of how it affected him. Do we not see that God is affected by people and cares for people?
God is so impacted by his creation and he will receive their repentance. God loves to love his creation. This is the point that God is making at the end of the book. Sometimes people scratch their heads that God says something about the many animals along with the 120,000 people. Is God saying that he loves animals like people or that animals need to be saved like people do? No, this is not the point God is making. A more important point is being made. Remember back in chapter 3 what the people of Nineveh did by the decree of the king? The king called for a fasting for both people and animals (3:7). Further, every person and every animal was to be covered in sackcloth as they cried in mourning to God, pleading for mercy as they turned from their evil ways (3:8). Verse 10 says that God saw what they did and relented. God is reminding Jonah that every person and even many animals were invoked in this repentance. How could God not listen? How could God not have concern for them? How could God not relent when there was such a massive, wholesale repentance? God relented because God loves to love. Friends, please see this God. God loves people. God loves to love people.
The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 CSB)
God really does not want any person to perish. God is not wanting for you to be eternally lost. God does not want you to experience justice and judgment for your sins. This is why he sent his only Son. If God was intent on our destruction, he just had to sit back and do nothing because we are all worthy of judgment. We all have sinned. We all have fallen short. Obviously God does not want to judge us and is compassionate toward us because he sent Jesus for us.
So what is the problem? The problem is that Jonah does not have a heart for people like God does. The deeper problem is that Jonah wants mercy for himself but not for others. Jonah wants no mercy for Nineveh. But he wanted mercy as he was sinking to the sea floor. Jonah wanted mercy from the scorching sun. Jonah only wants to see God’s mercy when it affects him. God is trying to change Jonah’s heart to think about having some compassion for others. God loves to love people and will save any who repent. But let me ask this question to us. Do we love to love people? Now keep this question in context. God is not asking us to only love the people who love us. God is not asking us to only love the people who are in our family. God is not asking us to only love other believers. God is asking us to love the world like he loves the world. Remember what Jesus taught us.
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-36 ESV)
God loves the world. Jonah does not. God loves to love people. Jonah loves to love certain people. The whole problem for Jonah is that there is a certain group of people that he wants to see judged. This is what he says in chapter 3. He ran because he did not want to preach to these people because he knew that God would abound in steadfast love and relent from disaster. But let me ask this question. Are there certain people you want to see judged? Are there certain people you do not want God to show mercy to and save from their sins? Are there people you do not want to see come to repentance? It is easy to condemn Jonah. But perhaps our hearts are closer to Jonah’s heart than to the Lord’s heart.
Do we love our comfort more than we love people? This was the nature of Jonah’s heart. Or do we love people enough that we are willing to be uncomfortable? Do we have pity for our air conditioning but have no pity for sinners? Should we not have concern for this great city that has hundreds of thousands of people who do not know their right hand from their left? God loves to love you. Now will you choose to love loving others?