One would expect the third chapter of Jonah to be the end of the book. Jonah has turned back to God and has preached to the city of Ninevah. The city of Ninevah has repented from their evil ways and the Lord has relented from the disaster due to them. This is a great success for the Lord. Jonah seems to have turned to God. The people of Ninevah have turned back to God. This should be the end of the story. However, the first verse of chapter 4 states, “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.” This should be time of celebration, reveling in the spiritual victory that the Lord has obtained. Instead Jonah is very angry.
Jonah’s Anger (4:1-5)
Notice what Jonah prays to the Lord. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:1–3 ESV)
The motivation for Jonah not going to Ninevah the first time is now revealed. Jonah knew that the Lord is a gracious and merciful God. Jonah knew that the Lord was slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Jonah knew that the Lord would relent from the disaster predicted to Ninevah if they repented. Jonah is outraged at the character of God. Jonah says that he knew this would happen. He knew that these Assyrians would be spared by God’s grace and mercy and he hates that about God. Jonah uses scripture against God, quoting Exodus 34:6-7.
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6–7 ESV)
What a complaint against God! You are so gracious and merciful and I hate that about you! You are slow to anger, Lord, and I hate that about you! Jonah is so upset that he would just as soon die. Now we might think that this is a unique complaint. But this is a common problem for God’s people. In Matthew 20 Jesus told a parable about laborers in the vineyard. The laborers were hired by the master at various times throughout the day. However, at the end, each laborer is paid the same wage. Rather than exclaiming the goodness and generosity of God, the laborers who worked longer complain that the master has given the laborers hired at the end of the day the same as those who were hired in the early morning. Listen to the master’s response: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Matthew 20:15 ESV)
As ridiculous as it sounds for us to hear what Jonah says, we can think similarly about God. Have you ever said it was too late for someone to repent? We may look at the life of a wicked person and consider that this person can never find God’s mercy. God must judge that person with fury. Yet we forget the repentance of Manasseh who was declared to be the worst king over the nation of Judah because of his violence, injustice, and wickedness. Yet Manasseh turned to the Lord at the end of his life. We balk at the idea of deathbed repentance. Yet we have read in this story a case of a deathbed repentance in the life of Jonah. Jonah was about to die as he sunk to the sea floor. The Lord is a gracious God. The Lord is a merciful God. He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, relenting from disaster. Do we truly understand the words of the apostle Peter? “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9 ESV)
How quickly we forget that the grace extended to save us is the same grace extended to others. Grace had been dispensed to Jonah, but Jonah is angry that grace has been dispensed to Ninevah. We are happy to receive the grace of God ourselves, but our angry when grace is dispensed toward those who we see as undeserving or worthy of God’s wrath.
I love what God does here because God is now going to show grace to this ungracious prophet. God simply asks the question, “Do you do well to be angry?” Jonah, you need to think about what you are doing. You need this about how off the mark you are about this. Are you right to be angry when God is merciful to others considering how merciful God has been toward you? How quickly we forget God’s grace toward us because if we remembered it, then we would not act toward others in the judgmental, ugly ways that we often act! Friends, never forget that we only stand by grace. But this is not in Jonah’s mind. He goes out of the city, builds a shelter, and waits to see what will become of the city. It seems that Jonah is hoping to see the city destroyed or hoping to learn an explanation from God about him relenting from the prophesied disaster.
Jonah’s Comfort (4:6-9)
The Lord is going to use a plant as an object lesson to try to teach Jonah about the God he serves. Please carefully notice the language. The Lord appointed a plant. This is not a random plant. Just as the Lord appointed the great fish to swallow Jonah (1:17), he appoints a plant to shade Jonah. The disposition of Jonah completely changes. Now Jonah is exceedingly happy because of the plant. However, carefully read the language again. God appointed a worm that attacked the plant causing the plant to wither. Then, notice the language again, God appointed a scorching east wind and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so severely that Jonah is about to faint from the heat. This causes Jonah to revert back to his previous disposition. “It is better for me to die than to live.” This is a common reaction of Jonah. He said this when the city was spared (4:3). He acted upon this reaction when he told the sailors to cast him into the sea (1:12).
We can often have the same overreactions with God like Jonah has. We are unwilling to listen to God. We are unwilling to learn from our difficult circumstances. Our answer to God is if this is the way life is going to be just kill me. Or if this is the way life will be then I quit on God. Overreacting rather than enduring patiently with the Lord. The writer of Hebrews speaks to his audience about the hard struggle of suffering by which they were afflicted. He instructed them, “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” (Hebrews 10:36 ESV)
The problem is that we are so self-centered that we are unwilling to reflect on our lives. We are unwilling to consider what can be learned from what we are experiencing. We are unwilling to reflect on our error. Jonah is in this very position. God is trying to get Jonah to consider his ways. For the second time God asks Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry?” First, are you right to be angry about God sparing the city because of their repentance? Then, are you right to be angry about the plant? In each case Jonah thinks he is right in his anger, angry enough to die. If this is the way it is going to be, then just kill me, Lord.
Notice what God is trying to teach Jonah. When is Jonah happy? Jonah is happy when God gave him his comforts. He was happy when the plant was appointed by God. But Jonah was unhappy when the people repented and unhappy when the plant died. Jonah found more joy in his comforts than in saving people. What a horrible reality! Jonah finds more joy in his comforts than in the saving of people. Yet how often this is the reality for us. God gives us these comforts and joys only for us to turn and live for the physical blessings rather than living for God who gave us these comforts. We are so swallowed up in this physical world and our personal comforts that we will not extend ourselves to save this city. We put our comforts above gathering with other believers to hear the word of the Lord and to encourage one another. We want to sit under our plant (our air conditioned homes and cars) and do what we want to do rather than get out in the world and invite them to church or even go to worship ourselves. What makes us happy? Is our happiness found in spiritual life or physical life?
God’s Compassion (4:10-11)
This is what God is trying to get Jonah to understand. You pity the plant that God gave you but you do not have compassion for lost souls. To move this into our language today, we pity ourselves when we lose our home, lose our air conditioning, lose our wealth, lose our possessions, and lose our comforts but we have no compassion for the lost in this city. Where is our compassion for people? A compassion for lost souls in this city will lead to a number of life changes.
- Godly compassion for this city will lead us to reach out. We will see lost souls and we will invite them. We will speak about God. We will do more than just live a godly life. We must open our mouths and declare our love for Jesus, share the good news about Jesus, and invite them to talk about the Bible with us and come to worship with us.
- Godly compassion for this city will mean we will give others latitude. We must understand that people we do not know will come here. People will come who do not know the decorum. People will come who do not know how we do things or the “rules” we think we have. We must remember a very important point. This is not your church. This is God’s church. This is one tool God has given us to reach this city. When we stop thinking about the way things should go and how people are dressing a certain way or doing certain things and start thinking about having compassion for the soul, then we will afford more latitude as we try to reach people. We will teach people the God-given laws of modesty and order. But we will not impose our personal judgments on people who need to hear the gospel. We cannot drive people away because someone is not dressed the way we think they should dress or does not act the way they ought to act. Compassion gives time to the lost to learn God’s truth and come to repentance.
- Godly compassion for this city means we will understand that grace is for all. Too often we think that we are sinners, but they are SINNERS. We think that we can have grace but others are too evil for grace. We may not think it but it can be reflected in our actions. Grace is for all, regardless of how morally filthy a person may be. We must proclaim the message of repentance to all. We will disregard our comforts, let our presuppositions and prejudices go, and we will have compassion for this city.