Last time, we saw that Jonah was angry with God for His mercy on the Ninevites, and we took that opportunity to delve into what the Word of God has to say on the subject of anger. Now as we continue in our study of Jonah 4, we will see how God gently and mercifully dealt with the prophet’s anger as a lesson to us when God calls us to minister to the unlovely…
2So he prayed to the LORD, and said, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.
If we take Jonah at his word, this verse verifies that Jonah knew when God first called him that God would relent from the destruction of Nineveh if the Ninevites responded with repentance when they heard Jonah’s message. Shouldn’t the opportunity to be God’s voice to the Ninevites have filled Jonah with joy at being used by God to do such a wonderful work in these sinners’ hearts? How pitiful that Jonah’s self-righteousness and unforgiving spirit prevented him from partaking in the heavenly joy Jesus tells us of “over one sinner who repents.”
There is an important lesson here for us. God calls us to be His tools – His voice proclaiming His glorious Gospel to all who will hear, and His hands and feet in service of others in need. This isn’t a burden that God places upon us. It is a privilege that God blesses us with. When we looked at Jonah 1, we learned that God desires not just our obedience, but our joyful, enthusiastic obedience in anticipation of the works that God has chosen to accomplish through us. We saw that this joyful obedience is a mighty blessing to the one who is called…
29Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
How sad it is that Jonah lost out on his blessing, although he did finally obey the command of God in preaching to the Ninevites, because he allowed his own arrogance, self-righteousness, and unforgiveness to prevent him from rejoicing in the fruits of his ministry.
Still, at least Jonah had a good understanding of the attributes of God. No doubt he had read or heard what God Himself declared to Moses on Mt. Sinai…
5Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, 7keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”
Perhaps Jonah remembered the words of the Psalms describing the immutable attributes of God…
With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful;
With a blameless man You will show Yourself blameless;
The LORD is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
A Psalm. A Song for the Sabbath day.
1It is good to give thanks to the LORD,
And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
2To declare Your lovingkindness[חֶסֶד checed] in the morning,
And Your faithfulness every night,
3On an instrument of ten strings,
On the lute,
And on the harp,
With harmonious sound.
As we saw last time Joel would later echo these words of Jonah in his call to the people to return to the Lord.
So rend your heart, and not your garments;
Return to the LORD your God,
For He is gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger, and of great kindness;
And He relents from doing harm.
Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!
Oh puleez! What a little drama queen! I can’t help but think that God just laughs when we throw silly tantrums like Jonah does here in this verse. Thankfully…
13As a father pities his children,
So the LORD pities those who fear Him.
14For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.
Once again, we need to humbly consider what we might do in God’s place in response to this ludicrous prayer of Jonah if we could wield the unlimited power of God. But because God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, relenting from doing harm, just as Jonah said, instead of granting Jonah’s silly request to die, God just posed a simple but profound rhetorical question for Jonah (and us) to ponder…
Then the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Of course, Jonah knew the correct answer as well as we do. Yet in his pride, unforgiveness, and self-righteousness, he couldn’t confess and lay down his stubborn, sinful anger as he should have…
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Consequently, as we shall soon see, Jonah would not only fail to take part in the rightful joy of having successfully fulfilled his God-given mission, but would also suffer all the more in the self-inflicted misery brought about by his anger with God.
So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city.
I must admit that this verse confuses me somewhat. On the one hand, we have just seen Jonah protesting to God in verse 2 that he knew God would relent from the destruction of Nineveh in the light of the Ninevites’ repentance. Yet, here in verse 5 we see Jonah climbing up to the heights on the east side of the city across the Tigris River so he could obtain a good vantage point from which to witness God’s hoped-for punishment – the city’s destruction.
In German there is a word – “Schadenfreude” – which means malicious joy, gloating, or pleasure at the suffering of others. It is such a perfect word for this sinful human indulgence that it has been adopted – particularly in psychological writings – into fairly common English usage, just as the German word “super” is the adopted English word – “super.” Certainly, Jonah – angered at the aspect of God’s forbearance – now hoped to enjoy a long-awaited Schadenfreude in seeing the Ninevites receive what he considered their just deserts.
And the LORD God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant.
Hmmm. Perhaps Jonah didn’t really want to die after all. If he’d really been so upset with God that he wanted to die as he whined to God in verse 3, why did he bother building a shelter for himself as he awaited the city’s fate? Here, once again, we see the humbling mercy and longsuffering of God. I can’t possibly think of anything Jonah might have more heartily deserved in the midst of his sulking, than the added misery of a hefty case of sunstroke. Yet our God, thankfully, doesn’t usually give us what we richly deserve, but blesses us even in the midst of our selfish pride. In this, God is perfectly consistent. Jonah also seemingly recognized the source of this undeserved blessing, and was appropriately thankful, knowing…
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
God is, of course, not only faithful to bless us with conveniences like the plant which shaded Jonah from the sun, but has given us His own life in place of ours to redeem us from our sin and grant us His undeserved blessing of eternal life just for the asking.
Yet, even though Jonah was grateful for the plant, God knew that his heart was still not right with regard to God’s mercy on the Ninevites. In fact, God had ordained the plant for Jonah with the intent to take the gift away almost immediately, so that He could use its loss in instructing Jonah further…
7But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. 8And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
This time, Jonah isn’t just saying so. At this point, Jonah has suffered to the extent I think he actually did believe it would be better to die than to carry on. It is reminiscent of Job’s words in the midst of his horrendous suffering…
20Why is light given to him who is in misery,
And life to the bitter of soul,
21Who long for death, but it does not come,
And search for it more than hidden treasures;
22Who rejoice exceedingly,
And are glad when they can find the grave?
Yet we know that God not only restored Job after rebuking him for his self-righteousness, but blessed him exceedingly with prosperity beyond what he had initially enjoyed before God allowed satan to attack him. As with Job, God uses Jonah’s suffering to open a dialog of correction with him (and in so doing also provides application for us)…
9Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”
10But the LORD said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. 11And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?”
Here God points out the inconsistency of Jonah’s attitude. He apparently cares more about the loss of the plant which was given to him “out of the blue” than he does about the thousands in Nineveh to whom God had sent him to preach repentance in the first place. It has been said that “sin makes you stupid.” Clearly this is the case with Jonah. He is so blinded by his disappointment and anger at God’s perceived “failure” to fulfill his own preconceived expectations, that he not only misses the blessing of sharing in the heavenly joy at the sinners’ repentance, but completely overlooks his next duty to those in his mission field to which God alludes when He says that the Ninevites “cannot discern between their right hand and their left.” Although the Ninevites had come to the place of repentance, that was only the first, essential step toward entering into a lasting, saving relationship with the living God. Jonah clearly failed to follow up with them, because his own sensibilities had been offended. Jonah’s pride kept God from being able to make any further use of him at all. Who knows what God might have done in Nineveh if Jonah had been truly filled with a desire to serve the lost in joy?
13For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” 14How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:
“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”
18And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
Notice that Jesus directs us here in The Great Commission, not to make converts (the job of His Spirit), but rather to make disciples. We are all called to both preach the Gospel to the lost, and also to minister to each other – those more seasoned in their walks with the Lord teaching those younger in faith the things of the Kingdom of God as God gives us understanding of them ourselves by His Word and His Spirit. As we have seen, the repentance of the Ninevites was sadly only temporary. How powerfully might God have used Jonah to nurture and build the faith of Nineveh, and possibly prevent them from falling back into the idolatry that led to their eventual destruction, if only he had been humble rather than self-righteous, enthusiastic rather than grudgingly obedient, and forgiving rather than judgmental? How might God be able to use us in the lives of those He has appointed for us to serve, if we were just a little less like Jonah?
The book of Jonah ends very suddenly – so suddenly one might easily suspect that a fragment of the text has been lost. At least until we get to heaven, we’ll never know how Jonah might have answered God’s final question in verse 11. Perhaps Jonah finally did lay down his pride and self-righteousness. I doubt it, though. If he had, wouldn’t he have then gone on to disciple the Ninevites? The loose ends of this story aren’t tied up neatly and happily as in some saccharine-sweet 1950s TV sitcom episode. The rubble of a mission only partly fulfilled is left strewn around the city, just like the ruined fragments of the destroyed ancient city are strewn in disarray around modern-day Mosul.
The abrupt end to this story has always been disconcerting to me personally, and I believe that’s the way God intended it. God wants us to be uneasy about Jonah’s half-completed mission, so that we can learn from Jonah’s sinful shortfall. God knows that if we are truly committed to serving His kingdom, we are going to suffer. Yet if we take joy in our obedience, we can share in the heavenly joy at the salvation of those to whom God appoints us as witnesses. If our only cares are for our own salvation, and seeking the blessings God might bestow on us personally, we miss out on the incredible joy of being used powerfully by God in the lives of other lost sinners. Life isn’t like the movies, and the truly committed Christian life is not an easy one…
13Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
“When I was a young man I heard Henry Barley say that the world has yet to see what God can do for a man fully yielded to Him, and I said I wanted to be that man. But I can say today the world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully yielded to Him.”
– Dwight L. Moody