Jonah’s Anger Toward God
The runaway preacher has been one of the most successful in all of Bible history. The Ninevites have repented from the King all the way down to the people. But how is Jonah going to react to his success.
▸ Jonah Angry About Divine Mercy
Who could possibly be angry with God because He is gracious, merciful, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness? Jonah was very mad with God. It was the very reason he tried to flee to Tarshish. It was like Dwight L. Moody said, “some people have just enough religion to make them miserable.” Jonah was like the prodigal son in that he left home and then came back. He is even more like the elder brother who refused to come back and enjoy the celebration over the prodigal sons and daughters of Nineveh who had repented.
Again, can you imagine the most successful preacher in history so angry at the success of his preaching that he prayed that he might die?
▸ Jonah Angry About the Gourd
Jonah left the city and instead of going down, he goes up a hill. There he waits to see what will happen. Still hoping God’s wrath will rain down on the Ninevites. In chapter one God had prepared a wind to create a storm, caused a lot to finger Jonah, a sea creature to swallow him, and then spit him out again. Now God prepares a gourd to give Jonah shade and joy. Next He had a worm kill the gourd and a hot east wind to blast Jonah. Again, Jonah wishes he was dead.
▸ Jonah Rebuked By God
Now God had Jonah set up right where He wants the prophet to be for a little lesson on mercy. Jonah was angry about the plant. He tells God he has every right to be angry about it. God contrasts the gourd with the city of Nineveh. The contrasts between the two are many. The gourd did not have a soul, yet Nineveh was filled with many souls. The city was great, but the gourd was small. The gourd came quickly and soon was gone. Nineveh was an ancient city filled with eternal souls. Jonah had pity on the plant but no mercy for Nineveh. Jonah was angry over the loss of one innocent plant God made and destroyed. He was angry at God’s failure to destroy Nineveh filled with 120,000 innocent children plus all the innocent animals. God loved the Ninevites and all the little children – all whom He had made. Jonah could only muster enough pity for a plant, he had no part in making.
Thirty-eight times in this four chapter book God is named. This book is about God and who He is in contrast with His prophet. Jonah was quick to anger, but God is slow to wrath. Jonah was willing to die, God is willing to save thousands from death. Jonah is impatient in contrast to the great longsuffering of God. Jonah wanted God’s mercy for himself, God wanted to show mercy to hundreds of thousands. God is not a respecter of persons (Rom. 2:11; Acts 10:15; 34-35). God made all, loves all, and has a right to save all.
▸ Universal Nature of God’s Mercy
Jonah learned of the need for God’s mercy when he was curled up in the belly of the fish. He disobeyed and ran the first time God commanded him to “arise…go…cry out”. God recommissioned Jonah to preach to Nineveh (3:2). He is the merciful God of the second chance. God in mercy gave David another chance after his adultery and murder. As a result we have Psalms 32 and 51. Peter was given a chance to repent after his three denials of Jesus. “And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren’” (Luke 22:31-32).
God loved the Ninevites who were the enemy of His people. All sinners are enemies of God. We are to love our enemies. There is no greater way for God or his children to show mercy than to actively love their enemies (Romans 5:6-8; Matt. 5:44).
God’s mercy is greater than that of mere men. Even greater than that of His prophet. God’s mercy is full of grace and compassion. As Jonah prayed, “for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness” (4:2). He demonstrated this by relenting concerning the calamity. God’s mercy is further seen in the physical blessings he was willing to give his unmerciful prophet. “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” (4:6a). Although the success of his preaching did not bring gladness to his heart, God’s gift of a plant did. “So Jonah was very grateful for the plant (4:6b). However, do not think a merciful God will not rebuke those in need. God was merciful in rebuke instead of just judging and punishing. Rebuke gives the sinner time to reflect and repent. “Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ 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!’ But 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’” (4:4,9-10).
In this chapter God shows mercy to the discomforted when He gave Jonah shade. Mercy was demonstrated to the unmerciful Jonah who was angry at God for sparing Nineveh. Furthermore, God was merciful to the innocent children and animals of the city. “And 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?” (4:11).
Jonah’s lack of mercy is seen in his misguided prayer. He would rather die than see God spare the city “Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!” (4:3). God rebukes the prophet twice for his misguided anger (4:4,10). Jonah’s care for a gourd over the concern for the innocent demonstrates a serious short coming in his character. In fact, he is selfish. He was focused on his own comfort more then that lives of others.
There is a major contrast between God’s mercy and Jonah’s lack of compassion. God was slow to anger, but Jonah was quick to be angry. Jonah was waiting around to see Nineveh destroyed while God waited patiently to see them repent. Jonah was willing to die, but God is willing to save.
The other contrast is between Jonah’s compassion over the gourd and his lack of love for those in Nineveh. Whereas the gourd is temporal and physical the souls of the people were spiritual and eternal. Jonah did not work for the gourd. It was a gift from God. Yet God gave life to the people and caused the city to grow.
The prophecy of Nahum is the sequel to the book of Jonah. It foretells the doom on Nineveh. Jonah would have liked better to have been given the prophecy of Nahum. However, because of his message and Nineveh’s repentance the city survived another one hundred years before God destroyed it.
The prophecy of Jonah ends abruptly with God’s question about His right to have mercy on Nineveh being unanswered by Jonah. Did Jonah ever make the connection between his pity on the gourd and God’s mercy on souls? Did he ever see the foolishness of being angry with the grace of God? Did he ever recover from his great success or did he still just want to die? Since Jonah is the author of this book it is most likely he recorded all the negative facts about his attitude toward God and the city of Nineveh. It is very possible he chose to end the book leaving the reader with that same life changing question on their mind just as God had left it with Jonah.
– Daniel R. Vess