Bible Studies in Book of Jonah
Jonah Chapter 4: God's focus versus man's comfort
by I Gordon
When we left Jonah at the end of chapter three he had just witnessed
what could well be the greatest revival recorded in the Bible. Chapter
4, the last in the book of Jonah, should be filled with great
thankfulness and rejoicing then. But, well it's not. It is fair to say
that it does not go as expected. If this was a movie or someone writing
a fictional book, you wouldn't end the way this book does. But this
isn't a Walt Disney movie. In fact, if I was writing this book about
myself (as the traditional view of Biblical scholars is that Jonah
himself wrote this book) then I wouldn't have included chapter 4. But
that is what makes the Bible so unique. Its human authors were inspired
by God and led by His Spirit and He doesn't leave out the unfortunate,
uncomfortable or ego deflating parts of the story! Now I've started the
last couple of studies on Jonah with a corny little poem so why stop
now? Here is a quick review of the chapter before us, this time coming
in the form of a couple of little limericks.
Grace made Nineveh's hearts so glad
While Jonah fumed, he's livid & mad
It's never that funny
When saints spit the dummy
And rejoice not but just pack a sad
But God has His ways to affirm
The truth that can make us all squirm
So stop this malarkey
And don't get all snarky
Lest He's forced to make use of His worm!
A hot under the collar prophet
Jonah 4:1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.
As mentioned, Jonah has just participated in the largest revival known
in biblical times. He'd seen the highest down to the lowest in the land
repent and call on God. Boy is Jonah going to be happy! He will be on
cloud nine as they say! Over the moon! He'll be skipping and singing
all the way back to Israel! Argh, wait a minute... what's this? But what
do we read? He wasn't just displeased - he was angry about what
happened! The Hebrew word here for angry is literally,
'to be hot, blaze, burn' You've heard of being hot under the collar.
Well Jonah is all that and more!
There is an anger that comes upon some when good things happen, or when
God is kind, to those that they would rather didn't experience such
good fortune. It is evidence of a religious spirit
. An example of this is expressed in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
Do you remember the reaction of the older brother when he saw how the
father treated his prodigal son upon his return? You would think he
would be pleased to see his younger brother home safe and well but that
is not what happens.
Luke 15:25-28 Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he
came near the house, he heard music and dancing. (26) So he called
one of the servants and asked him what was going on. (27) 'Your
brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the
fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' (28) The
older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went
out and pleaded with him.
The Bible tells us to 'rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those
who mourn' (Romans 12:15) It doesn't say be annoyed when others rejoice
and be positively angry when others find salvation! But that is where
Jonah is at the moment. We shall soon find out why.
Jonah wanted judgment not mercy for the Assyrians
Jonah 4:2 He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when
I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I
knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and
abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.
'I told you so! Didn't I tell you? I told you... I know I did. I told you
so. Argh... I knew you would forgive them!' Here is the first person that
I have heard of being annoyed that God is gracious and compassionate.
Had Jonah already forgotten that he himself had just required that same
graciousness from God? Had he not just required God's compassion when
he ran from his master? Why are we slow to see our own issues, failures
and constant need for God's grace and be so quick to see the problems
Jonah knew God well. He knew He is gracious, compassionate and slow to
anger. He knew that God abounds in love and relents from sending
calamity if possible. And that is what worried Jonah. You see, Jonah
didn't want God to relent. He didn't want God to be compassionate. He
didn't want God to be gracious. Well, not with the Assyrians anyway
. He certainly wanted those things for himself... just not with those
whom he didn't like
. What tricky, mixed up people we can be!
That's it! I'm through. It is too much... take my life!
Jonah 4:3-4 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to
die than to live." (4) But the LORD replied, "Have you any right to be
Jonah, it seems, is not only hot under the collar. He is angry to the
point of not wanting to live anymore. It seems that he believes a great
injustice has occurred. Jonah's thoughts were along these lines: 'The
Assyrians should have received the judgment that they deserved. And if
that isn't going to happen then what is the point of carrying on and
being your spokesperson? You might as well take my life.' Different
people in the Bible, even great saints, have wanted to die for
Elijah became discouraged and fearful thinking he was the only believer
left in Israel, so he suggested that the Lord should take his life too.
(1 Kings 19:1-18)
Job struggled under the weight of great suffering and desired to die
The Apostle Paul desired to depart for a different reason altogether.
He had seen the glories of Heaven (2 Cor. 12:2-4) and eagerly longed to
be with Christ which is better by far! (Phil 1:21-25)
What about Jonah? Well, he is just plain angry with God! So God asks
him the simple yet thought provoking question - 'Do you have any right
to be angry?' Now Jonah didn't have a right to be angry but he was so
nonetheless. Do we get angry? Do you get angry? What brings such anger
on? Often God doesn't act like we would like Him to. Sometimes we get
angry when bad things happen or prayers seem to go unanswered. Maybe it
is when we are made to wait for far too long (in our own oh-so
important opinion!) Maybe it seems that God is blessing others while
you go overlooked. The fact is, even believers can have a tendency to
get annoyed and angry at times.
What about God? How does He react to this little dummy spit from His
prophet? He who showed tremendous patience towards the Ninevites, once
again shows the same patience with His prophet. But He doesn't want
this experience to pass without Jonah learning something though! It's
always the way. He begins with a question. God has a wonderful knack of
asking thought-provoking questions.
And you often count on Him to provide a real life object lesson as
well, just to ram the point home (as we shall now see!)
Waiting for the fireworks to begin
Jonah 4:5-6 Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city.
There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see
what would happen to the city. (6) Then the LORD God provided a vine
and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his
discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine.
When God asked Jonah if he had a right to be angry, no response from
Jonah is recorded. Angry people who blame God often stop talking to
Him. They may even say that they are through. Jonah just took himself
off to the east of the city to get a front row seat and watch what
happened. I believe that he is still hoping to see some fireworks.
Maybe he thinks that the Ninevites will go back to their old ways.
Maybe he thinks that God might have listened to his previous whine and
will return to His initial intention of judging the city. Either way,
Jonah still hopes that Nineveh will still experience one of God's shock
and awe displays!
But we do finally read that Jonah is happy. Why? What made him
'extremely happy'? Well, God appointed a plant to grow over Jonah and
give him shade from the hot sun. It is a little pleasure and relaxation
in what you could say has been a trying few weeks! The repentance of
the Ninevites certainly didn't make him happy but a growing plant does.
To Jonah, it is some temporal comfort as well as an indication that God
still cares for him; which is true of course. Never underestimate the
ability of God to bless you at a time when you don't expect it or even
deserve it. His faithfulness and love surprises us. But God had a
second purpose in mind here. This wasn't just about temporal comfort.
More importantly it was about Jonah learning eternal principles.
An object lesson was in progress and it was one that would require the
actions of another of God's great, though smaller, servants...
It's your time... Enter stage right Mr. Worm.
Jonah 4:7-8 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed
the vine so that it withered. (8) When the sun rose, God provided a
scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew
faint. He wanted to die, and said, "It would be better for me to die
than to live."
As Job once famously declared, 'The Lord gives and the Lord takes
away.' He provides comfort and He provides a worm when required! God
has appointed a few things in this book. He appoints a storm, a fish, a
plant, a worm and a wind. Which is harder for God? Is it harder to
appoint a fish to obey Him and swallow Jonah or to appoint a worm to
eat a plant? Neither! Maybe you don't see a worm eating a plant as such
a miraculous event but tell me - how many worms do what you command?
God doesn't just have to use what we see as 'supernatural means' to get
our attention. He can also use what we see as simple natural processes
to teach us as well.
Now, the withering of his beloved beautiful plant is a tipping point
for Jonah. He survived the storm on the boat. He handled getting thrown
overboard into the sea. He didn't give up though swallowed by a great
fish. He was willing to walk into the enemy's city of Nineveh and
proclaim God's message. All these things he coped with. But his plant
dying-- leading to the sun beating down on him is just too much! 'I
want to die!' he says. 'Take my life!' Really? Are things truly that
bad? Or are his priorities jumbled and his focus blurred? I think it is
the later. Well, I know it is the later. And so does God who is about
to help re-focus his prophet.
Conclusion and God's last word
Jonah 4:9-11 God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about
the vine?" "I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die." (10) But the
LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not
tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight.
(11) But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who
cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well.
Should I not be concerned about that great city?"
From verse 8 above you could think that Jonah was just getting
sun-stroke and starting to lose it. But from God's question and Jonah's
reply, there does seem to be a genuine anger over losing the plant and
what it stood for. Jonah's comfort has been removed and he doesn't like
it one bit! As mentioned earlier there is large percentage of those
that call themselves 'Christians' that think God is there to bless them
with an easy comfortable life, with a great marriage and kids, health
and wealth and well, blessing upon blessing. God is trying to teach
Jonah an important lesson. And it is this - 'You are focusing on what
brings you comfort and are angry when you lose it. But you don't care
about those that matter the most to me - people!' God's love, even here
in the Old Testament, stretches far wider than just the nation of
Israel. He was concerned about the wicked Ninevites! He is saying that
He loves the lost, and wants Jonah to do so as well. We all need to be
careful that we don't forget this and have our focus blurred by things
as Jonah's was.
Jonah had earlier learned that 'Salvation is of the Lord' (Jonah 2:9).
He had learned this from the most trying of circumstances being in the
belly of a great fish! He had learned that there is no place or
situation that a person can find themselves in that is outside God's
means of salvation. But now God was teaching him even more about this
salvation. That there is no one that is outside the bounds of His
salvation either, should they desire it. God's love extends even to the
wicked Assyrians. Or the Islamic State for that matter. God's salvation
has no exceptions based on race, religion, sex or creed.
This book ends rather abruptly. God has the last word. That is how it
should be. It is a word reinforcing His love for all. We don't know how
Jonah responded to this. The Bible doesn't tell us. So here is what I
hope happened based and pure speculation and wishful thinking. I hope
that Jonah forgot about his plant. I hope he let go of his anger. I
hope he was able to walk down into the city again and rejoice with
those who now rejoice. I hope he was able to tell them a greater
message than he did before... one about the God who is gracious and
compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents
from sending calamity. Here's hoping!