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Intro: In our lesson this morning we come to the last chapter of Jonah’s prophecy; or more to the fact, the last chapter of Jonah’s story. In the previous lessons on Jonah’s story we have noticed several astonishing things:
1) It is astonishing that a prophet who knew the true God would attempt to hide from His presence.
2) It is astonishing that God would pursue Jonah and use the terror of a great storm and the courage and religious fervor of some heathen sailors to awaken Jonah’s conscience.
3) It is astonishing that God would save Jonah from drowning and bring his to repentance by keeping him alive in the fish’s belly for three days and three nights – that He gives Jonah a second chance.
4) It is astonishing that at the preaching of Jonah, the entire city of Nineveh, from the king on down, is brought to its knees and repents. Subsequently, God Himself repents of His plans to destroy them.
5) But the most astonishing element of this story may be found in chapter 4 – It is astonishing that God’s prophet could be angry, to the point of wanting to die, because he is successful. Does this seem incredible to you? Interestingly, I am convinced that we may be more connected to prophet here than any place so far.
I. Read Jonah 4:1-11 – Do you get the impression that this whole event is more about God’s graciousness to Jonah than to Nineveh? Jonah is back on the job, but God is still pursuing him. God can see his heart, and He knows how deep the problem goes. He always knows.
A. Jonah’s Anger: vs. 1 –4 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. The “it” of this verse connects back to the last phrase of chapter 3, In response to the sincere repentance of the Ninevites, God “did not do it” – He did not destroy the city. God’s mercy made Jonah angry.
1. To his own credit, Jonah prays to God (v. 2-3) When some get angry with God, they simply leave, or blaspheme His good name to others. In this prayer, we learn for the first time in the book, why Jonah originally ran away and refused to go to Nineveh. He knew God was “a gracious and merciful God”. What Jonah had originally feared was now apparent – God was going to spare Nineveh.
2. “Please take my life… it is better for me to die than to live” Jonah’s anger is deep. These are the words of a desperate person, emotionally distraught. How could someone who was so thankful for life just recently, be so disparaging of it here?
3. Let we make a comparison here for the purpose of seeing more clearly Jonah’s problem. There was another prophet who spoke similar words to God. Do you remember? Elijah had just displayed the power of God at Mt. Carmel and had executed the prophets of Baal. But he heard Jezebel was on the rampage and was out to get him. 1 Kings 19:4 – But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!”
a. What is the difference between Jonah’s death wish and Elijah’s? God pursues Elijah as well. He comes to him and asks Elijah twice, “what are you doing here?” (v. 9,13) Notice Elijah’s answer (same twice) in 1 Kings 19:10 – So he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”
- Elijah was not despondent over the grace of God, but the sin of the people.
- Elijah was upset because God’s purpose was not being accomplished. Jonah was angry because it was.
- Elijah was thinking about the people and God’s cause; Jonah was thinking about himself.
- God fed Elijah, encouraged him by telling him he was not alone, and sent him back to work. But God had another object lesson for Jonah. (He did not take the life of either prophet – it was not better for them to die).
B. God’s Question for Jonah: vs. 4 – “Is it right for you to be angry?” God’s question is a call for Jonah to evaluate his moral position – Is he right? Not all anger is wrong (be angry and sin not – Eph. 4:26). The implication of God’s question was that Jonah’s feelings were wrong. The event that follows is God’s manner of pointing this out to him. He needs to think about this.
1. Why was Jonah angry? This question has been given several answers by the expositors of this book over the years.
a. Was it his patriotism or nationalistic spirit? It seems certain that Jonah was a true patriot. His nationalistic spirit for Israel prohibited any true compassion for his country’s enemies. He thought God’s purposes were contingent on the military overthrow of Israel’s enemies. Burton Coffman makes this observation: The Jews of Jonah’s time, “could only see God’s kingdom being established by the overthrow of the kingdom of the world,” a misunderstanding that persisted and finally resulted in their rejection of the Christ himself. In fact, one of the shameful and destructive influences on earth till this day is the savage, malignant, and carnal patriotism which equated love of one’s own nation with the hatred of every other nation. There are more than a few so-called Christians who think that it is God’s will for them to hate America’s enemies. God loves every person of every nation or culture. That does not mean he approves of their conduct or religion. But the most important thing to God is that they repent and be obedient to His will.
- A particular passage that came to my mind as I contemplated how Jonah’s attitude impacted me was Jesus model prayer in Matthew 6. The line that gives us the most problem: Matt 6:10 – Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Do you pray this? God’s will be done here as in heaven – perfectly, without resistance. Jonah was unwilling to rejoice in the will of God (repentance) on earth.
b. Was it deep-seated hatred and racism against the people of Assyria? This could certainly have been the case. The Assyrians were a wicked and hated people. Long practiced prejudice is a cruel taskmaster, even in the minds of good people. It is difficult for us to break loose from its grip. It remains a challenge for us to be like God – hate the sin, but love the sinner.
c. Was it selfishness? This third explanation for Jonah’s fierce anger seems the most plausible to me. The conversion of Nineveh meant personal ruin for Jonah. As a prophet in Israel he could not return there in triumph if Nineveh was spared. The uncompromising hatred and animosity of Israel which already existed toward Nineveh, would, after the conversion of that city, have been intensified and transferred to Jonah. Consider the case of Saul of Tarsus, once heralded among his countrymen, until he converted Gentiles. Then he became hated just as much as them.
- One commentator stated Jonah’s position this way… “He saw the utter weakening of his hands, the destruction of his usefulness among his countrymen.” All of Jonah’s hope of bringing his own nation to do the will of God perished, in the event of Nineveh’s conversion, which as it seemed to Jonah, “would eclipse the honor of God, destroy the credit of his ministry, and harden the hearts of his countrymen. (from Coffman’s Bible Commentary) Jonah was thinking about how this would impact him. It was selfish anger.
d. Jonah was stingy with God’s grace. He was thankful when it was extended to him, but angry when it was extended to others whom he considered undeserving. This is not a unique attitude among God’s people: He possessed the same spirit as 1) the elder brother of the prodigal son (Lk 15); the Pharisees toward Jesus eating with sinners (Mt 9); those who worked all day in the field, and watched as the late-comers received the same wage (Mt. 20) The sectarian spirit is still alive and well among us. God has absolute sovereignty over His own mercy. “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Rom 9:14, 15).”
C. God’s Gourd: Jonah goes outside of the city and sets up camp in the shade. He is waiting to see if God will change His mind. Notice the things God prepares (appoints) here: gourd, worm, wind, sun…
1. While he is waiting, God prepares a plant (gourd) to grow tall enough to shade Jonah. The text says it was designed to “deliver him from his misery” (v. 6). God knows what will make a materialistic selfish man happy again. (again we see God’s grace)
- Notice Jonah’s response: He was “very grateful for the plant” His mood swings all the way back from anger to thankfulness. Have you ever seen moody, shallow Christians who had no long-lasting joy in their lives… their present circumstances was all that mattered.
- What makes you happy? To see people repent or the circumstances of you own comfort? There are millions of Jonahs everywhere in our society today- people who are glad, for the comforts and luxuries they enjoy, rather than for the spiritual salvation provided in Christ. They are more thankful for sports contests, good food, entertainment, and a party to go to than they are for the privilege of worship and bible study. They are glad for their gourds.
2. (v. 7-8) The next morning God prepares a worm to attack the gourd plant and it withers. God then commissioned a fierce east wind, coupled with a hot sun to beat upon the unprotected prophet. Jonah’s pendulum swings back again and he wishes he was dead. It is in this resurrected state of misery that God speak to Jonah once more. Here is the point He wants to make:
- Jonah 4:9-11 – Then 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!” 10 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. 11 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?”
D. God’s Compassion: The question posed before is repeated by God in a different context. “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” Jonah is quick to defend his anger, even unto death! But Jonah’s unreasonableness stands fully unmasked.
1. Jonah had no right to complain about a withered gourd vine that he did nothing to produce in the first place. We certainly grieve over the loss of our gourds. God’s sends us good things that we did nothing to earn or produce, without our intervention or ingenuity. But we tend to claim these things as our right, and thus complain when it is taken away. There might be an unspoken assumption that we deserve God’s blessings, and so, like Jonah, we reserve the right to complain when they are withdrawn. But we must be careful to understand the graciousness of God, and be less prone to complain about the withering gourds. Job asks the rhetorical question: “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (NLT) (Job 2:10).
2. Jonah had concern and pity for a measly plant, but had no pity for a city of lost people. Jonah’s anger is exposed as a lack of compassion. It is exposed as hypocritical, shallow and unreasonable.
3. How does your compassion match up to God’s? Can we begin to understand the heart of God in the pursuit of sinners? Jonah’s regard of the gourd was a hint.
- What would you truly mourn for if it were lost to you? God mourns for the lost sinner more. If you can relate to God’s feelings then you can begin to see what God was saying to Jonah.
- When we lose our home, lose our air conditioning, lose our wealth, lose our possessions, and our comforts we have pity for ourselves. But we have no pity for the lost people in this city.
4. How should this impact us?
- We need to speak to others about Jesus. Invite them to a Bible study. Tell them about the hope you have with meekness and fear.
- We need to be compassionate toward those who are not like us, or come to learn about God who do not know the protocol that we are accustomed to. We need to give them some latitude. True Compassion gives time to the lost to learn God’s truth and come to repentance. Jonah should have been in the city with all those “sinners” teaching them about God.
- We need to not be stingy with God’s grace. God’s words are for everyone, and we are to be his tools to take it to them. God’s compassion should always be on display in his people.
Conclusion: Jonah 4:11 – 11 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?” This is how the book ends – with an unanswered question. Jonah had no answer because God’s logic is unassailable. But maybe it ends this way because the question must be asked again and again in every generation.
Dummelow wrote: “There is no finer close in literature than this ending. The Divine question, “Should not I have pity?” remains unanswered. Its echoes are heard still above every crowded haunt of men. Above the stir, and din, and wickedness the Infinite Compassion is still brooding.”
The gospel message of God’s compassion and grace is still being preached. Will you come today?