Oh, if only there were just three chapters to this book, what an encouraging message this would have left us with. As we mentioned at the end of Jonah 3, Jonah doesn’t understand God’s ways, He doesn’t understand or see what God’s future plans are for the Ninevites and His own people.
Maybe Jonah has heard the preaching of Amos, Hosea and Isaiah, maybe he’s heard them say that ‘a nation from the north was going to bring an end to the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Maybe he looked at the Assyrians and said, ‘yep, this is the nation they’ve been speaking about’, Hosea 9:3 / Hosea 11:5 / Hosea 11:11 / Amos 5:27 / Isaiah 10:5.
Maybe this explains why he didn’t want to go to Nineveh in the first place, why should he preach repentance to a people who are eventually going to take the Northern Kingdom, his own people into captivity!
It appears that his hatred for the Assyrians was getting in the way of trusting God and His plans. To him it didn’t make any sense, it was so wrong and so, he became angry with God and it appears he’s been spiritually battling with God’s ways concerning Assyria for a long time.
The good news is that he took the time to pray to God about the way he was feeling, this is a lesson we all must earn, even when we don’t understand God and His ways.
Jonah must have heard those words, ‘you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity,’ over and over again in his childhood, Exodus 34:6-7 / Joel 2:13, the problem here is that he didn’t want to accept them.
Jonah’s attitude reminds me of Simon, when a sinful woman walks into his house, Luke 7:36-50. Simon’s view of righteousness demanded that you keep yourself away from sinners like her. Simon’s conclusion was that Jesus’ offer of grace to the woman was disgraceful, he thought it was disgraceful that Jesus would be in the company of that kind of woman.
Remember in Matthew 20, the story of the vineyard workers? Some worked all day; some only worked a few hours and they were all paid the same amount, but those who worked all day complained that it was unfair, the owner had been too gracious, and he says ‘can’t I do what I want with my own money? Or do you resent my generosity towards others?’ Mathew 20:15.
That’s exactly how the older brother felt in the parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32. He thought it was disgraceful that his father was giving grace to his sinful brother who had squandered money on women and booze. The older brother was absolutely fizzing with anger and he was bitter about the grace his father had given to his younger brother.
This is what’s happening with Jonah, he disobeyed God’s command to go to Nineveh, to get the people to repent, because he was afraid that God would forgive those people. And so, Jonah accused God of being irresponsible to people who didn’t deserve it. He’s telling God that grace is too good for some people. As Christians today, we are going to encounter people that we may not like, but if Jesus has accepted them into the fold, who are we to disagree with God’s decision!
Jonah wanting to die could be for a couple of reasons, maybe he thinks he would rather die than accept God’s decisions about saving these sinful people.
Or possibly he thinks he would rather die than go back to his people and tell them that Nineveh has repented which meant everything that Hosea, Amos and Isaiah had been predicting, concerning the Assyrians coming to punish the Northern Kingdom of Israel for their sins by taking them into captivity.
For every person that disagrees with God about how He dispenses grace, He has one question, ‘what right do you have to be angry?’ Do we today, have any right to be angry at God for how God forgives people?
God clearly isn’t happy with Jonah’s attitude, hence why He asked him this question. God needed to show Jonah how childish he was being, it was time for him to grow up and so, whilst Jonah was waiting to see what happened next, but why is he waiting?
There are examples in God’s dealings with Israel in which severe punishment was inflicted even after repentance, 2 Samuel 12:10-14, this is possibly why Jonah is waiting, maybe Nineveh will still be destroyed.
God provided a leafy plant and made it grow in order to shelter Jonah, but once again Jonah isn’t happy about it. Notice that although God provided a worm, Deuteronomy 28:39, to eat the plant which He provided for Jonah’s shelter, God then goes on to provide a ‘scorching east wind’.
Jonah once again isn’t happy that God removed the worm and the heat is too much for him, so he says, he would rather die, Philippians 1:23-24. It’s clear that Jonah is very confused at this point, and like many Christians today, they find it difficult to love the sinner but hate the sin, Revelation 2:6 / Revelation 2:16. Jonah should have hated the sin of the Assyrians but not the Assyrians themselves.
It appears that the leafy plant wasn’t the problem but the worm, hence God loved the Assyrians but hated their wicked behaviour.
Coffman points out some interesting things here, he says the following concerning some of the questions God has asked His people.
‘But God said to Jonah, is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’ Jonah 4:9. ‘But the LORD God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ Genesis 3:9. ‘Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ Genesis 4:9. ‘Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 1 Kings 19:13.
‘Jesus asked him, ‘Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’ ‘Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ John 21:15. ‘When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’ John 5:6. ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ Acts 22:7
Coffman goes on to point out the different words in Hebrew used for God, in these verses.
‘Yahweh’, meaning God the Creator is used. Jonah 4:4. ‘Yahweh’, ‘Elohim’, the compound name of God found in the Book of Genesis. Jonah 4:6. ‘Elohim’ the personal God, sends the worm. Jonah 4:8. ‘Elohim’, the Ruler of Nature sends the east wind. Jonah 4:9.
Despite God providing a great wind, Jonah 1:4, a huge fish, Jonah 1:17, a leafy plant, Jonah 4:6, a worm, Jonah 4:7 and a scorching east wind. Jonah 4:8, Jonah appears to be more concerned about his own life, and the plant life, rather than the lives of others, Mark 8:36.
God’s object lesson with the leafy plant was to help Jonah understand and look at himself and see his own destruction. Jonah is way more concerned about the leafy plant which withered than he is about all the wickedness that was happening in Nineveh.
Notice that God asks the question to Jonah, but God didn’t answer it, that’s because Jonah should know the answer himself. Jonah should know that God would never condemn a nation, especially after they have repented of their sins after the preaching of Jonah himself.
Jonah should know that God was right and being just, in His decision not to destroy Nineveh, 2 Peter 3:9. This is a lesson Jonah and the Northern Kingdom of Israel were eventually going to learn.
God’s decision is just because the Assyrians repented but His decision to later use them to take Israel into captivity is also just because His own people refused to repent of their sinfulness.
If we learn anything from Jonah, surely it is that God loves and cares for all people, not just a select few, Acts 10-11 / Romans 3:29, even the people we think aren’t worthy of receiving His grace.
When we struggle to see God’s ways or understand them, then we too should pray to God to help us understand His ways, whilst accepting His will for us, Isaiah 55:8-9.
Many Christians run away from their responsibilities within the Lord’s church, whether that be using the gifts He has given to edify each other, Romans 12:3-8, or not obeying the great commission to take the message of God’s love to the world, Matthew 28:19-20.
The church needs good solid food to chew on, so they can grow up in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus, 2 Perter 3:18, but we also need to reach out to the lost, Romans 10:14-15 and let them know that they need to repent in order to be saved.