Jonah 4: For God So Loved Nineveh!
This is just my opinion- but Jonah would have looked a lot better, been remembered more positively if this fourth chapter had never been recorded. But God wanted this part of the story told also.
In chapter 1, Jonah is like the Prodigal Son. He insists on going his own way. We can probably empathize with his reluctance to do the will of God. Jonah was prejudiced, fearful and hated the Assyrians, Israel’s enemy. We also noticed Jonah while in this disobedient and emotional state of mind, was prayer less. He did not call out to God even once in the storm. When we have unconfessed sin in our lives, we have a hard time praying. If we want to enter the throne room of heaven to obtain grace to help in time of need, we must enter with a prayer of confess combined with repentance and godly sorrow.
In chapter two, Jonah prays a great prayer in the worst place as he finds himself in the belly of a great fish at the bottom of the sea. Again I look at the many of us who have prayed our best prayers in the worst of conditions and places. Jonah could have penned the words to this hymn: “I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore. Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more. But the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry, from the waters lifted me, now safe am I.” God’s love lifted Jonah, just as it has many, many of us sinking deep in sin. Jonah prayed a prayer from a broken heart.
In chapter three we see Jonah obey the word of God and go preach the word of God to the citizens of Nineveh. We see a great revival in the wicked city of Nineveh and God had compassion on them and did not destroy the city.
In chapter 4, Jonah prays another prayer. He prays one of the worst prayers as the words which come out of his mouth reveal what is in his heart.
This chapter tells us Jonah went outside the city after preaching God’s message for three days. He makes himself a shelter and waits to see what God is going to do with the city. Remember Jonah is a prophet who has told the citizens of Nineveh in 40 days they will be overturned.
Verses 1-3 reveal the heart of Jonah also. “Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.” You realize Jonah is angry with God and displeased with God. His prayer reveals why: “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. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
What in the world is going on here? First, we see the secret of why Jonah ran away to start with. Jonah knew the attributes of God that He was gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Jonah knew if he went and announced the judgement of the citizens of Nineveh, they would repent and God would forgive them and not destroy them. Secondly, Jonah who was a prophet would be labeled a false prophet, his reputation damaged since his prophecy of destruction had not come to be true. Thirdly, what would the Jews in Israel think of him when he went back home. Surely he would lose his standing as an insider in the king’s administration. There was a battle between character and pride of reputation and pride of reputation was winning. How many times does pride interfere with our doing the will of God? Also pride will keep us from asking others to pray for us and our problems because we do not want others to know our problems. (I am not saying we have to air all our ‘dirty laundry in public. But sometimes we do not avail ourselves of God’s solution to have the prayers of others intercede for us. Many have asked us specifically what they should pray for us at this time. And we have usually had some specific requests for them to pray.)
For these selfish reasons, Jonah prays to God to take his life. He wants to die rather than see the city of Nineveh saved. What a contrast to Jesus, the Son of God who would die rather than see us destroyed.
God asked Jonah the first of three questions: “Have you any right to be angry?” Do you see what has occurred? Jonah has gone outside the city. He does not want to go into the city and rejoice with them for they were lost and now saved. Jonah, the Prodigal Son in the first chapter has turned into the Elder Brother in the fourth chapter. The very parable Jesus told to the Pharisees to reveal the heart of God which welcomes tax collectors, and sinners, and prostitutes and thieves, and immoral foreign women and prodigal sons. A heart that rejoices and celebrates over the repentance of one sinner.
I believe God asked this question in a gentle tone. God always asks questions, not because He needs information, but because He wants you to look, observe and think about your situation. Are you angry with God today? Are you on the outs with Him? Had an argument because God is not giving you what you have asked Him for? Or God has given you something you did not ask for and you think it is not fair of Him. My mother nursed my father through 5 years of cancer. She physically broke her back caring for him at home. They had just both retired. All of their grandchildren had been born. All of their children were doing well. I know they were especially relieved to see me saved, sane and sober. Then my father is diagnosed with cancer just a few months after he retired. When my father died, my mother grieved but she was ready for the next phase of life. Then within months, she was diagnosed with cancer. I was with her when Dr. Clyde Smith told her she had cancer which had spread throughout her abdomen. I will never forget the anguish in her voice, when she said, “This is just not fair!” No one in the room would have argued with her. My mother quickly overcame her emotional outburst and apologized. I know how she felt and I know to Whom she was speaking. She was speaking to her Heavenly Father and I felt the same way she did. Why God? Why now? And there was resentment and yes, anger that God had allowed this to happen. She would pass away within 18 months, but she made peace with God.
So here Jonah is- sulking, angry and camping outside the city to see what would happen to the city. Nineveh is repenting and soon would be rejoicing. Jonah could have been in the city rejoicing with them, but he refuses to go into the city. Jonah could be sharing with these new believers the wonders of God’s character and attributes. He would have been received in any home in Nineveh. He was so angry, he was foolish. He would not go into the city where he would be welcomed to join the celebration of God’s compassion which God had lavished on the city and its inhabitants.
Jonah is an unhappy camper. He puts himself in a miserable condition, so he can continue to complain about life and its unfairness. Do you know some people who love to complain? Have you noticed once they have resolved the complaint- they find something new or different to complain about?
Watch what God does to get Jonah attention: He prepared a gourd, a plant with broad leaves, to spring up and provide this unhappy camper sitting in the hot sun with shade. Such a little thing, but God loves to give good gifts to His children. “Jonah was very happy with the vine.”
“But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. Then when the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint.” Again Jonah prays to die, which would be better than to live.
Why was God causing these things to happen to Jonah? Once again God wanted Jonah to reflect on what it was to be miserable, helpless and hopeless. Like the sign I saw one of the many who stand at corners and beg for money, it read: Hungry, Homeless, and Hopeless. I wonder what we would do if we had to honestly depend on the generosity of others to provide us with food, hope and shelter. Can you imagine spending hours per day standing in the hot sun, with a sign looking pleadingly at those in air conditioned cars to provide you with enough money to have something to eat? I know you are thinking this is a scam- they are drug addicts, alcoholics and part of a network who work busy corners to solicit money. Looks like hard miserable work to me. Are we as uncaring about them as Jonah was about the inhabitants of Nineveh? What did Jesus say in Matthew 25 to those who would enter his kingdom? He said I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you give me a drink of water, I was sick and you looked in on me, I was naked and you clothed me, in prison and you visited me. When they asked when did we see you hungry, thirsty, sick, in need of clothing, in prison and minister to you? He said when you did it to the least of these my brothers you did it unto me.
What makes you unhappy? Angry? What makes you want to give up? What makes you argue with God?
I believe James would call Jonah a ‘double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.’
God asked Jonah the second question: “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?”
Jonah answers God and says: “I do. I am angry enough to die. But the Lord said “You have been concerned about the vine though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot tell their right hand from their left (this refers to children) and many cattle as well.
Should I (God) not be concerned about that great city? “ The story ends and we do not know what happened to Jonah.
Jonah, obviously, still had a problem with the will of God.
Jonah had one more lesson to learn.
In chapter 1, Jonah learned the lesson of God’s providence and patience. He learned you cannot run away from God, wherever you go He is there.
In chapter 2, Jonah learned the lesson of God’s pardon. Jonah experienced Gods’ forgiveness which is available for all who call upon Him.
In chapter 3, Jonah learned the lesson of the power of Gods’ word. He learned of God’s compassion on lost sinners. God loved the citizens of Nineveh as much as the citizens of Jerusalem.
In chapter 4, Jonah had not yet learned the lesson of God’s pity nor had the heart of compassion for the lost people of Nineveh, including thousands of children. Jonah had more pity over the loss of the vine which provided him shade than the citizens of Nineveh.
The first question posed in the Bible is a question which was not answered properly and it led to the fall of man. It was asked by the serpent of old in the Garden of Eden. Here was the question that changed the course of history: “Did God really say ‘you must not eat from any tree in the garden? Satan often begins his temptations by questioning God’s commands. He suggests obedience is not really necessary. Yet we do ourselves great harm when we believe that we will find greater blessing doing our own thing rather than obeying God. Obedience is necessary and always results in blessings.
The next question occurs soon after the fall. The Lord comes into the garden and Adam and Eve hide from Him. The Lord called to Adam and said, “Where are you?” The Lord knew where Adam was, he wanted Adam to look at the consequences of his disobedience. I remember a particular night when I was 19 years old having been expelled from college and gone to Florida with two friends where we got jobs as house painters. One sleepless night, miserable and homesick, the question came to my mind- where are you now, Tim? I look back and realize the Lord was getting me to look at my situation and connect the dots to how I got there.
The question came rapidly to Adam that day in the garden: Who told you, you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree I commanded you that you should not eat? What is this you have done?
The Lord wanted Adam and Eve to realize the cause and consequences of not taking God at His Word and obeying Him.
The ending of the story of Jonah is an unusual ending for a book. It ends with an unanswered question.
God says to Jonah “have pity on a plant for which you did not labor, or make it grow, which came up in the night and perished in the night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between the right hand and left- and much cattle?
Jonah had more pity about a plant that perished than the pity for Nineveh including 120,000 children. I wonder are we as hard hearted as Jonah. More concerned about our creature comforts than the lost condition of billions of people.
Jonah’s answer is not recorded.
Is there a question God is asking you today- which you have not yet answered?
He spared not His own Son. Since the Garden of Eden somebody had to die for our sins or we would die in our sins. “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8; 32)
For God so loved Nineveh, He gave up His only Begotten Son…
Teacher’s Comment: Jonah attempted to live apart from God’s instructions and make decisions on his own minus the wisdom of God. When we do this as an individual or a nation we will suffer disillusionment, fear, worry, doubt and frustration. Which pretty well describes the majority of our population. In our country, we have a growing number of people who fail to seek God for his wisdom and the standards by which we are to live. Instead they live by their own wisdom and seek to satisfy their passions and desires without any concern for the future or the consequences of their decisions. God and His Word are left out completely in their decision making process. Did you notice Jonah knew about Gods’ compassion, His abounding love and mercy and Jonah knew God wanted to save those souls in Nineveh. His knowledge of God’s Word and character should have guided his direction, instead he does NOT want God’s direction because Jonah does not want what God wants- which is to save Nineveh rather than destroy it.
When we as individuals or a nation do not heed the Word of God we will begin to drift away from His truth and do what it right in our own eyes. The result is clear: we have drifted away from God, from His Word and His Truth. We are in dangerous waters.
I have watched those who would go out on a float in the Gulf of Mexico. The waves were gentle and all seemed to be coming toward the shore. Yet the person on the float, perhaps dozing in the warm sun accompanied by the gentle rocking of the waves awakes to find themselves having drifted farther away from shore, sometimes putting themselves in danger.
They have been carried away by an undercurrent, an under tow not visible on the surface. The same thing happens to us as believers. The undercurrent in our life is our old nature, called the flesh. It always seeks it satisfy its own passions and desires.
The only way one can keep from drifting is it put down an anchor. We have a sure anchor of two immutable things which Hebrews 6 tells us are:
- God’s Promises, His oath to us.
- God cannot lie.
We are told this hope is the anchor for our souls, both sure and steadfast. It holds in any storm, in any gale force hurricane in your life, for it is anchored in the presence of Jesus Christ who is in Heaven in the Holy of Holies.
God’s promises are our anchor. This why we must meditate in His word day and night. This how our minds, our thinking is transformed. Pray for wisdom and then listen to the still small voice of God as He speaks to you through His word, godly advice and providential circumstances.
Jonah’s story tells us what befalls us when we do not heed God’s word.
Oswald Chambers writes: “All our fret and worry is caused by calculating without God.”