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Jonah 4

So Jonah finally gets to Nineveh and the people believe God's message and genuinely repent- from the king to the nobles, to the servants. So God relents and keeps them from destruction. All's well that ends well, right? Not if you are Jonah.

Where to even begin with the hot mess that is Jonah?

But it greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry.

Jonah 4:1

What displeased Jonah? He should have been thrilled. His enemy brought to their knees in sackcloth and ashes! God glorified? Wicked men repenting? Just what was it that displeased Jonah? He tells us in verse 2:

I knew that Thou art a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.

Jonah 4:2b

That's right! Jonah main complain was that he knew how great God was, so he knew God could turn Nineveh from its wickedness.

It is interesting that, also in verse 2, Jonah tells God that he ran away to forestall this outcome. That seems to indicate that he always knew his plan to obstruct God who eventually fail. And yet he did it anyway. That's so strange to me. You can see someone running from God to get his way because he thinks it might work. But Jonah knew God and knew that it wouldn't. That's some serious rebellion.

And Jonah knew God. Some go their whole lives and couldn't summarize God so beautifully-

  • gracious
  • compassionate
  • slow to anger
  • abundant in lovingkindness
  • one who relents concerning calamity

What if we all understood just those 5 things about God. Let alone Hid many, many other names and characteristics.

Jonah knew that the old testament God is gracious. Full of grace. He knew what Israel deserved, his homeland and people. They were wicked and idolatrous; but God was gracious to them. Jonah knew that better than anyone else on the planet at that time.

Here's how strong describes the actual word used for gracious, ḥannûn, "only used as an attribute of God, as hearing the cry of the vexed debtor"

Is that beautiful? This word was only used a handful of times; but it packs a punch. "The cry of a vexed debtor"? Wow.

Desperation finds relief. That's our God. We will have eternity to try and grasp how amazing our God is. We want Him to give us num nums to make us happy in the moment; but He wants to free us from our crippling debt. Here's how C.S. Lewis frames a similar concept in The Wight of Glory:

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

The Weight of Glory

Keep in mind that Jonah knew this about our God. Most of our lives would change for the better if we meditated on this trait of God and tried to grasp it to apply in our daily lives. But God's prophet knew it.

God is compassionate.

This word is raḥûm, according to the Blue Letter Bible; and it is also translated as merciful. Full of compassion and mercy. Underserved. unearned. Mercy. Compassion. Again, Jonah is describing the God of the Old Testament. Our God never changes. It's easier to see this trait in Jesus. But it was always there in the same way. The Lord is so long suffering with us. Lamentations tells us that His compassion is new every morning.

Again, I think if meditated on just this one characteristic of God, we would be changed for so much the better. And Jonah knew it.

God is slow to anger. Without a doubt. That should be the subtitle to the Old Testament. At every stage of the journey they tested His patience. God was so slow to anger as they brought foolishness upon foolishness to Him. Not that people have changed. We're just as foolish; but we were so very blessed by also receiving the Holy Spirit to move His plan forward.

Abundant in lovingkindness. Also translated great kindness. Jonah knew the calamity God could bring better than anyone. He was God's messenger. But he also knew that God's character was that of great kindness. That's why Jonah knew that God was known to relent concerning calamity.

What's ironic here is that Jonah states that he went on the run because he knew all of these things about the Lord. So he knew that the Assyrians would repent and earn God's favor. However, his own king and people of Israel were , assumingly, hearing Jonah's messages from the Lord and did not change. Did not repent. What made Jonah so sure the cruel, brutal Assyrians would hear and repent? It makes me wonder how hard he was trying to influence those back home. And he had to know that, to date, he had been the first (and last) prophet sent to a foreign government with this type of message...maybe that's what convinced him that God was going to get through to these people. Or maybe, he knew that these people and his people's future was intertwined and if Nineveh was in God's favor and Israel wasn't even trying...it might not work out well for Israel. If so, he would have been very right.

Back to the text...In verse 3, Jonah now has the nerve to ask God to take his life, because, "death is better than life to me."

In one of my previous bible studies, the presenter reminds a group of college kids of Jesus' greatest commandment, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:37–40)

Then the presenter goes on to say that many use this as a defense for a focus on loving yourself. He claims that you do not need to ever focus on loving yourself; everyone does that automatically. Students pushed back on this, asking about those who were depressed and suicidal. He said they loved themselves more than anyone. They were so absorbed with themselves that they would rather die if they couldn't get their way.

One statistic may support this, suicide rates are much higher in developed countries than in 3rd world countries. Logically, it seems like it would be the reverse--those living in a depressing environment should be more likely to commit suicide if it was about reality. But it's often about perception. A heartbreak feels so bad that they "just can't go on". Or other troubles seem like they'll never end...they love themselves and want their way.

Of course, there are those with chemical imbalances and those facing unspeakable pain and grief. This isn't a comprehensive commentary on suicide; but Jonah's desire to die rather than live in a world where God is gracious and kind to his Jonah's enemy isn't a real great look for Jonah.

And God seems to be pretty unmoved by Jonah's suicidal tendencies. God ignores Jonah's plea entirely and asks,

Do you have good reason to be angry?

Jonah 4:4

Ouch.

There are some who threaten suicide to manipulate those around them. Which is a truly horrible thing to do. For those of you at home, don't do that. It's emotional terrorism, trying to make other people feel responsible for your bad choices.

God was not moved by Jonah's hysterionics.

And you notice that God didn't label Jonah's state of mind "suicidal", or "depressed", or "fragile", or anything Jonah probably would have used to describe his current state of mind. God labeled Jonah as "angry". Too often, out of a compassion for those who are hurting, we (and they) want to give them a label that paints a sympathetic picture. And maybe, sometimes, that is warranted. But I wonder, if we shouldn't first exclude this cause-they are angry.

And the best definition of anger that I have ever heard is- feeling like God's plan isn't good enough for you. We want our way. And we want God to see why our way is the best for us. We truly, truly believe that God is wrong and we are right.

That is assuredly the case with Jonah. He wanted to die because he didn't get his way. God's plan was wrong and Jonah was mad.

Here's a challenge for you (and for me, as anger is one of my main problem areas): Each time you are mad, see if you can find any other root cause except that you aren't getting your way. Maybe it is a very legitimate thing that you want or need; but God's plan is never wrong. Even the most vile thing can be redeemed by the Maker of the world.

So how does Jonah handle God addressing his actual issue? Verse 5 tells us that he...ran away and pouted. He went out from the city and sat down to wait to see what happened to the city. He's still hoping for his way. He's still rooting for calamity for a large number of people.

Verse 6 tells us how God responded to Jonah's childish pouting... He appointed a plant to grow up over Jonah's head to offer shade and deliver him from the dessert heat. This eased Jonah's discomfort. Ahhh...that's so nice. Pouting Jonah got some relief. And God specifically appointed a plant to do it, just like He appointed the great fish to swallow Jonah. This should have given Jonah pause...but no, the end of the verse tells us that he was very happy about the plant.

Happy about the plant; suicidal when Nineveh might be spared. Jonah takes selfish narcissism to Olympic levels.

Then, in verse 7 God once again appoints something from HIs creation to do His will. Sadly for Jonah, this time it is a worm that attacked the plant and it withered.

Big, big ouch. Sometimes a little bit of hope or relief hurts more than when you are hunkered down trying to ride out the storm. And that's what Jonah had been doing-trying to hunker down. He went to sleep in the bottom of the boat. He was content to go into the sea. He trudged across the city and now he was going to sit under his sad little shelter until he saw how things turned out in Nineveh. Then God gave him a shade to sooth the discomfort...and then took it away. It actually says that Jonah was extremely happy. And then a worm took it away. I cringe just thinking about that. I have been there...pouting, in pain, and miserable; then a gentle wind give you some comfort. Losing that feel like falling off a cliff. Logically, you're just returning to your previous level of miserable. But emotionally, it feels so much worse.

And then God cranked up the miserable knob to 11 and sent an east wind to bear down on Jonah, along with the blazing sun. If I remember correctly, the east winds were devastating. Walls of scorching sand blowing through like a sand paper hurricane.

This reminds me of one of the things my Dad said when I was a kid that still makes me furious to remember..."I'll give you something to cry about." Jonah's mad because God might save Jonah's enemy. God gave Jonah something to cry about. And Jonah once again begged to die.

And how does God respond? A question. The same question Jonah refused to answer before he ran off to pout.

Do you have good reason to be angry?

Jonah 4:9a

This time Jonah answers. It's pretty lame; but it does answer. "I have good reason to be angry, even to death." But that's all he offers. He's like a Twitter troll who tells you to go do research. He doesn't have any evidence or support for his opinion; but he is standing by it just the same.

But God doesn't ask any follow up questions. He simply uses the plant and the worm to address Jonah's unspoken complaint. He points to Jonah and Jonah's compassion for the plant that grew. He also pointed out the Jonah had nothing to do with making or growing the plant. And yet, Jonah is mad because God would have compassion on 120,000 people and their animals (who He did help in making and growing, even if He didn't approve of the choices they made on their own.)

And that's it. That is the literal end of the story.

It's abrupt. We don't know if Jonah learns an repents or if he dies a shriveled, bitter pouter.

But that's the point isn't it?

It was never about Jonah.

The Lord did everything He could to bring Jonah along, and help Jonah prosper; but Jonah was just the messenger. God' will and God's plan was going to be done either way.

And if Jonah is the author, which seems likely, maybe the fact that the story ends here is a good sign. Maybe Jonah realized it wasn't about him and we didn't need anymore information about him. But maybe the opposite is true and God gave up on him, ending the story. We don't know because that's not what is really important about this book.

God's sovereignty over everything- wind, waves, animals under the sea, plants, bugs- everything.

And God's love for everyone. Even the worst of the worst.

I do have to admit that Jonah does read differently than most of the rest of the Bible. I agree that it has a fable feel to it. So I can see why some want to dismiss it as fiction. But Ruth is a love story, and Judges is a series of short stories, and I can tell the difference in the voices of each of the gospel writers. Jonah was a strange duck. He was God's messenger, an advisor to a corrupt king, and a flawed human. It shouldn't surprise us that he would take on a different tone than other authors. That might be part of why God chose him. For the life of me, I struggle with the Psalms and the Proverbs; but Jonah's symbolism and style speak to me...even if Jonah himself is annoying. That's how we received the Holy Word- told to specific men and captured along with the voice of the author. Are David's truths less true because he sang them in song, then why would we dismiss the words of a prophet because they are told in the tone or style of a fable. Many of the prophets spoke in metaphors, stories, and even parables. One significant Prophet comes to mind...Jesus.

I have one final thought of my own before I explore what others have to say about this final chapter of Jonah. The reason I am reading Jonah now is that I am reading through the Old Testament chronologically. Jonah was a prophet of one of the last kings of Israel. Israel is almost at the end of their existence on earth prior to the end times. God has been so patient, loving, coaching, coaxing, and correcting. He's used all of the carrots and all of the sticks. And now they are encroaching on Judah with their devastating idolatry and forsaking of the Lord. It's time for them to go.

The thing I get from Jonah this time, in chronological order, that I didn't get just a few months ago by itself, is that Jonah definitely represents his age and the people he was assigned to speak to-Israel. He's stubborn, unwilling to acknowledge his sin, even sin that harms innocents. He only cares about his own comfort and seems unwilling to try to know God's will and obey.

Maybe God sent him to Assyria because he wasn't really bringing the heat at home. We can't really know the motivations of the Lord. But we do definitely see Jonah acting like Israel. And just like Jonah, Israel's story is about to end without them in it anymore.

Additional insights from Lord, Teach Me to Study the Bible in 28 Days (Kay Arthur) -Previous Bible Study on Jonah

  • God "appointed" the fish, the plant, the worm, the scorching wind. His sovereignty is over everything. And "appointed" is so much more intentional than just "making the fish swallow Jonah". There's an element of God among us, not God turning us into mindless Barbies.
  • "Compassion" and "compassionate" are repeated for God and for Jonah. We are Imago Dei- the best of who we are is a reflection of being made in His image. "Do you recognize this trait in your own heart? It's a reflection of Me. You can know me better by exploring the best I have placed in you.
  • Jonah's description of God comes from the same words in Exodus 34:5-7, which Jonah would know...being God's prophet. Except that, Jonah completely truncates the passage by leaving out this trait of the Lord: "forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin".
    • And now that I am reading the Old Testament in chronological order, I wonder if this is more than just wanting to skip forgiveness for the Assyrians. I wonder if Jonah wanted to forget about sin and inequity all together. Yes, it's true that he doesn't want Assyria to experience God's forgiveness; but I have to wonder what he thinks about the sin of his own king, Jeroboam II? That full phrase on forgiveness reads, "forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty". Jeroboam was guilty. Maybe Jonah would rather not think about any of that. Just his beloved comfortable plant while hoping for Assyria's destruction.
  • That leads me to think about patriotism. While Assyria was historically cruel and brutal; Israel was not standing on some moral high ground. They were doing plenty of their own evil ways. Here's my point, would Jonah have been pro-Assyria if he had been born a few mile north of his home town? In other words, was t just patriotism that made him favor Israel over Assyria? He was supposed to be God's messenger. God should have been his True North. Instead he seemed to be more of a cheerleader for the home team than a prophet of the Lord. I see that all of the time these days, and am guilty of it myself. I love my country. And I am proud of who we are (less and less; but still proud). And I think some of our enemies are truly evil (at least the regimes in government). But at the end of the day, when I lift up my banner, I only have room for the name of Jesus. I can't also squeeze on there my political affiliations and economic preferences. I can vote. I can educate on these other matters; but I have to be about the Father's business; not the home town mascot's. Jonah seems to have completely forgotten that; or maybe never knew it. My hope is that the way the book ends is evidence that he figured out who the story was supposed to be about.
  • How many times have you heard someone proudly state that they like animals more than people. There's always this pride in the statement. Like they've found a hidden portal to a secret land where there are creatures better than mere mortals. I get it. I never had children, so I treat our cat like some might treat a child. And I grieve when I see any animal in distress. Something inside me feels a strong connection to these non-human living things. However, that's not the impression I get when people say they prefer animals to humans. It's a criticism of humans, not a love of the animals. And I always want to ask, "Is it you that's hard to get along with? Do you like the animals because they can't question you or express displeasure in you the way a human can? Is it you and not us that is the problem?" Jonah had compassion on the plant! He spent three days walking through Nineveh with God's message. He had to have seen some innocent women, children, craftsmen, hard working, sincere folks. But he didn't seem to find any compassion for a single one of them, except the plant. That gave him comfort. Hey Jonah, not to defend the Assyrians here, but maybe it's you and not us that' the problem. Maybe go to the dessert to think about how your anger ha heartened your heart, not just to see if the city is destroyed.
  • Finally, I had a note in my bible study sheets that I hadn't picked up on in this reading. The Lord's Fatherly conversation with Jonah reminds me of God's conversation with Cain. One-on-one and so intimate. So personal. God takes time for those of us who struggle with anger. He speaks into our real motivations and coaxes us to think clearly, not just go with our feelings. He takes time with those of us who do not deserve it. Praise our faithful Father. Cain and Jonah didn't seem to learn from this intimate gift; but hopefully we all can.
  • Anger is a way of telling God that we don't like His plan.
  • Sometimes we get a plant and sometimes we get a worm and sometimes we get swallowed by a fish, but it saves our life from drowning. His ways are not our ways. His plans are not our plans. He is God. I am not.

Be Amazed Warren Wiersbe Commentary

  • God looks at the heart and at intentions; the outcomes were all to His credit anyway.
  • Amazingly, God worked lovingly to change Jonah's heart

The MacArthur Bible Commentary

  • Jonah received a pardon at the bottom of the sea (and knew God meant it for anyone who faced the temple (repented). And yet, he begrudged that for ALL Ninevites.
  • Both Wiersbe and MacArthur liken Jonah in this chapter to the older brother of the prodigal son (Luke 15). and that's who that parable was for from Jesus- the Pharisees. We all rejoice because we know we're all prodigals. But they didn't think so. they thought they were righteous and deserved it all- despite plenty of Old Testament text that showed salvation was to be for the whole world. And if Jonah is symbolizing Israel, then it also shows their heart. They thought they were superior to Judah and expected God to allow their idolatry.
  • God was ready to spare Sodom if 10 righteous men could be found; how much more a city of 120,000 (~600,000 total).

In Conclusion

Jonah was a man of his times. Arrogant, sinful, rebellious, and missing the point entirely. We lose sight of Jonah at the end of the book, as we will lose sight of Israel and the northern tribes shortly.

We are to be about the Father's business. He is sovereign and He loves those He created. It's our job to tell them about Him and His righteous judgement.

All other is sinking and sand.

Amen.

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