Read Jonah 4
Jonah’s Anger at the Lord’s Compassion
4 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing 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. 3 Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
4 But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
5 Jonah had gone 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 leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant 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.”
9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”
10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
What a frustrating and confusing ending to the book of Jonah! From chapter one, we understand that Jonah’s indignation is due to God not exacting justice on the Ninevites. He flees from God by boat, he flees from God by sleep, and finally he tries to flee from God by death (not knowing God would send a fish to swallow him up). He repents, but now Jonah has accomplished God’s mission and he’s livid about it. Now Jonah is so angry that he would rather die than see them worship Yahweh. And we finally can connect the dots on why he fled—he knew his God. He knew the Lord would be slow to anger and quick to forgive. Where was the justice in that?
God asks him the question, “Is it right for you to be angry?,” not because He doesn’t know the answer, but because He wants to reveal Jonah’s heart. Jonah, however, was still not ready to accept God’s decision, so in his bitterness and petulance, he sits in a shelter to the east of the city. Traditionally, judgment comes from the east, so whether literally or symbolically, we can assume Jonah is expectantly waiting (and perhaps even hoping) that God will send down His wrath and deal with these Ninevites at last. Instead, God is preparing a lesson for Jonah.
God sends a plant and this is the only time we see Jonah happy in this entire book. He isn’t pleased when the sailors repent, nor when Nineveh repents, but only when God gives him underserved grace by way of shade. How backwards for a prophet to be so disturbed by God’s mercy for pagans, that he would prefer death over life! So, why did God reward Jonah? He already had a shelter. He wasn’t in need of the plant, and yet he is utterly thrilled when it grows overnight. While Jonah doesn’t deserve for the plant to exist, it still does. The plant exists because God, in His compassion to Jonah, gave it life, but justice comes in the form of a worm. As quickly as it rose, it withers and dies, and again we find Jonah asking for death himself. Now the question becomes, does Jonah want the Lord’s justice or compassion? Or is he wanting both, but only when it meets his needs?
So, what is the takeaway and how do we apply this to our lives? God is consistent in His compassion even when his people aren’t! He is loving and faithful, and he wants the whole earth to know Him. His message has been the same from Genesis to Jonah to the cross. God is full of mercy to everyone–especially the undeserving. Let’s be a people who can thank God for His underserved grace in our own lives, for His mighty plan to rescue all people, and for the cross. Let’s live in a way that conveys our gratitude towards Him and allows us to share compassion and love for others the way God does.
- Take a moment to reflect on God’s unrelenting, steadfast love in your life. When was the last time you thanked Him for His faithfulness to you?
- Can you remember a time when you wanted mercy from God but not for someone else? Have you repented for that?
- What is one change you can implement today that will enable you to act graciously next time you perceive an injustice?
Did You Know?
The author of Jonah uses a chiastic structure, not only in Jonah 4, but also in each previous chapter! It is truly a work of art that has been preserved by the Holy Spirit. You can learn more about the chiasms in Jonah here:
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