After all the mercy that God had shown Jonah, we find in chapter 4 that Jonah needs mercy yet again. Is this just common to Jonah? Hardly. Every believer has need of God’s mercy and longsuffering again and again and again.
Having said that, it is still rather jarring to find where Jonah’s heart and mind were in this setting. Remember, God had just worked a great work of repentance in cruel, dark Nineveh. Most preachers would be overjoyed if such a large group of people responded to their preaching with repentance towards God. But Jonah did not. The opening verse of chapter 4 says, “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.” We find in the following verses what we have previously noted, that Jonah did not want God to show mercy to this Assyrian people. His anger and prejudice were so deep that he could not even rejoice at their repentance and God’s mercy to them. It all seemed wrong to Jonah. Why should God have mercy on this people who had inflicted such violence and harm to so many? Why would the Lord relent from judging a nation that imposed a threat to Israel itself? Jonah was disturbed, hurt and angry.
Jonah truly felt these things. Though he was wrong, it must have felt right. This is a lesson for us. We can experience bewildering and painful circumstances. Things that don’t seem to make any sense at all can present themselves in our lives. We can wonder why God would purpose to allow these things to touch our lives. In these moments, we can either humbly lean into the Lord with our burdens and questions, or we can grow bitter and angry at God’s providences. Sadly, Jonah chose the latter option. In arrogance, Jonah was bringing God into his own courtroom! Jonah was judging God according to his own criteria. This prophet was so swallowed up in his anger and warped way of thinking that he even asked God to take his life (Jonah 4:3).
Let us note here briefly that Jonah is not the first believer to become angry at God. There is a danger in all of our hearts of growing bitter towards God because He didn’t answer some prayer in the way that we desired or because He didn’t prevent some calamity from touching our lives. But, bitterness and anger against God in such difficult seasons is never the answer. Instead of anger, we are called to “pour our hearts out” before God (Psa. 62:8). As His children, we have the freedom to bring our burdens and questions before Him. We can even confess to Him when we feel angry and bitter. We can boldly ask Him to take those sinful emotions away. God is merciful and compassionate. He knows our weaknesses, and He deeply cares. Instead of committing Jonah’s mistake, we should fall upon God’s mercy, cry on His shoulder and humbly seek the light of His word and presence. When we indulge a bitter heart towards God, we are turning away from our only source of mercy!
We must remember that even when, from our perspective, circumstances seem to make no sense whatsoever, God has a superior perspective. His ways are good, just and wise…always! We can see this in the Cross of Christ. Injustice. Evil. Darkness. Death. But, behind the scenes of this darkness, God was working. Evil men were doing what evil men would do in arresting, trying and crucifying Jesus. But Almighty God was working His own plan in the midst of these events. The salvation of many souls was accomplished as Jesus shed His blood on a Cross where He was placed by human injustice. If God had a wise purpose on that day, we can rest assured that He has a wise purpose in our circumstances as well.
You may be struggling with anger at God today. You may already know everything I have already written. But, perhaps you don’t feel it. Other feelings seem overwhelming. That’s why you and I need every resource God gives: prayer, the Scriptures, and certainly the help, comfort, counsel and love of God’s people. Don’t lean into anger. Lean into God’s faithfulness.
Loving a Gourd
God’s mercy, inverse 5, responded to Jonah’s anger and death-wise by confronting him with his sinful attitude: “Doest thou well to be angry?” God’s mercy sometimes makes us uncomfortable by confronting us with our sin. Perhaps a sermon we hear, or our own personal meditation of Scripture is sometimes like God saying to us, “Are you doing right to think this way or act in this way?” God confronts His children with their sin because He loves us as our perfect Father. We do well to listen!
Jonah did not want to listen. So he went outside the city and made himself a little booth to see what would happen to the city. Apparently, he held out some hope that judgment on Nineveh would come after all. Instead of ministering to this newly repentant people, he angrily sulked outside the city. In another stunning display of mercy, God provided Jonah some unexpected shade! In this hot, dry climate God kindly prepared a gourd to grow and provide Jonah with a refreshing protection from the heat. Jonah was thrilled to get this shade. The text says it made him “exceeding glad” (Jonah 4:6).
However, the next day Jonah found that God had also prepared a worm that destroyed the gourd. Then God sent a strong wind that beat on Jonah’s head. One can imagine in such climate a powerful wind blowing hot air and sand into one’s face. Again, Jonah was angry and ready to die. God confronted Jonah again asking the prophet if he was right to be angry. Jonah’s response: “I do well to be angry, even unto death” (Jonah 4:9).
In all of this, God was teaching Jonah a lesson. Here again we see that God’s love and mercy go the distance. He is still teaching this angry prophet. We should never presume upon and abuse such mercy. After all, Scripture records numerous instances where God brought much stricter consequences much sooner to those who were arrogant and stubborn towards Him. However, it should fill us with gratitude that God does endure and forbear with our many blunders, in order to keep teaching and training and growing us in His grace.
What was God’s lesson to Jonah? In verses 10-11, God confronts Jonah again. He had used the gourd, the worm and the wind as part of the teaching tools of His classroom. Essentially God said, “Jonah, you cared about a gourd, a lifeless plant. You were happy because it brought you comfort. And you were grieved to see the gourd destroyed. But, what about people? The people of Nineveh. You would have been happy to see them destroyed, but you were sad to see them repenting and receiving My mercy. Should I not spare Nineveh, a people who were created in my image?”
Yes, Jonah loved a plant more than He loved people. This was true because he loved himself more than these people. We can be like Jonah: more concerned for selfish comforts than for the spiritual needs of others. Like Jonah, we can often forget how merciful God has been to us. We can even respond to His mercy in a cold-hearted way.
But, ought we not consider the depths of God’s mercy to us? Should we not remind ourselves often of how, that in Christ, He has dealt so generously and graciously to us? Seeing we have received mercy, we are called to reflect this mercy even to the Ninevites of our day.
Rather than being indifferent to the spiritual condition of eternal souls who are made in the image of God, we should follow Paul’s example of deep desire and fervent prayer for the salvation of others (Acts 26:29; Romans 9:1-3; 10:1). We can pray with confidence because as we previously noted in a post, the book of Jonah reveals that God is sovereign over all things. He will draw His chosen people to Himself in salvation, whether they be from Nineveh, Israel or next door to you. Praise be to God for His mercy.