Jonah 4:1-4 (NKJV) 1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. 2 So he prayed to the LORD, and said, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. 3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!” 4 Then the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
In our study of Jonah and the mercy of God, we have seen that Jonah rebelled against the Word of the Lord for his life and ran in the opposite direction. Even though he deserved punishment, God showed him mercy and through a number of extreme circumstances he found himself back to where God wanted him in the first place. We would think that his gratitude for God’s mercy would have caused him to rejoice over God’s mercy for others but it did not.
Chapter 4 of this book is very interesting. In Chapter 3 he finally does what God wanted him to do. He preaches to the city of Nineveh telling them that in 40 days they were going to be overthrown. In response to his preaching, the king and eventually the whole city repent. God’s mercy, so important in Jonah’s life, was released in Nineveh because of Jonah’s obedience. This is a wonderful result to his ministry, correct? Not in Jonah’s eyes.
In today’s scripture we read that Jonah was angry. In modern language Jonah said, “I knew you were going to let them off. I knew you were gracious and merciful and I would go say all these things and you would hear their cry and not do it. Now I look like a fool. I would rather die than live with this kind of reputation.”
What was Jonah’s problem? He cared more about himself and his reputation than he cared about the people of Nineveh. He was a prophet of God. If his words came to pass in Nineveh, the world would know him as a great prophet. When God honored Nineveh’s repentance and did not destroy the city, Jonah thought that the world would see him as a false prophet. Jonah did not care about the people of Nineveh. Jonah cared about Jonah!
God puts Jonah through a series of experiences and questions designed to show him how wrong he was. As we look at them, we should put ourselves in Jonah’s place. Jonah climbed a hill overlooking the city where he waited to see what might happen. I think Jonah was hoping God would change his mind and the city would be overthrown. While he is sitting there a plant grew up that gave him shade from the hot sun.
As we read the account we find that this was not just a normal plant. This plant “was prepared” for Jonah by God. Do you remember the fish? It was also prepared by God to be available to save Jonah. This plant was another manifestation of God’s mercy. This time God was trying to save Jonah from himself! Jonah enjoyed the shade of the plant for one day. It was very hot and the plant became very important to Jonah.
When the sun came up on the second day, the Bible tells us that God had something else prepared for Jonah. He had prepared a worm. What was the function of the worm? It was to eat the plant. Jonah’s precious shade tree was gone but God was not done. God prepared an east wind that drove the temperature even higher than the sun alone. Jonah was miserable but he has not learned anything yet.
Jonah 4:8 (NKJV) 8 And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
Jonah was so self-centered that he simply did not get what was happening. God asked him a question. “Is it right for you to be angry about this plant?” Jonah answers, “Yes, it is. I have the right to be angry even enough to want to die!”
Never try to argue or reason with God. God reminds Jonah that he had nothing to do with the plant. He did not plant the seed from which it grew. He did not cultivate it and nurture it to maturity. Even so, he had compassion for the plant. God says to Jonah, “I created the people of Nineveh and they are in sin because they do not know any better. You cry over a plant that gave you comfort but that you had nothing to do with creating. I gave mercy to people that I created. If I want to preserve them and use you to do it, that is my choice.”
The book ends there. We do not know if Jonah got the message or not. God poured out his mercy on Jonah when he was guilty. He deserved punishment. Nevertheless, God did not punish him. Jonah had to go through some discomfort and even some fearful and trying times because of his sin but God had a fish prepared for him that saved his life.
In Jonah’s own words he acknowledged that it was God’s mercy that saved him and he promised he would never forget God’s mercy. When it came time for God to show the same mercy to others, all he could think about was himself. How would it look to the world if his words did not come to pass?
As the story plays out, I see profound disappointment in God’s actions. God shows Jonah how he felt toward the people of Nineveh. Jonah felt deeply for this plant because it gave him comfort. God felt deeply for the people of Nineveh because they were his creation and they were innocent because of their ignorance.
There is a great deal to think about in this story, but let me get right to the point. How much mercy has God shown you in your life? Beginning with your salvation, you have been spared most of the consequences of your bad choices and bad decisions because of God’s mercy. God wants you to walk in that power of mercy but there is more to mercy than what it can do for you. You are not just to be a recipient of God’s mercy. You should be a channel of that mercy to others. That is a major part of our message (2 Corinthians 5:17-21.)
Do you want to see revival? When you deal with the people in the world who seem so evil, remember God’s mercy to you. Let that temper how you respond to them. When God showed mercy to you, it was not something you created. It did not come because you deserved it. It came because God chose to give it. Repentance releases mercy in my life, but mercy flows from God’s sovereign choice.
How can I get angry when God does not judge someone else? I must remember God’s mercy to me and ask him to help me be a channel of mercy to the world around me. This is easy in the abstract but If I make it personal it will become a force that will extend the Kingdom of God in my world.
Jonah received mercy for himself with great gratitude but was angry when God showed it to Nineveh. In Jonah’s eyes Nineveh was an ungodly city that deserved destruction. He was right. They eventually were destroyed but that was not Jonah’s business. We look at the world today and we see a great deal of evil. It is destressing to us. We know something must be done but judgement is not our business. Mercy is our business.
In my next post, we are going to look at some things in Jesus teaching that drives this point home. For now, think about Jonah and about yourself. Remember God’s mercy in you life and ask the Lord to help you become a channel of that same mercy to the world. He will take care of judgement, you take care of mercy.