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Jonah 4

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In this chapter we have a very simple scenario, but it has a deep, almost incomprehensible meaning. Sermons and Bible studies are delivered all over the earth, every single day and night. But, how many teachers and preachers understand what they say, and how many Christians understand what is said?

It is true that most Christians, both teacher and student, read and speak in familiar terms. A truism puts it this way: “Familiarity breeds contempt”. What else do we call it, when Christians hear the word, teachers speak it, and yet few bother to seek clarification of its meaning, and, even when they have it, how many obey it?

 Jonah has a distinct call from God and tried to escape. Even when shown in a dramatic way that he must obey, he continued to be reluctant, and even declared his anger at God for His holy plan. Who is like Jonah? All of us are! That is why, when we read this final chapter of such a short book, we should be grateful that God, Who can crush us in an instant, allows us to live, even when we are sinful and ungrateful. Jonah is at once our warning and our hope! He was as we are, and yet the Lord protected him.

This is a Book left hanging in the air. It is as if someone had ripped out the last few pages of a diary! What happened to Jonah after this show of petulance? How did God deal with him? We can be sure God was as merciful to Jonah as He was to the people of Nineveh. But, what a tease the end of the Book is!!

Verses 1 - 4

  1. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.

  2. And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.

  3. Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.

  4. Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry?

You would think that a prophet of God would be delighted to see so many people (over 120,000) repent and turn to God. Not so! Jonah was “displeased… exceedingly” and he was “very angry”. Or, to put it in modern colloquial terms – he was boiling mad! But why? All we know is what he himself tells us – when God first gave him the command to go to Nineveh, Jonah complained to Him and said he was angry. Intriguingly, we are not told the reason why Jonah fled, or what he complained about. However, we can gather some clues from his reaction to God’s mercy upon the people of Nineveh.

Instead of enjoying the sight of repentance, Jonah was fuming! Thus, his message – which he knew to be from God – did not match his own expectations or anger. Evidently, for some reason, Jonah loathed the idea that these people were shown mercy and grace. But why? Partly, it was to do with ‘professional pride’, but it does not explain everything fully.

I can only suppose that, as an Hebrew, Jonah was following the letter of the law, as drawn up by errant scribes. That is, Hebrews and ‘others’ should not mix, and that God showed His favour to them and not to others. But, this was not quite accurate. Though God destroyed Sodom and surrounding cities, He did tell Abraham that He would have saved them all if only one inhabitant proved to be a believer. In that case, of course, God’s judgment was already decided, because He knew the state of the wicked citizens. Yes, they were foreigners, but He would have saved them if their state was different.

The same mercy was shown throughout the Old Testament, to both individuals and nations, if they obeyed the Lord. Yes, God favoured the Hebrews as His special people, and yet He also showed mercy towards those outside this favoured nation. What this does is to show us that mercy and grace are all in God’s hands and not (thankfully) in our own! And so it was with the people of Nineveh, who were wicked and violent. God saw in them something that caused His light to shine upon them, and no amount of anger from Jonah would shut it out!

It is my view that in this book we see God telling us that He will save whom He will, even if it seems impossible or counter to our own thoughts. It is a fact that today, for example, homosexuals are under the curse of God, as indicated in Romans 1. Therefore, we can expect to see few, if any, conversions. Yet, if God wishes, He can send the Holy Spirit to enliven the spirits of these dead and wicked people.

It is true that many Christians would rather see them all destroyed. In my own life, I have sometimes prayed that God would visit them with a great and decisive wrath, that the world would see that their chosen sins are evil in the Lord’s eyes, and perhaps some would be saved. I have prayed this because their influence is so wicked, as they attack Christians and blaspheme God. But, even this prayer cannot be sustained, for, if He wishes, God could visit them in an entirely different way, just as He did with the people of Nineveh.

On the other hand, there seems to be a caveat to this, for God calls them ‘reprobates’, which means they are cast off and cursed by God. It therefore seems unreasonable for us to think they will be saved in any number. And that is exactly my point – Jonah thought Nineveh was beyond help and God’s mercy, yet God did the opposite to what Jonah expected. This highlights the fact that we do not know who will be saved. Which is why we must witness to whomever God dictates… whether or not we personally approve! That is the beauty of predestination.

Jonah went into Nineveh telling them the city would be destroyed in forty days. Such a message implied the need to repent, but we do not know if Jonah added this to his message… indeed, it seems unlikely given his attitude. Which means the people realized this need for themselves. Or, rather, the Holy Spirit told them and they believed. And so they repented anyway, regardless of any omission by Jonah.

So, Jonah complained and was angry with God. As Matthew Henry so deliciously put it: “his corruptions got head of his graces”! Jonah blurted out that this was why he did not wish to go to Nineveh – he knew beforehand that God would treat the people with mercy! We are certainly told this, but we are not given the details as to why Jonah felt this way. Nevertheless, we have sufficient to get on with.

The overall problem, as Jonah saw it, was that he, as a prophet of God, walked around the city declaring God’s judgment upon it, and here was God apparently contradicting His own judgment! The real problem, though, was not Jonah’s perception of it, but the lack of breadth in his view of God. God did not need to consult Jonah over who He would save or not. It was Jonah’s task to just issue the words given to him by God. That God then took things beyond that, was up to God, not Jonah. How we limit God! Our theories often get in the way of what God says and does.

When he had complained to God, he then said it was better if God took his life from him. He felt that because God’s actions seemed to contradict the prophecy he declared, then the people would think he was a false prophet and thereafter reject anything said by other God’s prophets. I have previously suggested reasons why this is not the case.

Really, this was Jonah’s pride talking, not truth. The mere fact that the whole city repented was proof that it was in God’s plan to begin with. Jonah had done his part and it worked! But, Jonah was more concerned with his own ‘rightness’ than with God’s plan.

I see this in the majority of churches and Christians, who all seem to have their own agenda and theories, even when they contradict scripture. They MUST be ‘right’ at all costs, and will even lie and manipulate matters to ‘prove’ themselves right. In the process, they will happily fight fellow Believers who warn them of their sin, or they go so far as to ruin their reputations or try to destroy them. I know this happens regularly, because it has happened, and continues to happen, to me, and to others of similar ilk.

The overflying word, then, is ‘grace’ – the free gift of God is given to whomever He wills. Those who have been most vicious and terrifying to souls have been brought low by God, and they have cried out in realization. Let us, then, pray to God to similarly bring low our enemies, that they will be afraid of their own dark souls and of God, and cry out for mercy. Not so that we might have joy in their discomfort, but that such discomfort will perhaps be used of God to their salvation. But if not, that God might hold them back, defeating their worst desires and anger towards us.

Very obviously, Jonah was definitely out of sorts and could not think properly. Whatever was the seat of his sin and anger, it drove him to seek death rather than watch the grace of God take hold of an entire city. It should not have been so, but it was.

So it is with us in our own lives, though usually with less drama. How we build up an image within, that far outstrips what God has actually given us to do! One thing at a time! We must be faithful in the small things before God gives us the bigger things.

Having said that, I feel the purpose of this Book is to show that the man does not matter. What matters, is that God acts as He wishes. We are servants, not co-redemptors! And, more clearly, we see that God will even use a reluctant, petulant, angry man to achieve His purposes, whether the man likes it or not. What better way can God show us His total and supreme power and might? What a great example of election.

When Jonah, in his anger, asked God to remove his life, he spoke out of place, for he was not even talking from a standpoint of repentance or fear. Hence, God replied ‘Are you right to be angry?’ Was Jonah justified in his plea and anger? This was not really a question needing an answer, for God was being rhetorical; His words were a condemnation of Jonah’s anger. Yet, God loved him. 

Verses 5 & 7

  1. So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.

  2. And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.

Still in his anger, Jonah left the city behind and stopped east of the city, so that he could watch what happened from a hill. Obviously, he still hoped it would end up like Sodom, and wanted a ringside seat! To keep the sun off him, he built a temporary shelter from thickets, and sat there, waiting for the destruction to begin. How we all waste time waiting for justice to be done when we have been wronged. Far better to get on with life and witness, leaving revenge to the Lord.

As Jonah sat, God caused a gourd to grow above his head, to give him shade from the searing heat. Even as God showed mercy to Adam, so He now did the same for His shameful servant. We display anger and sin; God displays love and concern. The ‘gourd’ was a large bulbous fruit, such as cucumber, or it was a castor-oil plant. Whatever it was, it gave Jonah shelter, and he was glad of it. We all love the favour of God, though sometimes we sin under guise of doing good!

We are told that God did this to “deliver him from his grief”. It does not mean it was supposed to get rid of Jonah’s anger or misery. It means the plant would protect him whilst he sat there consumed with anger, victim of his own sin. His anger caused him to put his life at risk under the baking sun, yet God saved his body from harm. How often has God saved us from the harm caused by our own stupidity and shame? It is not uncommon for God to protect us when we sin. We do not deserve it, but He does. Of course, this is not a justification for us to sin, but a sign of His mercy and glory.

Verses 7 - 11

  1. But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.

  2. And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.

  3. And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.

  4. Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:

  5. And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?

You will remember that God caused manna to rot if the Hebrews tried to keep it beyond one day. This was to show them their utter reliance on Him alone. Here, God put a worm into the plant that shaded Jonah. God wished to teach Jonah something.

So, the sun rose and the gourd withered because the worm ate it. The ‘worm’ was the maggot or grub of the ‘coccus ilicis’, or scarlet worm (used to produce the colour scarlet, the story of which reminds some of the sacrifice of Christ, because the female worm dies on the tree and sheds a crimson fluid. However, its use as a ‘kind’ of Christ is urban rather than theological).

Then, as the day progressed, God caused a strong east wind to blow and the sun to shine with great heat, to discomfort Jonah. As Jonah sat there, determined to watch Nineveh crushed by God, so he became faint with the elements. He felt so bad that he again wished to die. And he had the gall to blame God for the death of the gourd.

At first God helped Jonah, despite his sin and perverse need to watch the death of Nineveh. But now, God wanted to teach him a lesson. God might indeed save us from our worst ideas and stupid actions, but He does not maintain such protection. It is only for a short while, so that we will reconsider our position and repent. After that, He expects us to start again with a new heart. In no way does God protect us from the sins we wish to continue! The time to repent and change is NOW!

On many occasions, sinning Christians want God to give them His blessings, but do not really wish to repent and stop their sins. (Any who deny this are liars). I receive many pleas of this kind. God will offer them a very short period of protection against their excesses, whilst He waits for them to stop and live holy lives. If we do not, he starts to put pressure on us to repent, removes our protection, and allows us to know misery. The answer is simple – repent and stop sinning.

It seems that Jonah turned his anger upon the withered gourd, because it did not give him shelter anymore. We are shown that Jonah wished to blame everything and everyone for his misery, when, all along, he caused it himself by not accepting God’s plan. Often, in private counseling with Christians, I am met by men and women who want peace and cessation of their misery. But, when it comes to the point of rejecting their old ways and sins, they baulk and refuse inwardly. They then continue in their ways, and do not understand why they are still miserable! In my work in psychiatry, I came across thousands of people like this, who ended up in a mental hospital simply because they wanted what God had for them, but refused to stop their sinning. In effect, they preferred their misery to peace, because they had become familiar with it. Their misery was their life, and starting afresh with God meant hard work! So they stuck with misery. Jonah was doing this.

Jonah, then, blamed the gourd for not helping him. God asked him if he was justified in blaming the gourd. “Are you really angry about the little plant?” The Hebrew meaning for this phrase (and the similar one above, regarding Nineveh) is: “The good is what you are angry at!” In other words, as I have discovered on many occasions, the complaint presented by a Christian rarely means what it says. It is usually a cover-story for an underlying reasoning. In this case, Jonah was not angry at the plant, but at the fact that God was showing mercy towards non-Hebrews. He even went so far as to say his anger was so overwhelming that he wished to die, rather than accept God’s plan! Such was his anger at God.

Though God had mercy on Jonah in this case, no Christian should think their continued resistance will cause God to similarly protect him. As with Ananias, God could just as easily smite him down dead, on the spot, or remove His glorious presence from the rest of his life, leading to continual misery of soul without respite. The time to repent is always NOW. Never put it off and never presume His mercy.

I remember one young married man who shockingly told me that he would get divorced and it would be okay, because “God is a God of mercy and will forgive me!” Thus, he deliberately entered into an adulterous relationship on the presumption that God would automatically forgive him when he later ‘repented’ (after, of course, he had achieved his aims)! This sends a shudder through my heart even today. Never presume God’s mercy toward you, when you deliberately set out to sin.

God responded to Jonah in his misery: ‘You had pity on the gourd. You did not cause it to grow or to appear in one night and perish the next. Yet, you deny me the right to have pity on Nineveh, to save it, a great city with many cattle and over 120,000 souls who do not know right from wrong!’

As human beings we settle our minds and hearts on things that are minor, but God has a greater picture to paint, and often we cannot see what this is. We then get angry because we are not told, so we start our own line of action. As we go, we tend to ‘fill in’ the gaps left by God, and get things very wrong. It is not our business to second-guess God. It is our duty to just do as we are told, whether or not we understand, or even when we do not accept. Jonah was reluctant from the first day. Even so, God used him despite his error and bad attitude. This proves it is all of grace and none of works. Let this Book of Jonah spur us on to do great things for the Lord, but not to overreach our given duty and tasks, or to question His motives and desires.


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Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
United Kingdom