We finish our series in Jonah today with chapter 4. Jonah had finally preached to the people of Nineveh, they repented, and God spared them.
This displeased Jonah terribly and he became very angry. (4:1)
There are two word plays in this verse that are worth mentioning. First, it says, literally, that “it was evil to Jonah, a great evil.” In chapter 3 God had spared the Ninevites because they had repented from their evil ways. But to Jonah, God’s mercy was evil, because of his hatred toward the Ninevites.
Secondly, the Hebrew expression for “very angry” was that “it burned within him”. Again, God’s anger had burned against Nineveh until they repented. Then he “cooled off” and forgave them, but then Jonah’s anger began to burn.
This first verse is a picture of a man diametrically opposed to God on every level of this situation.
His response actually reminds me of the last servant in Jesus’ story of the talents (Matthew 25:24-25) – “See! I knew what you would do! Why did you even ask me to do this? Why didn’t you just destroy them?” And then he threw a little temper tantrum.
Jonah left the city and sat down east of it. He made a shelter for himself there and sat down under it in the shade to see what would happen to the city. (4:5)
“To see what would happen” – as if his fit would actually change God’s mind away from the people who had repented.
The story ends with God showing Jonah an object lesson about his priorities and character. In fact, this whole story is about priorities and character. Over and over again Jonah said that he would rather die than watch people turn to God. He was willing to use people to get away from God. He was willing to drown (and maybe take some others with him) instead of preaching God’s message.
And now he was more concerned about getting a sunburn on his head than about people.
The Lord God appointed a little plant and caused it to grow up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to rescues him from his misery. Now Jonah was very delighted about the little plant. So God sent a worm at dawn the next day, and it attacked the little plant so that it dried up. When the sun began to shine, God sent a hot east wind. So the sun beat down on Jonah’s head, and he grew faint. So he despaired of life, and said, “I would rather die than live!” God said to Jonah, “Are you really so very angry about the little plant?” And he said, “I am as angry as I could possibly be!” (4:6-9)
God has now used nature five different times in his dealings with Jonah – the Mediterranean storm, the huge fish, the little plant, the worm, and the hot east wind. None was designed to cause him any real harm, but they were all sent to shake him up a little bit. Sometimes God will use even natural things around us to get our attention.
This is also the second time in this chapter that God has asked Jonah, “Are you really so angry about this?” Seriously, Jonah, first you’re ticked off that I forgave people instead of crushing them? And now you’re upset that a little plant died? You, son, are an angry little man.
Then God finishes with a little parallel to show Jonah just how far out of touch with God he really is.
The Lord said, “You were upset about this little plant, something for which you have not worked nor did you do anything to make it grow. It grew up overnight and died the next day. Should I not be even more concerned about Nineveh, this enormous city? There are more than one hundred twenty thousand people in it who do not know right from wrong, as well as many animals!” (4:9-10)
Basically God said to Jonah, “I have invited you into my work of restoring my prize creation – humanity – and you’re worried about a little plant? Get over yourself! My plan is about all people – not just you.”
Are you so wrapped up in your life – your priorities, your comfort, your plans – that you can’t see the people right in front of you that are God’s priority?
Posts in this series: