Jonah 4:1 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry.
It seems strange that God’s prophet did not want the Ninevites to turn to God. But the Ninevites were still a serious threat, and they would destroy the northern kingdom of Israel within a few decades. Jonah was likely afraid of this, so he did not want God to save the Ninevites; he wanted God to kill them.
A psychology magazine asked its readers this question: If you could secretly push a button, and thereby eliminate any person, with no repercussions to yourself, would you push the button? More than half the readers said Yes. Enemies make us angry, and our anger varies from mild irritation to blind rage. Jonah was beyond irritation; he was approaching rage.
Jonah 4:2 I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.
This is one of the best summary descriptions of God’s character in the Bible, and it occurs several times. The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6). But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love (Nehemiah 9:17).
But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness (Psalm 86:15). The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love (Psalm 103:8). Jonah’s problem was that he wanted God’s love for himself, but God’s wrath for his enemies.
Jonah 4:3 Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.
Jonah had at least two reasons to be depressed. First, when the Israelites learned he aided the enemy, Jonah might be considered a traitor. Second, when they discovered his prediction did not come true, he might be considered a false prophet (Deuteronomy 18:22). Jonah’s obedience to God was costing him professionally, socially, emotionally and spiritually. Serving God is not always sweetness and light.
Jonah 4:5 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.
Jonah was still hoping Nineveh would be destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). That day is coming for the whole world (2 Peter 3:10), but this was a day of grace. Furthermore, God had one more lesson for the prophet to learn.
Jonah 4:6 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.
The temperature in Nineveh can soar above a hundred degrees, so God provided a shade plant to ease the prophet’s discomfort. It may seem like a little thing, but it was a token of kindness that made Jonah happy. God was caring for the prophet’s needs, and Jonah was thankful.
Jonah 4:7-8 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. 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.
Here we see that God can be exasperating. First he gave Jonah a blessing, then he took it away. God was not teasing the prophet; he was teaching him maturity. God wants us to honor him, not only when he gives, but when he takes away. This is a difficult lesson to learn.
Many years ago I was driving home from my minimum wage job, praising God for an unexpected bonus. I needed a new pair of pants, and now I could buy them. But as I was praising God, I saw flashing red lights in my mirror. I was given a ticket for the exact amount of the bonus, and like Jonah, my praising turned to complaining.
But after losing family and fortune, Job replied, The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised (Job 1:21). God is less concerned with our comfort than he is with our character. He gives and takes away to help us mature. This is why the Bible says to give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Notice also that God used the big fish and the little worm to help the prophet mature. God is sovereign over big things, little things, and everything in-between. And he uses all things . . . for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28), wrote Paul. God’s ways do not always agree with us, but he is always working for our good.
Jonah 4:9 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.
Unresolved anger leads to depression, and Jonah’s lack of anger management was getting him down. It is not a perfect life that makes us happy, but the ability to forgive and forget.
An attorney was resentful toward some of his clients, who did not pay their bills, and his anger was making things worse. So he wrote them each a note saying, Your bill is forgiven. In exchange, please forgive at least one person who owes you money or has offended you. He got over his resentment, and experienced so much joy, that he did the same thing at the end of each year. A good way to manage anger is to receive God’s forgiveness, and to forgive those who hurt you.
Jonah 4:10-11 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. 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?
Jonah was more concerned for his physical comfort than for the lost souls of Nineveh. He was not as noble as Paul who said, I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people (Romans 9:2-3). To go to hell for another person is beyond what God asks of us, but to care for lost souls is not.
A Christian man was thrown into prison and tortured for his faith, but he shared the gospel with those who tortured him. The closer he came to death, in fact, the more burdened he was for their souls. He was willing to be tortured in order to evangelize, and one of the guards was converted. As a prophet of God, it was time for Jonah to get over himself, and start caring for the ones God sent him to reach.
Reflection and Review
Why didn’t Jonah want Nineveh to repent?
Why does God give and take away?
Do you care about people who are going to hell?