Jonah Lesson Four: Jonah 4:1-11 – Jonah’s Angry With God
But Jonah was greatly displeased and became furious. 2 He prayed to the Lord: “Please, Lord, isn’t this what I said while I was still in my own country? That’s why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place. I knew that You are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love, and One who relents from sending disaster. 3 And now, Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
4 The Lord asked, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
5 Jonah left the city and sat down east of it. He made himself a shelter there and sat in its shade to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the Lord God appointed a plant, and it grew up to provide shade over Jonah’s head to ease his discomfort. Jonah was greatly pleased with the plant. 7 When dawn came the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, and it withered.
8 As the sun was rising, God appointed a scorching east wind. The sun beat down so much on Jonah’s head that he almost fainted, and he wanted to die. He said, “It’s better for me to die than to live.”
9 Then God asked Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
“Yes,” he replied. “It is right. I’m angry enough to die!”
10 So the Lord said, “You cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow. It appeared in a night and perished in a night. 11 Should I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than 120,000 people who cannot distinguish between their right and their left, as well as many animals?” (HCSB)
As we conclude our study of Jonah, I’ll be splitting this lesson into two parts.
- Jonah’s angry reaction to Nineveh’s escaping God’s judgment – verses 1-4.
- God teaches Jonah about the value of people and repentance – verses 5-11.
Jonah’s Angry Reaction to Nineveh’s Escaping God’s Judgment
At the end of chapter three, we saw that Nineveh repented, and God spared them from the judgment they deserved. Now, as we start chapter four, we see Jonah’s reaction to God sparing them. Let’s look at some details in this first section.
- We see several emotions come into play when we consider Jonah’s reaction to Nineveh being spared.
- Jonah was displeased with God’s action.
- Jonah became furious. It might be better to understand this as Jonah hated what God had done.
- Jonah displayed a lack of understanding. The Ninevites had basically done what was required to avert the judgment; they demonstrated heartfelt repentance.
- The question could be asked as to why Jonah reacted that way.
- It could have been nationalism as a Hebrew prophet.
- It could have been because Jonah knew that later Assyria would be the downfall of Israel. And because Jonah had obediently preached the message given to him by God, he felt a responsibility for the future downfall of Israel.
- It could be because Jonah felt his reputation was at stake. He had prophesied the impending destruction of Nineveh, and it didn’t happen.
- It could have been because Jonah was unsuccessful in moving the Israelites to a repentant heart and dependence on Yahweh. Maybe Jonah yearned for God to issue the same message to Israel.
- At worst, we see a prophet with a disturbing disregard for human life and bitter hatred of those who experienced mercy.
- At best, we see a prophet who misunderstood God’s mercy and had a limited view of God’s plan for the redemption of Israel.
- Jonah failed to recognize the privilege of being an instrument of God in the salvation of a people group.
- We see the selfishness of Jonah’s heart displayed in his prayer to God.
- The words “I” and “my” occur multiple times.
- Jonah wanted his desires to occur and not God’s plan to unfold.
- The prayer bears a striking resemblance to the phrase, “see, I told you so.” In effect, Jonah is saying this is why he went to Tarshish, so the Ninevites wouldn’t have a chance to repent.
- We also see the compassionate nature of God displayed in the prayer.
- The second half of Jonah’s prayer is almost ironic in nature when the overall tone of Jonah’s prayer is one of complaining.
- Jonah complains about God’s goodness.
- Jonah is using an ancient formula that is, in essence, a quotation from Exodus 34:6-7.
- The wording describes God’s character.
- Slow to anger.
- Rich in faithful love.
- Jonah didn’t use the words as a way to praise God. Instead, it was part of his tantrum against God.
- Jonah then prays for God to take his life.
- This was also a selfish request.
- Since God hadn’t carried out Jonah’s wish, Jonah no longer wanted to live.
- Nineveh was the recipient of God’s grace and would later be an instrument of Israel’s downfall.
- The entire prayer is rather disturbing.
- After Jonah’s rescue from the fish, he was obedient in carrying out God’s mission of delivering a sermon against Nineveh.
- Yet, Jonah still lacked a submissive heart.
- The purpose of Jonah going to Nineveh and preaching the message was so that the Ninevites would repent and avert judgment.
- When that happened, Jonah reacted in a childish manner.
- In response to Jonah’s prayer, God responds with a simple question, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
- God was trying to correct Jonah’s bad theology.
- Jonah’s anger was not justifiable.
- Jonah was not displaying righteous indignation.
- It’s possible the reason for God’s patience with Jonah is that deep down, Jonah was concerned for Israel.
- Regardless of the reason, Jonah’s anger was inappropriate, and God wanted Jonah to understand His compassion for all people.
God Teaches Jonah About the Value of People and Repentance
The first issue to consider as we start with verse five is how much time elapsed between Jonah’s prayer, God’s answer, and Jonah leaving the city. Since the text doesn’t specify, let’s consider some options.
- Some scholars believe Jonah left immediately after preaching his message and before the forty days had expired. There is support for this position since the text states that Jonah waited to “see what would happen to the city.”
- Some believe that 4:5 is actually displaced from its proper position of occurring immediately after 3:4.
- Some view verse five as a “flashback.” However, the structure of the original Hebrew text doesn’t explicitly support it as a flashback.
- The simplest answer is that Jonah left immediately after God posed His question in verse four.
Let’s consider some options regarding whether or not Jonah left before or after the forty days had elapsed.
- The position that Jonah left before the forty-day period.
- Jonah observed the repentant heart of the Ninevites and, in his anger, left before the forty days had elapsed.
- Even though Jonah observed the repentant heart of the Ninevites, his inner hope was that they would revert to their previous practice and experience God’s judgment. Therefore, Jonah went to a location outside the city to observe the expected judgment.
- The position that Jonah left after the forty-day period.
- Jonah’s anger wouldn’t manifest itself until it was certain the Ninevites had escaped judgment.
- There would be no reason for God to rebuke Jonah before the forty-day period had elapsed.
After leaving the city, Jonah sat down to the east. The two most logical explanations for his going east are that it was the direction he was traveling when he finished preaching or because of the higher elevation to the east of the city.
The shelter Jonah constructed was likely a fairly crude one. The original Hebrew used here is the same word used for the leafy shelters constructed during the Feast of Tabernacles. Building one would have been familiar to Jonah. The construction itself was relatively simple; it consisted of interwoven branches of trees. Once Jonah was finished making it, he sat in its shade. Now, let’s ponder what Jonah could have been thinking about while he waited.
- Perhaps Jonah was struggling with the fact the Ninevite’s repentance was genuine.
- Jonah may have thought he had answered the question God had posed in verse four, that he did have a right to be angry.
- It’s possible Jonah was waiting for the Ninevites to revert to their old habits and receive the judgment he thought was deserving.
- Perhaps Jonah was waiting for destruction similar to what had transpired against Sodom and Gomorrah.
- It could have been any one of those possibilities or a combination of more than one.
- What was apparent is that Jonah still didn’t “get it.”
As we consider verses six through eight, we see God disciplining Jonah.
- Although the shelter may have initially provided some relief from the sun and heat, the leaves would have quickly withered in the heat, and eventually, they would have fallen off completely.
- Since the shelter was no longer providing adequate protection from the sun, God provided a plant to grow and provide shade to Jonah.
- Considering what had recently transpired, this was an unmerited act of mercy. However, God was preparing a lesson for Jonah.
- In a broad sense, God did to Jonah what Jonah wanted God to do to Nineveh.
- It’s interesting to note that among scholars, there has been quite a bit of debate over the type of plant that provided shade. Some translations use the term “vine,” while others use the more generic term “plant.” In reality, it doesn’t really matter what type of plant God provided. The bigger issue is in the lesson it provided.
- The phrase “to ease his discomfort” is a mild translation of the original Hebrew. In the original language, it means to “deliver him from his evil.”
- Jonah’s discomfort could be attributed to a couple of things.
- The average daily max temperature in the region is about 110 degrees fahrenheit, which would make it quite unpleasant.
- It could also be due to Jonah’s hearing the people cry out in anguish to God for deliverance.
- Because of the comfort the plant provided, Jonah was greatly pleased. There are a couple of things to consider here.
- The meaning of the original Hebrew would translate as “Jonah rejoiced over the vine with a great rejoicing.” Jonah wasn’t just happy; he was filled with overflowing joy.
- For the first time in the book, Jonah is happy about something. Jonah’s happiness is directed toward a plant. There are likely two reasons for his joy.
- The plant provided relief from the heat.
- Jonah may have believed that the provision of the plant in some way was a vindication of his disappointment at Nineveh’s repentance or God’s withholding judgment.
- However, the joy was short-lived.
- The next day, God sent a “worm” to attack the plant.
- Jonah’s joy and relief from the sun and heat were short-lived.
- The worm’s actions quickly caused the plant to wither and die. Jonah was no longer getting relief from the elements.
- There’s some irony in the fact that although destruction is a recurring theme throughout Jonah, the only destruction that actually occurred was to the plant. The one thing that brought Jonah great joy was destroyed.
- The sun now beating down on Jonah wasn’t his only discomfort.
- A scorching east wind now afflicted Jonah.
- It is likely this wind was what is known as a “sirocco.”
- It would cause the temperature to rise quickly.
- The humidity would also drop quickly.
- It would contain very small particles of suspended dust.
- If a person was caught outside during one of the dust storms, it was extremely miserable.
- The combined effects of the temperature and the wind made Jonah feel like he was going to faint.
- The joy which Jonah had previously experienced was now replaced with a feeling of complete despair.
- As Jonah approaches exhaustion, he is despondent.
- Jonah now repeats his request from 4:3; he wants to die.
- As we look at Jonah’s circumstances and his request, we see the problem went much deeper than Jonah not understanding God’s fairness.
- Jonah was completely frustrated by his life.
- God asked Jonah to consider the rightness of his anger.
- When the plant was provided for relief, Jonah may have felt his anger was justified.
- Now, Jonah had been shown he was wrong. His anger wasn’t justified.
- Depression was now gripping Jonah as he pondered whether his entire life had been wrong.
- He had failed as a prophet.
- In his heart, he believed he had failed God.
- He wanted to die.
- The picture of Jonah is not the picture of a mature disciple.
- We now see another teaching moment from God.
- God’s question to Jonah demonstrates the stupidity of his attitude.
- Jonah was more concerned about his personal comfort than for the well-being of the city of Nineveh.
- In using the phrase “is it right,” God is asking a bigger question. The implied question is, “What right do we have to demand that God show us favor and not others?”
- Jonah’s response is self-condemnation.
- Now God demonstrated His merciful character.
- The phrase “cared about the plant” should be better understood as “having compassion” for the plant.
- Since it is unusual, to say the least, to have compassion on a plant, God was demonstrating how ridiculous Jonah’s anger was.
- Why should Jonah express anger over the death of the plant, which he neither created nor cultivated?
- The main question God was trying to get Jonah to understand is, “Who are you to question Me?”
- Jonah’s concern was over a plant, while God’s concern was over a city with more than 120,000 people.
- The plant was insignificant.
- People are God’s highest creation, created in His image.
- God’s final question, which ends the book, captures the intention of the book.
- It’s the focus on grace and mercy.
- Jonah was provided a plant to provide shade which he didn’t deserve.
- Nineveh was granted a deliverance from the judgment they did deserve.
- God’s desire for all mankind is salvation, not destruction.
- God is compassionate.
- God is slow to anger.
- God is abounding in love.
- God will relent from sending judgment if repentance is displayed.
- The book ends with a contrast between the ways of man and the ways of God. We will never completely understand God as His ways are so much higher than our ways. Our only solution is to walk in humble obedience to His leading and teaching.
- Check your heart condition as you serve God. Are you selfish in your motives, or do you fully submit to God, regardless of what He asks you to do or who to serve? There may be times when God asks you to do something you may not be comfortable with doing. However, God’s plans are always perfect, no matter what we think.
- Check what you complain about. Are you complaining about petty things that don’t really matter in the grand plan of eternity? Are people more important to you than “things?” Or do you have your priorities backward?
- When you go through a trial, do you reflect on why it may be happening? God may be using it as a teaching moment for you. How you respond to the teaching moments is important for your spiritual growth.