Summary: 4th and final in series on Jonah.
A Heart Like God’s
C. S. Lewis wrote, We are all.…under construction. Naturally, there’s unfinished lumber showing here and there -- protruding nails and unsightly scaffolding -- but it’s still clear that
a work is in progress, that the Builder has committed Himself to bringing this building into conformity with the “blue-printer“. Even though we’re not finished, He is at work, and we can rely on that. God’s objective in building us remains: that we be available and useful to Him.
I trust the book of Jonah has reminded you of that truth -- that God isn’t finished yet. We’ve seen how God is unexpectedly merciful -- to people who certainly don’t deserve His mercy. And He is merciful to people, who -- if we were in charge -- would get judged swiftly and for good. The Ninevites were people like that. And of course, so was Jonah.
We’ve learned that Jonah is a prophet who earlier had served God effectively and well. But when God dispatched him to take His message to the hated brutes in Nineveh, this one-time good servant jumped into a boat and proceeded to Spain, 2000 miles in the opposite direction. Out there on the Mediterranean, Jonah had a face-to-face with God. God sent an intense storm -- one bad enough that experienced sailors pleaded for their lives. Then when they discovered they had a backslidden preacher with them, at his insistence, they tossed him overboard.
Jonah knew he was running from God -- and apparently he would have rather died than obey. When he was hurled into the sea, everyone, including Jonah, thought it was the end. God had other plans. He sent a huge fish to gulp Jonah down -- and for two reasons:
One, to save him from drowning, and,
two, to give Jonah some time to pray and think things through.
Three days later, after Jonah prayed, God had the fish spit Jonah up on the beach. God commissioned him the second time -- Go to Nineveh. Deliver My message. This time, Jonah went. God at last got Jonah doing what He had wanted from the beginning.
But his heart was still not in it. Now no pun intended, but many of us are in the same boat as Jonah. And depending on the issue, we will either conveniently ignore God’s assignments or we’ll obey grudgingly. We will often obey outwardly, but our heart isn’t engaged. Today we see again, God is never content with my mechanical obedience. He wants my heart.
In chapters 1 and 2, God got Jonah’s attention. In chapter 3 He got his behavior. Here in chapter four, God goes after Jonah’s heart. Let’s watch how He does that.
First, 1. God probes Jonah’s angry response. (4:1, 9)
Two times in chapter 4, God lays His finger on the rage Jonah displays over God’s mercy on the Ninevites. In verse 4 -- again in verse 9 -- God’s persistent question comes.
First, Do you have a good reason to be angry? Then again: Do you have a good reason to be angry about the plant? We learned already that Jonah’s anger has two objects: First,
He’s angry at God‘s mercy.
We looked ahead the first week and read 4:2. We discover that Jonah abhorred even the possibility that God might be merciful to the Ninevites. He tells God, that’s why I didn’t want to come to begin with! He had suspected that God might just forgive these hard-core, murderous, idol-worshiping pagans. And Jonah’s standards were “higher” than that -- higher than God’s!
Sort of like our standards, when we cannot -- will not -- forgive the person who hurt us.
Jonah is a proud Jew -- one of God’s chosen people. The Ninevites are vicious, cruel and idolatrous enemies. In his worldview, they had no claim to the benefits which come from knowing the True God. And now, as God simply sets aside His plan to destroy the city, Jonah is enraged. Along with that, in reality,
He’s angry at God.
When you read that powerful description of God in verse 2 -- you have to assume -- Jonah knows God’s character. But your ability to rehearse a list of God’s attributes doesn’t influence your heart. Despite Jonah’s list, He revolts at God’s exhibition of His character. Jonah has head knowledge, but his heart rejects God’s demonstrated compassion.
The LORD asks, Do you do well to be angry? You’ll notice God doesn’t respond to Jonah’s anger with His own. There’s no thundering rebuke -- just God’s probing, heart-revealing question. God ignores his death wish -- instead He lays his anger under the microscope. He presses His suicidal prophet to take a close look at his willful anger.
Think about it. If anyone had a right to be angry with the Ninevites, it was God -- God Who hates sin and violence and idolatry. But God chooses here to give mercy and forgiveness. Part of God’s question might be, “who are you, to be angry when I choose not to judge?”