Summary: Jonah’s burning because Ninevah isn’t. God appeals to Jonah, and rather than show us Jonah’s response, He invites us to respond. Will we show compassion, or will we run from our responsibility?
“Jonah and the Worm” 4:1-11 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
In our final chapter, we see Jonah as a pouting prophet. Jonah reluctantly obeyed God, and now he’s sulking. He experienced such a wonderful display of God’s mercy; he saw God work in a remarkable way--you’d think he would never have a problem again.
Jonah praised the mercy of God in ch 2; now he turns around and deplores it in ch 4! The word “angry” in vs 1 comes from a Hebrew verb meaning “to burn”. Jonah was burning because Ninevah wasn’t! The time-fuse on the prophetic bomb he planted in Ninevah didn’t go off. His anger is directed at God’s actions, which he finds surprising--in his opinion, God is much too forgiving. In the NT, when the Samaritans rejected Jesus, indignant Peter suggested that fire from Heaven come down to destroy them. Like Jonah, Peter was disappointed by God’s clemency and compassion. Both Jonah & Peter needed to remember God’s words to Moses: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”
Jonah is glad to receive God’s mercy, but he resents having to share the privileges of salvation with others, and would selfishly deny and begrudge Ninevah what Israel received. He felt he had a monopoly on God’s forgiveness. It’s like he’s complaining to God: “I knew it all along--I knew You were going to forgive those crummy Ninevites! You should’ve let me go to Tarshish. You carry love too far; can’t You see I’m right?” Things didn’t turn out as Jonah desired, and so he attempts to justify (vs 2) his initial disobedience. Jonah hates God’s enemies--why can’t God hate them as well?
Jonah has appointed himself as theological advisor to the Almighty, and makes it clear that he is out of sympathy with divine policy. Jonah knew the character of God, that He was “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” -and keep in mind, Jonah is criticizing God for having these attributes. God’s too soft in Jonah’s book. Jonah holds to his conviction that Ninevah should be wiped off the face of the earth, but God has relented from His wrath. It’s hard to believe, but Jonah is angry at God because God responds to repentance! Didn’t he realize that it was God’s patience that was also keeping Him from frying Jonah on the spot? Jeremiah realizes this when he writes, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not” (Lam 3:22). Jonah would like to limit God’s mercy. He’s far too lenient!
Jonah then asks to die (vs 3)--in fact, he’s daring God to slay him. Jonah didn’t really want to be dead; he wanted the Ninevites to be dead. Elijah asked God for death, because he felt like a useless failure; Jonah wants to die because he has succeeded. Jonah has Elijah’s despair without Elijah’s excuse.
God answers Jonah in vs 4: “Have you any right to be angry?” He’s inviting Jonah to consider his bad attitude. Is Jonah’s displeasure justifiable? God is challenging Jonah’s perceptions, but Jonah’s in no mood to answer. It’s like God is suggesting, “Jonah, you and I are looking at this situation in different ways; I’m pleased with what has happened, and you’re upset. Which of us has the proper perspective?” Sin was abounding in Ninevah, and God wanted to show what grace could do.
A Unitarian Army Chaplain said to me: “I’m not sure if there’s a God; and if there is, I’m not sure I like Him.” I notice a lot of people angry at God; they need to consider the unreasonableness of their hostility.
Jonah could have stayed in the city and begun a follow-up/discipleship program, teaching these new believers the Scriptures. They would have appreciated such instruction…but not Jonah; he’d rather engage in a sit-down strike outside the city limits, separating himself from these people. He waits (vs 5) hoping God will see the light and destroy the city. He doesn’t head home; by remaining just outside Ninevah, Jonah is challenging God with the firmness of his misguided resolve. He wants God to re-look the situation.
God teaches Jonah a lesson, but He doesn’t do it verbally. He decides to play a trick on His fuming prophet. God delivers a practical object lesson consisting of a plant, a worm, and a wind. These are used to expose Jonah’s sinful rebellion, his misguided heart attitude, and his wrong-side-up value system.
It was hot there in the desert; in the summertime it can reach 125 degrees in Iraq. So God causes a vine to grow to provide Jonah with some needed shade (vs 6). It sprouted faster than Jack’s beanstalk. Note Jonah’s reaction--he is delighted, ecstatic! This is the first time Jonah is happy! He wasn’t happy when God commissioned him to preach to Ninevah; he wasn’t pleased when the sailors were converted in ch 1; and he was far from thrilled when a pagan city turned to God. Jonah is selfishly pleased that God is finally doing something for him.