Summary: Jonah’s heart is revealed as not right and God is concerned with the conversion of people more than we are.
What makes you angry? Do you get angry very easily? Anger is such an important emotion but it is also a very revealing emotion. It tells us something is wrong – the problem is it does not tell us if the thing which is wrong is outside or inside us. We get angry because something is not right. Anger has this deep spiritual and moral part to it. When we get angry we know it is something important to us. The problem with anger is we cannot tell easily if what we are angry about is not right with us or with someone else. We usually begin by assuming that what is wrong is wrong with someone else, outside of ourselves. But if we take the time to track the anger carefully we usually come to the conclusion that the wrong is actually within us – wrong information, wrong understanding or an underdeveloped heart. In this last chapter of Jonah we encounter Jonah in a fit of anger and I believe in this final chapter we come to the kernel of all our relationships with God this morning. Turn with me to Jonah 4.
You know the story to date – Jonah is called by God to go to Nineveh and preach that in 40 days God would bring judgment upon the people for wickedness and evil. Jonah instead heads for Tarshish because Nineveh was not the place he wanted to serve God. The Lord God causes a fierce storm to arise and the boat is almost lost. The sailors throw Jonah into the sea, the sea is calmed and just when it appears that Jonah is about to drown the Lord God sends a large fish to swallow him up and for three days Jonah languishes in the depths of the fish in the depths of the sea. On the third day, the resurrection day, he is vomited back on to dry land and he obeys the Lord God and goes to Nineveh. He journeys into the heart of the city and preaches that in 40 days time there will be a visitation of the Lord God. The people, of all strata of society, repent of their wickedness and evil and God relents on the coming judgment and punishment. Now we encounter Jonah.
Verses 1-3 Jonah’s Anger
You know if Jonah was a child you would have told him to stop sulking and to act his age. Look at verse 1 – Jonah is angry at the conversion of the people of Nineveh. How strange? He had been obedient to God in preaching to the Ninevites but he was angry that they had repented of their wicked ways and God had shown mercy to them. He was obedient outwardly but in his heart he was hoping that the Ninevites would not repent and that God would destroy them. His outward actions were betrayed his heart. How revealing verses 2 and 3 are. Isn’t it startling that Jonah can pray such a prayer to God? You know theologically his prayer is 100% correct. God is slow to anger and he is a compassionate God. God does show mercy and relent from bringing judgment upon those who repent of their sins and turn to him for forgiveness. Jonah is 100% correct in every part of that prayer but look at what comes before and after this section of his prayer.
Before – his attitude has not changed. He may have geographically obeyed but his heart is still in the land of disobedience. Can you identify with that? Jonah was physically in Nineveh but spiritually he was in Tarshish. Outwardly he was obedient but inwardly he was rebelling. Like the little boy who is ordered to stand by his teacher and he does but he tells her ‘in my heart I am still seated.’ Jonah, Jonah how could this be? How could someone bring God’s message of forgiveness to a people and then be angry when the people accept it? The truth is Jonah hated the Ninevites and his understanding of God, whilst theologically correct, was tainted by his nationalistic attitude. Jonah wanted God to only be the God of the Israelites.
After- Jonah wanted to die rather than admit that God was right and he was wrong. What a stubborn prophet. Jonah displays here his self-pride, his anger and his petulance. He really is the little boy who says: ‘if you don’t play my way I am going home!’ You know if it wasn’t so serious it would be comical – Jonah throwing a tantrum before God and sulking off out of the city.
But before we dismiss this and think to ourselves we would never get ourselves into such a position. Ask yourself – ever not read your bible in a fit of temper? Ever decided I am not going to church because of such and such? Ever thought in your head; “God, do you know what they did? No way do they deserve forgiveness.” Ever sulked over something in church fellowship? Ever taken offence because someone is forgiven? We are really not that different than Jonah on occasions.