Summary: One thing evident about the story of Jonah is that his assignment to Nineveh was not so much about what Nineveh needed to learn as what Jonah needed to learn; so it is with us.
Jonah 4:3-11 Man’s Justice
11/23/14 D. Marion Clark
Parents, have you ever heard a version of this statement? “My life is so terrible, I wish I were dead!” God had to deal with such an attitude from his prophet Jonah.
We saw Jonah’s initial reaction last Sunday.
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.
Jonah is upset with the Lord’s mercy being shown. Though on the surface his reaction seems shocking, when we considered what Nineveh represented, namely, a pagan nation that would one day conquer and destroy Israel, such a reaction made sense. We can even sympathize with Jonah. Mercy is good, but should it interfere with justice? That is Jonah’s concern, or so it seemed. The remaining text suggests that Jonah’s sense of justice is not so just after all.
3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Jonah is getting a bit over dramatic now. It was one thing to be angry because of feeling that one’s sense of justice is being betrayed, but really, it is better to die than to live? Something is not right about Jonah, and God is going to bring it to surface.
4 And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
The NIV translates the question, “Have you any right to be angry?” Is there any justification for Jonah to be angry with the Lord’s decision to relent and show Nineveh mercy? That is a possible understanding of the verse, and it is how many commentators understand it. But the Hebrew term translated as “right” in the NIV and “well” in the ESV is translated most often as to do something well or pleasing. And the root for the word translated “angry” is “to burn” or “to kindle.” Put those words together and the ESV’s translation gets closer to what God is asking Jonah. He is not so much asking if Jonah has the right to be angry, but whether Jonah is getting carried away with his anger. No, Jonah does not have the right to be angry with God; no one does. But the Lord can handle anger. Psalmists and other prophets get angry with God, but Jonah is pushing things here, so much so that God is giving warning that Jonah is letting his anger cloud his sense of judgment. He is about to give Jonah an object lesson about this.
5 Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.
Just as when Jonah fled in chapter one, I cannot help but think of God looking down and having a chuckle over Jonah. My mother told me that she found me one time when I was little hiding behind a bush with my cowboy gun waiting for my friend next door to come by. Evidently I was very angry with him and ready to do him in. Here is Jonah acting the same way. He still hopes for the destruction of Nineveh. He throws up a make-shift shelter that offers partial shade from the intense rays of the sun. He sits down and waits for something bad to fall upon the city. Little does he know that he is falling into a setup.
6 Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
Note that three times the word “appointed” is used. (It is “provided” in the NIV.) God appoints a plant to grow; he appoints a worm to attack the plant and kill it; and he appoints a scorching east wind. It was noted in 1:17 that the Lord had appointed the fish. Back in 1:4 he is credited with hurling a great wind on the sea. Nature is under God’s control and used by him for his purposes, and he had to be enjoying himself with using nature to teach Jonah lessons about his sovereignty and mercy.