Summary: This is a message for Junior age campers at an evening vespers service, dealing with Jonah chapter 4 as Jonah waits for God to destroy the wicked city of Nineveh
Jonah chapter 4: The vine-a place to grow
Intro: In our last lesson from Chapter 3 of Jonah, we saw Jonah obediently follow God’s call to go to Nineveh and to preach against all the evil that was going on there. Naturally, we remember that it took a storm and a great fish to get Jonah headed in the right direction, but 3 days in the belly of the fish was enough to convince Jonah that he had better quit running away from God.
Jonah arrived in Nineveh, one of the main cities of the Assyrian empire, and he preached the message God told him to preach against these evil people. “40 more days and Nineveh will be overturned!” This was a simple doom and gloom kind of message: No poem, no joke, no clever introduction, no invitation hymn, no possibility of a glimmer of hope. Just a warning about death and destruction.
But much to Jonah’s surprise, his message struck a chord with the people. They believed what he preached. Even the King of Nineveh believed and called for fasting and sack-cloth on everyone, even the animals. (can you imagine a cow walking around in a burlap sack?) Revival broke out as everyone repented and prayed for God to change his mind and spare their city. Jonah’s crusade in Nineveh was a whopping success! He had better results preaching here than in Jerusalem! This would have been a wonderful ending for the book of Jonah.
But wait, there’s another chapter! And look how chapter 4 begins! “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.” What?... Angry?... Why? His preaching had worked! The People were converted. Jonah had succeeded in what God had sent him to Nineveh to do.
Ahh, but the problem is that these Ninevites were the wrong kind of people. These heathens had made war against the Jews. They had tortured and killed thousands of Jews. They had taken Jews from their homes and sold them in slavery. The Jews hated these people and wanted their city to be destroyed. And as a loyal and patriotic Jew, Jonah wanted what all the other Jews wanted. “Death to the Ninevites!”
This is like what happened when the Japinese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7th, 1941 and killed nearly 3,000 Americans. The Japinese did this when war had not yet been declared. This was a senseless massacre of peace time Americans on a lazy early Sunday Morning in December on Oahu, Hawaii. Our guns weren’t loaded. We weren’t looking for an enemy to attack us.
This happened again on September 11, 2001 in Washington DC and New York city, when radical Jihadi Muslims hijacked 4 airplanes and killed 3,000 people by slamming the planes, like missles, into the Pentagon, and the Twin Towers of the world Trade Center.
On both occasions, Americans became enraged. Pearl Harbor brought us with full resolve into the Second World War against Japan and Germany. 9/11 caused us to declare war on terrorism and radical Muslim extremism. Many Americans developed strong hatred of these foreign groups from what happened back then.
The other day, a soldier was in my office. He had been exposed to radiation poisoning while deployed in Afghanistan and was brought home to prepare for death. But he told me his story, and said he wasn’t prepared to die and meet God on Judgment day. This soldier said that his parents were both killed on 9/11 and that he enlisted in the army in order to seek revenge on those who had killed his parents. While in Afghanistan he said he killed hundreds of insurgents, not because of his duty as a soldier, but because of his bitterness over losing his parents. He admitted that his attitude was all wrong, but he couldn’t help himself because his hatred was so overwhelming. He was pretty sure, that when he died, God would send him to hell because of his desire for revenge on the death of his parents.
This same kind of attitude filled the heart of Jonah and for the same reason. He wanted revenge against these horrible Ninevites. Jonah wanted them to all be killed. And he explaned his bitterness in a prayer to God, “Oh, Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? This is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in Love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:2-3, NIV)
There’s a lot of irony in what is happening here. Jonah had prayed for God to let him live, when he had been in the belly of the great fish. But now, that his work was done, (and I might add, quite successfully,) he begged for God to allow him to die. Some scholars think that part of this was that Jonah had prophesied the death and destruction of Nineveh, and because of God’s mercy, what Jonah had predicted had not come to pass. This means that Jonah’s prophecy had not come true. He failed the test of a prophet and was liable to be stoned as a false prophet. That’s what some think, but I don’t think that is the heart of Jonah’s anger. Jonah was all for mercy and pardon, but not for these people. For the Jews, yes, certainly! But these people deserved to burn and die. That’s the way Jonah saw it.