Jonah 4:1-3 (NIV) 1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That 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. 3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
On verses 1-3: God has just shown great mercy to the Ninevites (see Jonah 3:10) and Jonah is angry. Why? For the same reason Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh to preach in the first place: Jonah despised the Ninevites. Jonah had probably learned from the prophets Hosea and Amos that one day Assyria (of which Nineveh was or would be the capital city) would one day attack Jonah’s country of Israel. So Jonah did not want God to spare the Ninevites. Notice the double standard Jonah was operating under: when God spared Jonah instead of punishing Jonah, Jonah was overjoyed and thankful, yet when God spared the Ninevites instead of punishing them, Jonah is greatly displeased and angry.
What can we learn from this? Before you judge and vilify others, remember how much mercy and grace God has shown you personally.
Jonah 4:4 (NIV) 4 But the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”
On verse 4: Fittingly, God responds to Jonah’s double standard by asking Jonah a question, “Have you any right to be angry?” (v4 NIV). I also like how the English Standard Version puts it: “Do you do well to be angry?” (v4 ESV). In other words, before you lash out in anger, ask yourself, “Do I have any right to be angry? Do I have all my facts straight? Am I ignoring anything important that might change my perspective?” Also, “do I do well to be angry?” In other words, what good or benefit will result from you acting out in anger? It is not a sin to feel angry, but wise people are thoughtful and wise in the way they deal with their anger.
Jonah 4:5-11 (NIV) 5 Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” “I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.” 10 But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”
On verses 5-11: In verses 5-8, God is described as having “provided” three things: a vine to grow up over Jonah to give him shade (v6), a worm to chew up the vine (v7), and a scorching east wind that caused Jonah to grow faint (v8). When Jonah feels the shade of the vine, he is overjoyed. Verse 6 literally says, “Jonah rejoiced over the vine with a great rejoicing.” This is the happiest we will see Jonah in this entire book. Jonah is happier about some temporary shade than he is about his salvation from the storm or the salvation of the Ninevites. But Jonah’s happiness turns to anger and despair when God provides a worm to chew up the vine (v7) and a scorching east wind that caused Jonah to grow faint. Because the vine is gone, Jonah is now angry and wanting to die (v8).
What is God trying to teach Jonah by providing a vine and then taking it away? God is trying to show Jonah how different He and Jonah are, not just in terms of power, but in terms of priorities. While Jonah is rejoicing and getting all riled up over his own personal comfort, God is concerned about the hundreds of thousands of lost people in Nineveh as well as their livestock.
Looking at Jonah 4 is like looking in a mirror, for I know that I too can be so superficial and caught up in my own personal comfort, whereas God’s heart beats and breaks for the salvation of people. Just as I believe God was using this situation to challenge Jonah’s superficiality and to help him see life more from God’s perspective, so I believe God is challenging us to see life more from His perspective too. Instead of being so concerned about our own personal comfort, God wants us to have a heart like His for the many in our city and other cities who are lost and far from Him.
Heavenly Father, You are so much more merciful than I am. You are so much more selfless and concerned about others than I am. Thank You for showing me that like Jonah I need to move from superficiality, self-righteousness and selfishness to having a heart more like Yours, one that beats and breaks for those who are far from You. Come change me Lord and make me more like You. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!