God convicted Nineveh of their sin. And these evil, sinful people repented. They had a genuine change of heart.
But how did Jonah respond?
Jonah 4:1 says, "But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry."
Jonah didn't want the people of Nineveh to repent. He didn't want God to forgive them. From his perspective, they deserved God's wrath and judgment—not His mercy and grace.
Before we judge Jonah too harshly, we must remember that we've all felt as if a person or group of people deserved something bad to happen to them. That careless driver who cut us off. That difficult employer or fellow employee. That terrorist group.
Let's not be too critical when we read Jonah's words in verse 2: "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 knew the God's character because he knew God's Word. That's why he ran. He didn't want God to be gracious and compassion to the Ninevites. He didn't want the pagans to receive forgiveness from YHWH. Jonah thought he knew better than the Lord how He should deal with the Ninevites.
Jonah's attitude was the polar opposite of God's, but he did get some things right. The people of Nineveh didn't deserve forgiveness. But neither did he. Jonah believed only God's people deserved to experience the goodness of God. But the truth was—and is—no one deserves His mercy, grace, and forgiveness.
Psalm 14:1-3 says, "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one."
Paul references this psalm in Romans 3:10-11: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."
But Jonah just didn't get it. He was so angry that Nineveh had repented and God had forgiven them that he actually wanted to die. Can you imagine?
In verse 4, "The Lord said, 'Do you do well to be angry?'"
God challenged Jonah. What right did he have to be angry? After all, Jonah knew exactly what the Lord had called him to do. And yet he ran—in the opposite direction. Could he not recognize his own sinfulness, that he, too, deserved God's wrath but had, instead, experienced His mercy?
And Jonah's response?
Verse 5 of chapter 4 says, "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."
This prophet of God is pouting. Yes, he's actually acting like an upset toddler.
Did this change the Lord's nature and His kindness toward Jonah?
Verse 6 is amazing. "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."
Further in verse 6, it says, "Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant."
But was he rejoicing in God's character or in what God had done for him?
Verse 7 says, "But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 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."
God uses this situation to show Jonah that he is more concerned about his own physical comfort than the salvation of tens of thousands of Ninevites.
How about us?
Are we so focused on building our business that we don't share the gospel with our co-workers? Is our To Do list so jam-packed that we make excuses about why we don't get involved in church ministries? Do we spend more time storing up treasure on earth than we do accumulating treasure in heaven? (Matthew 6:19-21)
When the plant no longer provides Jonah shelter, he once again refers to his death.
In verse 9, God responds, "Do you do well to be angry for the plant?"
Jonah didn't respond when God asked a similar question in verse 4, but this time it's about Jonah and he says, "Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die" (v. 9).
If we're honest, sometimes we feel God is being unjust to us as well. We may even have become "angry enough to die." This type of anger stems from self-righteousness. We, too, think we know better than God.
What does God say in verses 10-11?
"You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?"
"Jonah, look at what you're saying. You didn't cause the plant to grow, but you loved it and wanted it to live. In the same way you didn't cause the plant to grow, you didn't cause Nineveh to grow. Yet, you want it destroyed. You loved a single plant. But Nineveh is full of people—over 100,000 of them. And none of them knew what was right or wrong. They didn't know Me or what I asked of them. Yet, you would choose the plant over 120,000 souls?"
And the story ends there.
We don't know if Jonah ever learned the lessons God was teaching him. We don't know if he ever recognized his own sinfulness and acknowledged that 120,000 people were more important than a single plant that provided shade and comfort. We don't know if he ever admitted that God had the right to show mercy and grace to whomever He chose.
And so, we're left to ask ourselves what we would do in Jonah's situation. What does God see in our heart right now?
- Who do we hate?
- Who do we love?
- What are our concerns?
- Our priorities?
What do our words and actions say about our priorities? What do they say about what we truly love? What do they reveal to God and those people whose lives intersect our own?
If what we love isn't what God loves, if what we hate isn't what God hates, if our concerns aren't God's concerns, and if our priorities aren't His, sin has taken hold and we must check our heart.
We must humbly ask the Lord to cleanse our heart and purify our priorities on a regular basis.