The Book of Jonah
Encountering God Series
“The Knowledge of God”
After getting off to a stormy start, shallowed by a whale, and vomited back onto the shore, Jonah finally made his way to Nineveh to preach the message that the Lord would give him.
Once Jonah arrived, he proclaimed throughout the city, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (3.4b) As we discovered last week this verb “overthrown” is used to describe destruction, but it is also means “to turn around” or “to transform” referring to a change of heart. By the Lord using this word we can see the double edge sword of the Word of God in Jonah’s proclamation. (Heb.4.12) On one side we see that rejecting of God’s Word brings destruction but on the other side we see that repentance to God’s Word brings restoration.
And how did the wicked Ninevites respond to Jonah’s divinely appointed message? They repented with faith, fasting, fervent prayer, and fruits in keeping with their repentance. We are told that the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. (3.5) They called on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands.(3.8b) And when God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. (3.10)
At this point the reader assumes that Jonah would either stay in the city to disciple this multitude of new converts, like what we see the apostles doing with the new converts in Jerusalem after the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2.42ff), or that Jonah would return to his own country rejoicing in the Lord for the outpouring of His grace to the Ninevites. But neither of these things happen. No, chapter four of Jonah reveals the truth concerning Jonah’s heart. Hear now the Word of God.
But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry.2 He prayed to the Lord and said, “Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore, in order to forestall this, I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. 3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.”
4 The Lord said, “Do you have good reason to be angry?” (Jonah 4.1-3)
Chapter four begins, “But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry.” (4.1)Jonah was greatly displeased that with allowed Nineveh an opportunity to repent. God and Jonah are diametrically opposed. God turns away from angry (3.9), Jonah becomes angry. In the original Hebrew this term translated “greatly displeased” means that Jonah believed that God allowing the Ninevites to repent was a great evil which caused him to burn with anger.
Jonah’s behavior is in direct opposition to what the Lord spoke through the Prophet Jeremiah saying, “At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it;if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it.” (Jer.18.7-8) But this didn’t matter, Jonah had his opinion about Nineveh and that is all that mattered.
Jonah wasn’t just upset or a little annoyed. No, he burned with passionate anger against God. There is no doubt that God demonstrating His grace by sparing Nineveh was the cause of Jonah’s anger. Jonah simply hates when grace is shown to those, he thinks don’t deserve it. And in Jonah’s mind, Nineveh didn’t deserve it. In Jonah’s mind, Nineveh was the capital city of the terrorist state of Assyria and Assyrians were enemies against God and His people.
The intensity of Jonah’s anger is difficult for many to understand. Wasn’t Jonah the Lord’s prophet? Hadn’t Jonah been trained in the School of Prophets? It is obvious from the text that Jonah knew the Lord was a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. (4.2b) This perception of God was Theology 101. (Neh.9.17; Ps.86.15, 145.8; Joel 2.13)
So, what’s Jonah’s problem? I believe that even though Jonah knew about God he didn’t know the Gospel. Jonah’s spiritual condition reminds me of the story of the great Christian hymnwriter and founder of the Methodist movement Charles Wesley. Charles and his brother John were raised in a devout Christian home. They both studied in seminary where they devoted themselves to live disciplined Christian lives given to serious study of the Bible, prayer, fasting, and charitable works. They both travel from England to Georgia to serve as missionaries to the Indians. But both had no assurance of salvation in Christ.
It wasn’t until they returned from their missionary work in American that they discovered the grace and forgiveness found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Charles was the first of the two to be justified by faith, when at a church service he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. He wrote in his journal that the Spirit of God “chased away the darkness of my unbelief.” And, by God’s grace his brother John would give his life to Christ three days later. Prior to their conversions to Christ, they were both ordained, preached, taught, wrote, composed hymns, and even gave themselves to missionary work. But they had not Christ, or rather, Christ did not have them. They lived by good works, but not by faith.
It can happen. You can know about God and do good things for God without believing in the Gospel. So, let me ask you, are you resting in God’s grace as offered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Have you surrendered your life to Jesus Christ? Can you say with spiritual confidence that Christ has saved your soul from destruction and by His Spirit has turned your life around, causing a spiritual transformation, and changing your heart?
My point is that even though Jonah was a graduate of the School of the Prophets, preached, and reluctantly participated in missionary work, he didn’t believe in the Gospel. He firmly believed that the Ninevites were sinners, but he did not believe that God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.(Rom.5.8)
He firmly believed that the Ninevites were enemies, but he did not believe that while we were
enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son. (Rom.5.10a) He firmly believed that the Ninevites were alienated, hostile in mind, and engaged in evil deeds, but he did not believe that even though we were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds,yet Christ has now reconciled us in His fleshly body through death, in order to present us before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach. (Col.1.21-22) Jonah didn’t believe in the Gospel. Do you?
To add to the complexity of Jonah’s spiritual condition, do you know what Jonah did in his anger? He prayed! Can you believe it? He prays! He prayed to the Lord and said, “Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore, in order to forestall this, I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. (4.2)
Jonah had harbored this ill-will towards God for quite a long time. Everything was ok while the Lord restrained His prophets within the borders of Israel but once the word of the Lord came to Jonah to arise and go to Nineveh, resentment took root in Jonah’s heart towards God for commanding him to preach repentance to the heathen Gentiles. (1.1) Jonah was happy to be a physician to those who were healthy, but he was angry at the thought of caring for those who are sick. Jonah was pleased to continually preach to those who have enjoyed the banquet of God’s Word, but he was angry to call sinners to repentance. (Lk.5.31-32)
Jonah utters his complaint to God for God’s compassionate nature. Jonah’s hatred for the Ninevites was greater than his love for God. Jonah’s opinion about what should happen was greater than his knowledge of God. Going to Joppa and boarding a ship going the Tarshish was just Jonah’s attempt to forestall God having compassion on Nineveh. Jonah knew the Lord was gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. But maybe he was hoping that God would change.
It is difficult to imagine a more convoluted and incoherent theology than we see in Jonah. (Daniel C. Timmer) Maybe it would be easier to understand Jonah if he would have not benefited from these very attributes of God, when he called out to the Lord on the bottom of Mediterranean saying, “I called out of my distress to the Lord, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice. (2.1-2) Maybe we would have more sympathy for Jonah if he wouldn’t have rejoiced that “Salvation comes for the Lord”? (2.9) But Jonah had benefited from the Lord’s gracious compassion and abundant lovingkindness. Jonah is no better than the unforgiving servant in Jesus’ parable who would not share the blessing of forgiveness he had received with others. (Mt.18.23-35)
Our Church Fathers taught us that prayer is the offering up of our desires to God. But they go on to teach us that as we pray, we should seek for the things that are agreeable to God’s will and offer thankful acknowledgement of His mercies. (WSC#98) When we look at Jonah’s prayer, we can see that he is a long way from that type of prayer.
Even though God is pleased to hear our complaint, Jonah wasn’t seeking for the things agreeable to God’s will. He was seeking for things agreeable to his own will. Jonah wasn’t praying with the thankful acknowledgement for God’s mercy, he was angry that God had been merciful. I want you to notice that the terms “I” and “my” occur nine times in verses two and three. Nine times in two verses! Jonah is so focused on himself and his own opinion that he couldn’t see the glory of God. Brothers and sisters, we can become so focused on ourselves, so focused on our opinions, and so focused on what we think that we can lose sight of the glory of God and His blessings in our lives. So, Jonah concludes his prayer saying, “Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.” (4.3)
The Lord’s Response
And what was the Lord’s response? The Lord said, “Do you have good reason to be angry?” (4.4) The Lord is asking Jonah to examine his thoughts, opinions, and emotions. “Do you have good reason to be angry?” It seems that the Lord is asking Jonah to pull back from his rage and take a hard look at himself. If Jonah would be honest, he would have to admit that he has had a life of privilege. He was a member of the commonwealth of Israel and had been acquainted with the covenants of promise his entire life. He was called and trained as one of the Lord’s prophets and most recently was blessed by God to be His mouthpiece to bring a national revival. This was a prophet’s dream come true. In addition, Jonah had been a beneficiary of the Lord’s compassionate character by not being angry with Jonah for fleeing from His presence but rather rescuing Jonah and giving him a second chance. Jonah had a lot to be thankful for, but he was squandering it all away by being angry. So, the Lord asks him to take a pause and reflect by asking, “Do you have good reason to be angry?”
It seems that Jonah was thinking too little about the riches of God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience towards him. And we often do the same thing. Instead of dwelling on God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience towards us we become angry at the way things have turned out. It seems that Jonah was taking advantage of God’s kindness towards him. And we often do the same thing. Instead thanking God for what He has done for us, for what He has given us, we complain that we don’t have exactually what we want. It seems like Jonah had forgotten that the kindness of God should lead him to repentance. (Rom.2.4) Brothers and sisters, let’s take a pause and step back from our wants and desires and think about all the wonderful things God has done for us. Do you have any good reason to be upset, disappointed, or depressed? When it comes down to it the answer should be “no.” Our answer should be “No, Lord. All Your ways are right even if I don’t understand them. And even though I might not understand, I know that the Lord is gracious and merciful;
slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works. All Your works shall give thanks to You, O Lord, and Your godly ones shall bless You. (Ps.145.8-10) Let’s allow the Lord’s kindness to lead us to repentance.
Transition to the Table