Jonah chapter 1: Jonah runs FROM God.
Chapter 2: Jonah runs TO God.
Chapter 3: Jonah runs FOR God.
Chapter 4: Jonah runs INTO God.
It seems as if this story should end with chapter 3, doesn’t it? Jonah finally went to Nineveh, he preached his sermon, the wicked people of Nineveh responded in repentance, and God spared their lives. “Mission Accomplished!” But that is not really what the story is about. Chapter 4 teaches us about the heart of God. It is true that God is a God of justice and wrath and that He punishes sinners. But it is also true that God is a God of love and that He wants sinners to be saved. It was that truth that brought Jonah onto a collision course with God. We would expect that after the great revival in Nineveh, Jonah would be excited about the work God had done. But instead, the prophet began to pout.
Jonah was “exceedingly displeased” and angry (v.1), and you can almost hear him blowing up at the Lord: “I knew it! That’s why I didn’t want to go to Nineveh in the first place, because I knew what kind of God you are!” And then he tells us: God is gracious, merciful, slow to anger (patient), abounding in steadfast love, and He relents from disaster (He responds to our repentance, faith, and desperation). It’s not that Jonah didn’t understand the nature of God; the problem was that he understood the nature of God, and he didn’t like it. Jonah had good theology, but it stayed in his head and never got to his heart.
Jonah wanted a God of love, but only for the people he liked. He wanted a God of mercy, but only for those he approved of. He wanted to limit the bounds of God’s redemption to his own country; he didn’t want it to extend to the whole world. Through Jonah’s message, thousands of people came to the Lord in a single day — and he was so angry about it that he asked the Lord to kill him (v.3). You would think Jonah would be happy about that, but he’s angry. God asked Jonah to examine his heart and see why he was really angry (v.4). Notice there was no reply. Jonah did not even answer the Lord. He was pouting. (Note: one real test of whether or not you are in the will of God is whether or not you want people to be saved. If you want to be involved in the will of God, you will end up being involved in the salvation of lost souls.)
I can see Jonah now, stomping out of the city (v.5). He climbs a hill east of Nineveh, makes himself a little shelter, and glares down at the city. He was overlooking a city God saved by His grace — and he didn’t even care. In verse 6, God began teaching Jonah a lesson: He grew a plant, maybe a vine or gourd, to give Jonah shade. That made Jonah “exceedingly glad”. (Note: this is the first time in the book that Jonah is happy. When God called him, it upset him; the storm made him unhappy; then he was swallowed by the fish and that made him really unhappy; then he preached and all the Ninevites got saved that made him exceedingly unhappy. But now the shade of this plant makes him happy. Sounds like Jonah is a little shallow, doesn’t it?)
Then God did something strange: He sent a worm to kill the plant and a hot wind to give Jonah a near heat-stroke (v.7-8)! Then God asked the question, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” This time Jonah answers, “Yes, I have the right to be angry!” That brings us to the climax of the story, as God’s makes a statement (v.10) and asks a question (v.11). The heart of God’s question, as I understand it, is this: “Jonah, can’t you find it in your heart to get concerned about souls who need Me?”
I have no evidence for this, but I really believe God’s disturbing question got a hold of Jonah’s heart, and that Jonah had his own personal revival on that hillside. I think that is why Jonah wrote this book — to show us how God convicted him of a narrow, bigoted, indifferent, unconcerned heart. But the real issue is not how Jonah answered the question; the real issue is how we answer God’s question. Ask yourself:
– Do I agree with God that people without Christ are lost?
– Do I have compassion for the lost?
– Do I have concern for the people in my city who are lost in sin?
– Do I pray that the gospel will go to people in every part of the world, and am I helping to send it there?
– Do I rejoice when sinners repent and trust the Savior?
Let’s give God the right answer!