Jonah 3 and 4
If you grew up in the church you have heard the story of Jonah quite a few times. The story I remember from Sunday School goes like this: God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh so he got on a boat going the other direction. The boat ran into a bad storm, Jonah knew he had disobeyed God and told the sailors of the boat it was his fault that the storm came up and that they should throw him over. So they did, Jonah was swallowed by a big fish and sat in its belly for three days and then the fish spat him back out on the shore. God again told Jonah to go to Nineveh and this time Jonah obeyed. The End. I honestly only ever remember hearing the first two chapters of Jonah taught. Maybe I didn’t pay attention in Sunday School well enough, but I think most of the time in Jonah’s story we kind of stop there. Jonah obeyed… Jonah’s a hero, he learned his lesson and followed God. But after sitting with chapters 3 and 4 for a few days, I’m sad. Jonah’s story doesn’t have the happy ending for him that I thought it had for most of my life.
Chapter 3 opens with God telling Jonah (for the second time) to go to Nineveh and deliver His message to the people of the city. This time Jonah obeyed. I think it is clear that after spending time inside a fish that Jonah was more receptive to God’s plan. Jonah delivered God’s message and the people repented and changed their ways. When God saw that they put and end to their evil ways, He changed His mind and didn’t destroy the people. Jonah 4:1-4 says, ”This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it. “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?” So Jonah walked out to the edge of town to watch and see what would happen. As he waited God arranged for a leafy plant to grow up beside him to protect him form the heat of the sun. The next day God arranged for a worm to eat the plant off at the stem, which killed it and left Jonah in the heat with no protection. Again Jonah got mad and said, “death is certainly better than living like this!” Then God said, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died? “Yes” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!” Vs 10-11 say, “ Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city? The End. What? Seriously? Where is obedient Jonah from the beginning of chapter 3?
Two times God asked Jonah if it is right for him to be angry about his situation. Why was Jonah so angry? I looked back in my Bible to chapter 1 and got some help understanding Jonah’s mindset from the notes below vs 3. In Jonah’s lifetime, Nineveh was a powerful and wicked city. Jonah had grown up hating and fearing these people because of what they did to others. In Nahum we get a better explanation what Jonah knew about the people of Nineveh. They were guilty of evil plots against God, exploitation of the helpless, cruelty in war and idolatry, prostitution, and witchcraft. Yikes, that is quite a list. Also Nineveh was a Gentile country and Jonah was a Jew. Humanly, I completely understand Jonah’s feelings. He was scared of these people and what they might do to him, and also, he wanted them to be punished for their wrongdoing instead of saved from their consequences. Jonah was angry because he was looking at the situation from his point of view, not God’s. Jonah saw people deserving death, period. God saw people that deserved death, but He wanted to save them because of His love.
1-I think Jonah forgot the truth that he didn’t deserve to be forgiven by God either. It is so easy to compare our sin with other people’s sins and talk ourselves into believing that we are more deserving of relationship with God than others. The truth is that no one is blameless. None of us are good enough to get to God on our own, we can’t. The only way to Him is by accepting His gift of payment for our sins by Jesus dying on the cross. The only part we play in this equation is sinning. It’s a pretty level playing field for ALL of us!
2-I think Jonah couldn’t get past concern for his own neck and looking like a fool in front of a lot of people. Don’t we all get tripped up here? We just can’t let ourselves truly trust God with our lives. We don’t want to be embarrassed, minimized, pained, looked over or left in the dust. We feel like if we don’t look out for ourselves, no one else will. We want the glory that God deserves.
3-I think Jonah was more in tune with his own interests than the spiritual needs of the people around him. Not to be dramatic here, but we are talking about eternal damnation, forever separated from God…no way out, no change in circumstances, no help, FOREVER! If the people around us aren’t introduced to truth and relationship with God here on earth, there isn’t another chance for them to change their minds. This life is all we have to decide to accept Christ’s gift and share the gift with everyone we can.
We don’t get to find out if Jonah softened his heart toward the people of Nineveh. We don’t know if he accepted God’s personal lesson for him through the plant. We don’t know if Jonah changed.