The people of Nineveh repented and God relented of the destruction He had prepared for them because of their wickedness. This is a vivid reminder to us of what the Lord declared through the Prophet Ezekiel “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? …Instead, don’t I take pleasure when he turns from his ways and lives?” (Ez 18:23). He goes on to say, “For I take no pleasure in anyone’s death…So repent and live!” (Ez 18:32). God did not approve of the wickedness of the Ninevites, but He does delight in their repentance. Jonah, however, did not like that God relented from judgment. Chapter 4 begins by saying, “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.” Why is Jonah angry? Let’s take a closer look.
Why was Jonah so angry? Why would the revival of Nineveh make Jonah so upset? He gives us his answer in his prayer: “Please, LORD, isn’t this what I said while I was still in my own country? That’s why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place. I knew that You are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love, and One who relents from sending disaster.” Jonah is not angry that God is merciful, he is angry that God was merciful to Nineveh. Jonah didn’t want to go in the first place because he knew God would spare the people of Nineveh if they repented. Jonah got so upset that he just wished God would kill him. Jonah said he knew God was compassionate, but does he really understand what compassion means? God responded: “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Jonah went outside the city to see what would happen. He made a shelter because of the heat and waited “till he might see what would become of the city.” Maybe God would rain down fire after all. God did not send down fire on Nineveh but sprang up out of the ground a plant to provide shade for Jonah. Jonah “was very grateful for the plant.” Keep in mind, while he’s grateful for a plant that is providing him shade, he is angry at God for showing mercy to the Ninevites. John Macarthur summarizes Jonah’s position very well: “Make me comfortable while you send my enemies to hell.” God made the plant to shade Jonah and then He made a worm to destroy the plant. After the plant withered, God made a scorching east wind to work with the hot sun to beat down on Jonah. Jonah’s response was once again for God to take his life.
God responded: “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” This time Jonah answered the Lord: “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!” It is ironic that Jonah was angry at God for destroying the plant and angry at God for not destroying Nineveh. Jonah cared more about the plant than the people. Jonah cared about the plant–which came in a night and perished in a night—because it benefited him. Jonah did not care about the people—including 120,000 children—because they were his enemies. Jonah’s priorities were rotten because Jonah was selfish. Throughout the book of Jonah, Jonah has wrestled with God. “I don’t want to go to Nineveh”, “I’ll go, but only because you made me”, “I’m angry that you relented when they repented”, “I’m angry that it’s hot and my plant died”. The book ends with the Lord telling Jonah, “You have had pity on the plant…should I not pity Nineveh?”
Jonah, why did you write?
This is a book about an incident from the life of Jonah, but ultimately it is a book about God.
- In this book we learn about the authority and the power of God. For example, God saw the wickedness of Nineveh, commissioned Jonah, sent the storm to stop Jonah from fleeing, sent the fish to swallow Jonah and spit him out, recommissioned Jonah, saw the repentance of Nineveh and relented, created a plant to shade Jonah, sent a worm to destroy the plant, and sent a strong, hot east wind on Jonah.
- We learn about God’s compassion and mercy on Nineveh. God determined to put an end to Nineveh’s wickedness; either through destruction or repentance. The king of Nineveh realized that if God was going to send a warning, He must be willing to relent of the destruction if His wrath is appropriately appeased. This is precisely what happened.
- We also learn about God’s compassion and mercy on Jonah. Do you realize that if the book of Jonah ends at Chapter 3, this is an entirely different book? If it ends with the repentance of Nineveh, the primary focus is Nineveh and it has a happy ending. But, it does not end at Chapter 3. Why? Because the main focus of God’s compassion and mercy is not Nineveh but Jonah. God wanted the story to end with his confrontation with Jonah. God could have sent whomever He wanted to Nineveh, but He sent Jonah because He wanted to change Jonah. He wanted to expose Jonah’s selfishness and hatred.
Jonah knew that God was compassionate and gracious, but he didn’t understand it. Jonah was a selfish prophet. He was glad the plant came and was angry when it withered because he believed he deserved God’s grace and mercy (He’s a Hebrew Prophet!). He was angry when Nineveh was not destroyed because he felt they did not deserve God’s grace and mercy (they are wicked). Jonah’s attitude was like that of the Pharisee who said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:11). Jonah is thinking, “God, I thank you that I am not like these Ninevites!” So, he sat in his shelter outside the city waiting for all the people (including 120,000 kids) to be destroyed.
Jonah got so angry because he did not want to serve God if it meant that God was going to show mercy to sinful people. The people of Nineveh were wicked, but God loved them and desired their repentance. Jonah is selfish, but God loved him and desired his repentance. Let us learn from the book of Jonah that God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.” Let us have this same mind in ourselves. Let us know, receive, and share the love of God.