Text: Jonah 4:1-11
In his book Fearless, Max Lucado writes about the power fear possesses to turn us into beastly people:
“[Fear] turns us into control freaks … [because] … fear, at its center, is a perceived loss of control. When life spins wildly, we grab for a component of life we can manage: our diet, the tidiness of our home, the armrest of a plane, or, in many cases, people. The more insecure we feel, the meaner we become. We growl and bare our fangs. Why? Because we are bad? In part. But also because we feel cornered.
Martin Niemöller documents an extreme example of this. He was a German pastor who took a heroic stand against Adolf Hitler. When he first met the dictator in 1933, Niemöller stood at the back of the room and listened. Later, when his wife asked him what he’d learned, he said, “I discovered that Herr Hitler is a terribly frightened man.” Fear releases the tyrant within.” – Max Lucado, Fearless
Now, you might hear that and think, “What does that have to do with Jonah? He’s not a tyrant. He’s not a dictator.” That’s true, he’s not, but his worst fears did come true, and it made him angry.
- This morning, we’re going to talk about Jonah’s Prayer and Jonah’s Anger, and work through those ideas we’re going to see a deep-rooted insecurity about the fact that he had to preach in Nineveh. He was an Israelite. The Assyrians hated the Israelites, and you better believe that the Israelites had a built-in prejudice against the Assyrians because of everything that had happened between them.
Now, we know from the last two weeks that Jonah has repented; he’s on the right track, but there’s a lesson for us here: we need to understand that, just like Jonah, just because we’ve repented and we’re on the right track now doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be tempted to fall back into old habits, old prejudices, and old insecurities.
In 1994, there was a Church of Christ minister named Roy Ratcliff who received a phone call from a gentleman who said that he knew of a prison inmate who had questions about the Bible and thought he might want to be baptized, and the man asked Pastor Roy if he would be interested in talking to this young man. So, of course, Roy Ratcliff obliged.
When he accepted the offer to help disciple this prisoner he didn’t think to ask who it was or what he had done, he just went.
When he got to the prison, he saw that the man who wanted to be discipled was none other than Jeffrey Dahmer. For those of you who don’t know Dahmer, he was a serial killer who confessed to raping, killing, and eating 17 young men and boys.
- Roy Ratcliff had been watching the news, he knew who this guy was. Some preachers might have backed out of the deal at this point, but Ratcliff saw this as an opportunity to witness God’s grace at work in even the vilest of sinners.
- After meeting with Dahmer for a couple of months, he agreed to baptize him. After the baptism, Ratcliff started coming under attack from fellow Christians who told him that they couldn’t believe that he would “have the audacity to grant God’s blessings upon the devil,” and they said they didn’t want to be in a heaven that included the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer.
My guess is that none of us are wrestling with whether or not to show grace to a cannibalistic murderer, but like we said in the first week of this series, we all have biases and prejudices. Jonah had a bias and prejudice against the people of Nineveh of because of how they treated Israel.
- One of the major applications of this book is this: Like Jonah, we are called to be grace-filled, and merciful to people that we find hard to love.
- The truth of the matter is that none of us are as cute, nice, and lovable as we would like to think that we are, and Jesus loves us anyway.
After last week, you would think that the story would stop there. Everything seems to have a sense of closure. The sailors repent in chapter 1. Jonah repents in chapter 2. Nineveh repents in chapter 3, and everything seems to be wrapped up, and has a happy ending, but as it turns out, Jonah isn’t so happy.
So, the first thing we’re going to look at is Jonah’s Prayer here in chapter 4. I want us to compare it to his prayer in chapter 2, and I want us to see what it says about God, and what it says about Jonah.
JONAH’S PRAYER (v. 1-3)
“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.” – Jonah 4:1, NKJV
- What displeases Jonah exactly? Look back up at Jonah 3:10, towards the end of the verse – “…God relented from the disaster that He had said that He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.”
- Jonah is angry because God isn’t destroying his enemies [slow down] even after he spent this whole time going through the city proclaiming the judgement of God.
- God isn’t concerned with how His decisions to spare Nineveh makes Jonah feel. It means the same for us. God is going to do what God is going to do. He’s going to show mercy to whomever He wants to show mercy regardless of how we feel about it.
- Think about it like this: If God took the feelings of our enemies into into consideration every time He wanted to bless us, how blessed would we be? Not very. Especially if we’ve made a lot of enemies over the years.
Chapter 4, verse 1 – “it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.” God knew sparing Nineveh would make Jonah angry, and He did it anyway because how Jonah feels doesn’t make God insecure.
- Now that Jonah’s angry, what does he do? He prays. What should we do when we’re angry? Talk to God about it. He may not do what you want Him to when you want Him to, but I guarantee you, He will listen.
Now let’s look at his prayer in verses 2-3. For the sake of clarity, I’m going to read these two verses from the CSB.
“He prayed to the Lord: “Please, Lord, isn’t this what I thought 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 gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and one who relents from sending disaster. 3 And now, Lord, take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” – Jonah 4:2-3, CSB
There are two prayers in the book of Jonah. We studied the first one in chapter 2, and now this is the second one, and interesting to see how opposite these two prayers are.
“For the second time in this account, Jonah prays, but his second prayer was much different in content and intent.
- He prayed his best prayer in the worst place, the fish’s belly, and he prayed his worst prayer at the best place, at Nineveh where God was working.
- His first prayer came from a broken heart, but his second prayer came from an angry heart.
- In his first prayer, he asked God to save him, but in his second prayer, he asked God to take his life!
Once again, Jonah would rather die than not have his own way!” – Warren Wiersbe
I want us to notice something in verse 2. What Jonah says is really revealing about his own heart.
- In verse 2 he says, “That’s why I fled… I knew you would forgive them, and I knew you would have compassion.” Why did he know that? Because He knows God. He’s familiar with God’s character.
- One of the things I want us to take away from this series in Jonah is an awareness of God’s character. Over and over again God says about Himself that He is quick to forgive and slow to anger, and here he actually shows that by sparing Nineveh rather than destroying them.
- Jonah knows this, as a matter of fact look at how Jonah describes God, “I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and one who relents from sending disaster.”
- Now, if you know the Bible fairly well, then you know that that is a common description of God all throughout the Old Testament. (2 Chronicles 30:9; Nehemiah 9:17, 31; Psalm 103:8, 116:5; Joel 2:13)
- The first appearance of this description comes in Exodus 34.
Now, to set the scene for you in Exodus 34. Moses has up to Mount Sinai to receive the law, and when he comes down he finds the children of Israel worshipping a golden calf, and he becomes so angry that he throws the tablets down and breaks them.
- Moses intercedes for the people, and then God commands them to leave Sinai, and then God tells Moses to make two more tablets.
[Read: Exodus 34:1-7]
So, what we have here two major things that we need to tie back to Jonah.
- The Law of God (10 Commandments on the stone tablets)
- The Character of God (description of God in v. 6-7)
We could get really into really in-depth conversation about what’s really going on here, but ultimately what it amounts to is that God wants Nineveh to repent, and in their repentance, He wants them to discover who He is, namely that He is merciful.
And now, Jonah’s angry and then God asks him a question.
GOD’S QUESTION (v. 4)
“Then the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” – Jonah 4:4, NKJV
He doesn’t answer God at first. He just walks away.
“So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city. 6 And the Lord God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. 7 But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. 8 And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
9 Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!” – Jonah 4:5-9, NKJV
This is almost a humorous picture. Jonah is moody and grumpy because God spared Nineveh, and then he had a plant that providing shade for him, and now the plant is gone. The wind drove the clouds away so now the sun is beating down on his head and he just wants to die.
- He’s pouting, he doesn’t get his way, and he wants to die.
- What would have made Jonah happy? The destruction of his enemies. He would have been happy to see God reign down fire and judgement against Nineveh. You know why? Because that’s what he would have done if he could have.
“You can be sure that you’ve made God in your own image when He hates all the same people that you do.” – Anne Lamotte
- “He doesn’t vote my way, he obviously doesn’t love God like I do.”
- “They’re not waving my flag they must not be a Christian like I am.”
- “They believe what I believe. If only they were as spiritually mature as I am.”
There’s all kinds of pictures we can paint in our minds that make us look good and the people we don’t like bad, but the truth is that we’re all bad. Only Jesus is good, and He came to make all of us good even our enemies.
Kevin Hale, a Presbyterian pastor in Conway, posted a statement on Facebook that I was relevant here. He says, “…if we follow the Lord we must be prepared for those we count as enemies to be counted as brothers.”
One more thing I want us to take note of this morning.
GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY (v. 6-8)
Did you notice something in verses 6-8?
- “God prepared” – 3x in Chapter 4
God was in control the whole time. God raised up the plant to provide shade for Jonah as a sign of mercy, and then God took down the plant and allowed the sun to beat down on Jonah as a small taste of judgement.
- What was Jonah’s response when the plant was destroyed? Even more anger.
Why? Because he felt that he was owed something. He felt that he was owed some shade. After all, he went to Nineveh and told them that God would destroy them and He didn’t, Jonah should get something for his trouble.
- But then God destroys the plant, and God asks Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” What God is saying is, “Okay, Jonah, so it’s alright for me rain down fire and destruction from heaven on the city of Nineveh, but if you get a sunburn, then it’s not fair?” Of course that’s Jonah’s mindset.
Fast Forward to the New Testament. Think about who else gets angry when other people are blessed.
- Luke 15 – The Older Brother gets angry because a party is thrown when the younger brother comes home.
- Matthew 21 – A man who owns a field agrees to pay everyone who works for him a full day’s wage for working in his field. So, he goes out, hires some workers at 6am, then he hires more at Noon, some others around 2pm, and then finally he hires more just before closing time. When everyone lines up to get their pay, beginning with the ones who were hired at 6am, they all get a full day’s wage. Everyone. Including the ones who were hired just before closing time.
- The ones who were hired earlier get angry. They’re furious because they feel like they should be paid more than the people who got hired later in the day. The owner of the field says, “Listen, I didn’t cheat you. I offered to hire you for a day’s wage, you worked and I paid you. My money is mine to do with as I please. What business is it of yours if I decide to pay someone more?”
What does this all have to do with Jonah? What does Jonah, the older brother, and the angry workers all have in common? They’re angry because someone else received mercy.
This morning, where do you find yourself? Do you think that you’re owed mercy? Or do you know that you don’t, and you’re grateful that God poured His mercy on you anyway?