When we last saw Jonah, he had walked through the town of Nineveh, a three-day journey, as he proclaimed “forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The result of God’s proclamation, the entire town, and the Assyrian king cover themselves in sackcloth and ashes and repent of their evil.
Does Jonah rejoice over such a great response? Not at all, and that is where we pick up this story.
Jonah 4:1-2 NASB 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 loving kindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.
I pointed out early on that you needed to know the background story to understand why Jonah chose to flee from God and not carry out this assignment. Briefly, the Assyrians had ravaged Israel on multiple occasions and taken many captive. They were a brutal people and dragged many of their captives back to Nineveh with meat hooks. To put it plainly, Jonah despised them.
But there is another side to Jonah’s background, and you see it in his comment above. “I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.”
Now Ask yourself, how did Jonah come to this understanding of God?
Just do a word search for the phrase, slow to anger. It shows up at least 14 times in the Old Testament. The passages extend from Exodus to Nahum. Another aspect of Jonah’s life, which we only see in 2Kings 14:25, was that he was the son of Amittai, the prophet. It was not unusual for many of our biblical characters to be the son of a priest or elder. If that were the case, Jonah would have had a proper education in the local Synagogue school. His education would have required him to memorize the known books of the Law and writings of the prophets. Therefore, Jonah would have had tremendous insight into God’s nature and character. How could that be a bad thing? It wouldn’t unless, you are actively maintaining un-forgiveness toward a people group, and Jonah was.
Look at what Jonah said,
“was not this what I said while I was still in my own country?”
Apparently, Jonah tried to reason with God.
“Therefore in order to forestall this, I fled to Tarshish,”
What is Jonah trying to forestall – God showing mercy, contrary to Jonah’s wishes? Secondly, there is the aspect of forestalling. To do that he effectively runs in the opposite direction of where he is supposed to go, and that required a boat ride. We have no maps that indicate a town called Tarshish in Jonah’s day. Many, however, have pointed to Southern Spain as the location of Tarshish. That is definitely the opposite direction.
“for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, low to anger and abundant in loving kindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.”
If you read my posts, then you also know that I have a thorn in my flesh – a study leader. This leader, in opposition to what Jonah understood, and the word of God, on a weekly basis, explains that everyone reaching the Great White Throne will be sent to a fiery hell. An in-depth reading of Matthew 25’s account of the sheep and goats, is, though given different names, the same scenario we see in Revelation 20. One demonstrates an angry God, while the other shows us a gentle shepherd. Both indicate a group that chose not to follow Christ and therefore follows their leaders to the same hell. And both have books out of which Jesus makes His decision.
In Matthew, the shepherd, finding simple acts of kindness in those books, allows those He called sheep to enter into the glorious kingdom, and therefore escape hell. It’s all in the details, but details, are tedious for some. And, those details we find in scripture, you know, often point out how wrong we are, as they demonstrate that some teaching or belief we hold, is blatantly wrong and false, and no one wants to hear that. My wife asks me why I put myself under a false teacher. Don’t think for a moment that this man is the only one. The pastor, whom my wife reveres, had many of us as a captive audience at a mountain camp where he told us while explaining communion once again, that Jesus, in the garden that night, did not want to go to the cross for us. So, false teaching is not that uncommon. While I am painfully aware of how grave this situation is I have not been called to fight with these men, for in so doing I move into the realm of judgment.
Let me ask you an obvious question. Have we been called to be God’s judges here on earth, or to show mercy and demonstrate His character? The answer is “show mercy.” This theme is detailed throughout the New Testament, and I will let you find that on your time. The ugly and more demanding aspect of the question revolves around judgment, something that has been taken out of our hands.
David may have been anointed as king, but Saul still sat on the throne. And, Saul wanted David dead. While hunting for David, Saul stops in a cave to relieve himself. David and his unruly band happened to be hiding in that same cave. Given the opportunity to kill Saul, David chose not to, and thus we see his thoughts in 1Samuel.
1 Samuel 24:12, 15 GW May the LORD decide between you and me. May the LORD take revenge on you for what you did to me. However, I will not lay a hand on you. 15) So the LORD must be the judge. He will decide between you and me. He will watch and take my side in this matter and set me free from you.”
John 5:22 NASB “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son (Jesus,)
Jonah’s depression has retaken hold of him, and therefore we see this:
Jonah 4:3 NASB “Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.”
Two things jump out at me as I read this.
Wasn’t Jonah dead already?
I guess to be fair, he didn’t ask to be brought back to life, or did he?
(Right in the midst of writing this I finally took Dad out to the Mexican restaurant I had promised once he had recovered from his surgery. Dad, having not seen much of me lately, asked what’s going with me, and I began telling him about what I had been learning as I wrote about Jonah. He listened and then said, I think God prepared “a special fish,” one that could maintain an adequate oxygen supply for Jonah, and therefore Jonah never died. To try to bolster his argument dad added, Jonah was able to think and pray.)
The problem with this kind of thinking is that it ignores common sense and logic by excluding the idea that God would not merely use what was available. Some examples would be:
That NO fish could provide a livable environment.
That medical documentation demonstrates how we lose consciousness after 30 to 40 seconds, therefore allowing Jonah the time for thought;
It also throws aside what Jesus said about Jonah being a sign, as he was three days and nights in the belly of a fish. This statement by Jesus was made was to Pharisees and scribes for the purpose of establishing a common thread between Jonah and what was to happen to Jesus shortly.
One other thing, because of Jewish tradition – that believed the soul finally parted from the body after three full days, Jesus words, meant that He acknowledged that Jonah had died out there in that fish.
If being dead was high on Jonah’s list, then why did he say all those words we see in chapter two? Specifically:
Jonah 2:7-9 NASB “While I was fainting away, I remembered the LORD And my prayer came to You, Into Your holy temple. 8) “Those who regard vain idols Forsake their faithfulness, 9) But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD.”
It sounds like he was calling out to God, knowing that God would and could save him. You should be picking up on the general idea that God would and could save us as well?
God did not respond to this depressed, angry whining, but quietly said,
Jonah 4:4 NASB The LORD said, “Do you have good reason to be angry?“
Jonah thought he did, and so did I. I can only speak to my experience, as we are not privy to Jonah’s. I wasted a significant portion of my life maintaining the chains and bars of the prison I kept in my head; a prison in which I held those people that hurt me. It was part of the payment I thought they owed me.
Jonah 4:5 NASB Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city.
What did I just miss? We have to back up to chapter three to rehearse what happened.
Jonah 3:10 NASB 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.
So, Jonah got the word that he was to deliver, and it went like this, “Forty days from now, Nineveh will be destroyed!” (Contemporary English Version)
What happened next is beyond belief? Why, because we lack a tremendous amount of information. In my previous post “Dispelling some Myths – Jonah chapter 3,” I posed a hypothetical situation in which an Assyrian worshiper of Dagon, the fish god, happened to be at the beach when the whale spewed Jonah upon it. If that person took this information and shared it with everyone they met along the way and all through Nineveh, it might explain the overwhelming response to the unfavorable words Jonah delivered to them.
Important points that the word shows about these people and their response. Jonah 3:5-10 NASB
“the people of Nineveh believed in God, and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them.”
The king in following the lead of the people covered himself with sackcloth and ashes.
The king ordered a proclamation written which included man and beast. It stated that all must demonstrate repentance by covering themselves in sackcloth and ashes.
And then, all must “call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from violence which is in his hands.
How did God respond to their actions?
4:10) 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.
So, where do we find Jonah at this point? Sitting on a hill outside of town, watching and waiting for God to destroy them. Did he miss the memo? Did he not see their actions? Did, what seems like common acts of repentance, mean nothing to Jonah?
All you would have to do is start counting the days. And yet, we have nothing to help us with that. Like so many other things, we are left in the void.
Jonah 4:2 NASB 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.
For all we know, Jonah saw their acts of repentance and immediately knew what would happen next.
Jonah 4:6-8 NASB So the LORD God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant. 7) But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered. 8) When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.”
Sitting, waiting for these hated people to die, God appoints a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade. I don’t know how to perceive this situation because I know that God can do miracles. However, it is reminiscent of Mickey Mouse portrayed as Mickey and the Beanstalk, where the beanstalk grows overnight at an unbelievable rate. Quickly the situation changes as the next day a God-appointed worm eats that same plant, and now the sun is beating down on Jonah’s head.
Once again, Jonah turns suicidal.
Jonah 4:9 NASB Then God said to Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.”
Did Jonah have good reason to be angry, even to death? All Jonah had was his hatred and bigotry. Is that a good excuse? Sorry, but no. Jesus, in the sermon on the mount, said, that having your debts forgiven is predicated upon you forgiving.
Matthew 6:12, 14-15 NASB ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. … “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
I participate in several different groups, from a variety of churches, but they aren’t that different for there a consistent lack of understanding, and a limited desire to pursue God’s word that permeates all three groups. Asked to join an evening group I am currently doing a book study. We are looking at Max Lucado’s book, Facing Your Giants. We were attempting to discuss the fifth and sixth chapter in which the topic of forgiveness was covered. Max Lucado finally spoke in terms I could understand, as he, on page 48, said,
“God occupies the only seat on the supreme court of heaven. He wears the robe and refuses to share the gavel. For this reason, Paul wrote, “Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.” Romans 12:19 MSG). Revenge removes God from the equation. Vigilantes displace and replace God. “I’m not sure you can handle this one Lord. You may punish too little or too slowly. I’ll take this matter into my hands, thank you.”
The problem is, we barely touched on this. One of the men tried to oppose me the previous week, as he said, forgiving is hard! I responded with, No, it is easy, what is hard, is accepting that you have no power over that person, and all your energies are useless.
Jonah 4:10-11 NASB Then the LORD said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. 11) “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”
While I never saw anything said about the plant dying in verse 9; apparently God saw Jonah’s heart. Jonah’s anger had nothing to do with the plant. He wanted all of those people dead.
You can see that God destroys Jonah’s lack of focus when He says, “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand.” I always took this to indicate a lack of common sense. But I have learned so much by doing this study, and one of those things came as I looked at other translations of Jonah 4:11. The Amplified Bible indicates that the 120,000 were innocents – “persons not [yet old enough to] know their right hand from their left, and that is who God is protecting here more than those repenting.
While I have heard several pastors point out how Jesus had compassion on the doves and other animals that were being sold in the temple courts, for he emptied their cages and then threw them. Perhaps, in mentioning the “many animals,” God was taking a jab at those who had repented by their actions, knowing full well what would become of their great nation.
Think about the devastation that would come should God ignore their pleas. We see an example of destruction when fire and brimstone rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah, and everyone died, including innocents.
My study on Jonah is done for now. However, every time I do these studies I learn, things I have never heard; and, I unlearn some garbage. The result is that God always gets bigger and more valuable in my mind. Does any of this imply that I wish to test God’s patience and resolve by throwing myself into choppy seas so that a big fish can spit me onto the shore, and entire communities will repent? Not a chance. I am content to let His love grow in me, and occasionally share with those that are willing to listen.
God bless you on this fascinating journey we travel, for we who are followers of Jesus are profoundly blessed, whether you realize it or not. While those outside the family, are loved, longed for, and pursued by a passionate God. Don’t waste your time hating. Simply absorb yourself in His passion and watch what he can do.