Jonah – Week Two
I spoke of parables last week and there is a very familiar one that’s known as The Prodigal Son. I’ve never given much thought to the word prodigal, but it actually means “wasteful” or “extravagant spending”. We are all familiar with the story. There are two brothers and the youngest one asked for his share of the father’s estate before his father passes away. He takes the money and runs. He splurges and wastes his entire inheritance and soon finds himself starving and in a desperate place. He had run away and left his father but he now knew that his only hope was in returning to his father.
Luke 15:17 CEV “Finally, he came to his senses and said, “My father’s workers have plenty to eat, and here I am, starving to death! 18 I will go to my father and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against God in heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer good enough to be called your son. Treat me like one of your workers.’ ”
20 The younger son got up and started back to his father. But when he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt sorry for him. He ran to his son and hugged and kissed him.
21 The son said, “Father, I have sinned against God in heaven and against you. I am no longer good enough to be called your son.”
The younger son recognizes that his decision to run away was not good. He had gone from a life of abundance to envying the food provided to pigs. He knows that his only real chance of survival is to turn around and go back. As he approaches his homeplace, he finds his father waiting and watching for his return.
Jonah resembles this son. He took what he thought belonged to him (his choice, his will, and his destiny) and he ran away from his Father. He wasted money on his fare; he wasted time, he wasted energy. He was extravagant in his disobedience in that he was going way out of the way to get away from God. But like the prodigal son, Jonah knew his only hope was in returning to his Father who was watching and waiting for Jonah to return.
Jonah 2:6 CEV I had sunk down deep
below the mountains
beneath the sea.
I knew that forever,
I would be a prisoner there.
But, you, Lord God,
rescued me from that pit.
7 When my life was slipping away,
I remembered you—
and in your holy temple
you heard my prayer.”
Both Jonah and the prodigal son learned a valuable lesson the hard way. Running away from where you belong will merely create tangles that will trip you up and cause you to stumble time and time again. Jonah and the prodigal son shared experiences of distress and desperation due to their waywardness. Jonah was welcomed back by God and the prodigal son was greeted affectionately by his father.
But meanwhile, there’s that other brother. You know, the one we tend to forget about. We will see in today’s scripture how Jonah resembles this son as well.
Luke 15:28 NIV “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
The older brother demonstrates anger, jealousy, and self-righteousness. Jonah shows himself to be a carbon copy of that brother.
Jonah 3:1 ICB “Then the Lord spoke his word to Jonah again. The Lord said, 2 “Get up. Go to the great city Nineveh. Preach against it what I tell you.”
3 So Jonah obeyed the Lord. He got up and went to Nineveh. It was a very large city. It took a person three days just to walk across it. 4 Jonah entered the city. When he had walked for one day, he preached to the people. He said, “After 40 days, Nineveh will be destroyed!”
5 The people of Nineveh believed in God.”
There was an immediate revival in this Gentile nation! They covered themselves and their animals in sackcloth to signify their sorrow. They fasted. Their king stepped down from his throne and ordered that people cry out to God and stop doing evil things. And there was a change in plans.
Jonah 3:10 ICB “10 God saw what the people did. He saw that they stopped doing evil things. So God changed his mind and did not do what he had warned. He did not punish them.”
We would like to think that Jonah would rejoice. We would like to envision Jonah comforting and ministering to these people. However, Jonah 4:1 ICB shares his reaction. “But Jonah was very unhappy that God did not destroy the city. He was angry.”
These people were his enemies. These people had been unbelievably cruel and evil. They had behaved inhumanely towards others. They were bullies. They were terrorists. We don’t know if Jonah or someone he knew was directly affected by their barbaric acts but nevertheless, as a prophet of God Jonah would have been disgusted by the behavior of the Ninevites. Let’s modernize this story. We live in a world in which terrorism is a real thing. We can identify to some degree the feelings that Jonah would have felt towards the Ninevites. I can’t say that I know anyone in my family or circle of friends who gets the warm fuzzies when thinking of the Taliban or Al Qaeda, do you? Let’s be honest. Is it difficult for us to imagine members of these two terrorist groups as people worthy of God’s mercy?
“We can be prone to think that some people deserve heaven while others deserve hell. In truth, apart from the mercy and grace of God, all of us are deserving of God’s wrathful judgment. Therefore, as we celebrate God’s grace being extended to us, we also should celebrate God’s grace being extended to all people.”[i]
Jonah is certainly not celebrating. In fact, much like the prodigal’s older brother, Jonah is being a downright party pooper. And he’s not shy about how he feels. Jonah 4:2 NLT “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.”
Isn’t there freedom in telling God exactly how you feel? Psalm 139:4 ISV “Even before I have formed a word with my tongue, you, LORD, know it completely!” We know that God knows what we’re feeling, and what we’re thinking, but there is something cathartic in verbalizing our thoughts to Him even if they are said in anger or disappointment. Because that’s what a relationship looks like. You find that open communication is vital in a committed relationship and that’s what we should have with God. A committed relationship.
Essentially Jonah is angry because people’s lives were changed. Imagine if our pastor stormed off from the pulpit in anger because people responded to the sermon by kneeling at the altar. Jonah tells God that he knows God is merciful, compassionate, slow to anger, and filled with unfailing love and he’s not happy that God is that way with just anybody. See, Jonah wanted to have a say in who was worthy of God’s goodness. Jonah wanted to sit in on the Holy Trinity Committee and cast votes on who deserved it and who didn’t. Jonah was prejudiced. Jonah wanted to experience amazing grace for himself but only wanted God to extend adequate grace to others.
May I be honest? I can’t help but feel that we all are in some way. It’s difficult for me to understand the mercy and forgiveness of God when it comes to certain people. Those who harm and neglect children are the first that comes to mind. You may be thinking of another group of people. Those who abuse or neglect the elderly. Those who have murdered someone. Kidnappers. Terrorists. How can God forgive them? How can God wipe their filthy and evil sinfulness away? How can God want someone like that to be in Heaven with Him for eternity? The answer to those questions is found in 2 Peter 3:9b CEV “In fact, God is patient, because he wants everyone to turn from sin and no one to be lost.”
God desires for no one to be lost. Not child abusers, not those who mistreat the elderly, murderers, kidnappers, terrorists, or even Ninevites.
One phrase that my parents repeated to us countless times over the years was, “There is nothing you could ever do that would make me stop loving you.” There was great security in knowing that I had their unconditional love. I still disappointed them. I still made them mad from time to time. I still made choices and decisions that they didn’t agree with, but they still loved me. Their parenting style came from knowing a Heavenly Father who loved like that. We find great comfort in knowing that God always loves us unconditionally, but we struggle to accept that His unconditional love is meant for everyone.
When I was growing up, and there was a contest, there were only 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place ribbons. Sometimes an “honorable mention” award would be given. Many years ago, this “everybody gets a trophy” mentality became the norm. It would be great to see every participant get a trophy at kids’ events because they would be all so excited and proud. My girls experienced this. But when it’s your child who has the highest score in a contest, and their trophy doesn’t look any bigger or better than everyone else’s trophy, it can raise one’s hackles. That’s when that “everybody gets a trophy” policy doesn’t sit well with some because one might think they deserve something more than everyone else.
That’s how Jonah was feeling. He was a Jew; he was one of God’s chosen people. He was a prophet of God. He was a chosen one out of the chosen!! Surely, God wouldn’t offer to these evil and sadistic Gentiles! the same relationship with Him that He had with Jonah and those like him?! Jonah is so angry, so upset that he spouts out at God with a dramatic flair. Jonah 4:3 GW “So now, Lord, take my life. I’d rather be dead than alive.” Fortunately for Jonah, God didn’t strike him dead right then and there. Instead, God calls him out and he does so by asking Jonah a question.
Jonah 4:4 CSB “The LORD asked, “Is it right for you to be angry? ”
When God asks questions, He already knows the answers. In this case, God knew Jonah had no answer. He had no justification, no reason, no right to be as angry as he was and he knew it. What God was saying to Jonah is what He continually reminds us of. It’s not about you. Jonah was just one of over 3,000 people mentioned in the Bible.[ii] It wasn’t about Jonah. It wasn’t about the Assyrians. It was about a merciful, compassionate, patient and unconditionally loving God and praise be to Him for being that way because if he wasn’t, not one of us would ever be able to set up residency in Heaven.
Jonah has no answer and so Jonah did what Jonah had done before. He turned from God. Jonah 4:5 ICB “5 Jonah went out and sat down east of the city. There he made a shelter for himself. And he sat there in the shade. He was waiting to see what would happen to the city.”
How human of him! He makes himself a comfy spot where he can view the city from a distance. And he waits. All he needed was a bowl of popcorn and an ice-cold Coca-Cola. I’m guessing that a part of Jonah was hoping that God would rethink all of this and punish the Ninevites like Jonah thought they deserved. Jonah was unhappy and he certainly didn’t want his enemies to be happy.
Jonah 4:6 ICB “The Lord made a plant grow quickly up over Jonah. This made a cool place for him to sit. And it helped him to be more comfortable. Jonah was very pleased to have the plant for shade.”
Finally, Jonah is happy about something.
7 The next day the sun rose. And God sent a worm to attack the plant. Then the plant died.
8 When the sun was high in the sky, God sent a hot east wind to blow. The sun became very hot on Jonah’s head. And he became very weak. He wished he were dead. Jonah said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
Warren Wiersbe’s comments that “Unrighteous anger feeds the ego and produces the poison of selfishness in the heart. Jonah still had a problem with the will of God.”
9 But God said this to Jonah: “Do you think it is right for you to be angry because of the plant?”
God had provided an opportunity for Jonah to go to Nineveh. God had provided a big fish to save Jonah from drowning. God had provided Jonah with a second chance. God had provided a message for Jonah to deliver. God provided a fast-growing plant to shelter Jonah. And finally, Jonah was happy and comfortable. Then God provided a worm that destroyed his shade and a hot breeze that destroyed his comfort and happiness. Once again, Jonah wishes for his own demise than to be unhappy and uncomfortable. And once again, God asks of Jonah. Is it right for you to be angry?
This time, Jonah responds. Jonah 4:9b GW “Jonah answered, “I have every right to be angry—so angry that I want to die.”
Jonah felt he had every right to feel the way he felt because God wasn’t following his agenda. Jonah felt justified in being angry because God was doing what God wanted to do and not what Jonah wanted Him to do. Jonah felt as if he had the right to be resentful because he knew that God had the right to love his enemies. God had and still has the right to offer the trophy of salvation to anyone who chooses to participate in sincerely seeking Him in faith.
Hebrews 11:6 NLT “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”
It’s that “anyone” that got to Jonah, and honestly, gets to us too. Anyone? Yes! Regardless of their past? Yes! Regardless of what evil they’ve done? Yes! Regardless of how much they’ve hurt me? Yes! Regardless of how much I dislike them? Yes! Regardless of how undeserving I think they are? Yes!
It’s not about us. It’s not about you; it’s not about me. It’s not about the standards we impose on others. It’s about God and His standards.
God responds to Jonah to illustrate his selfishness. Jonah 4:10 NLT “Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. 11 But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”
Jonah had pity for the plant and not the people.
Jonah was so focused on being angry at the mercy God showed to his enemies that Jonah didn’t appreciate the mercy God had shown to him. We cannot expect a merciful God to not show mercy. We shouldn’t be surprised when a loving and forgiving God loves and forgives. We would be foolish to think that a God who saves doesn’t want to save someone. The father of the prodigal said it best to his oldest son. Luke 15:31 NIV “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'”
Jonah was looking at an entire city of people who were once lost to God but were now found, who were dead but were now alive and he was too busy feeding his self-righteousness to celebrate it.
“Let us study our own hearts and ways; let us not forget our own ingratitude and obstinacy; and let us be astonished at God’s patience towards us.” Matthew Henry
[i] Explore the Bible, T.J. Betts & Liz Sherrer