But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind,and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labour, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
Last time we considered God's goodness in choosing to save the the people of the city of Nineveh. Nineveh was a city so large that it took 3 days to travel throughout. We were reminded that all of the company of heaven rejoices over one sinner who repents which means that there would have been great rejoicing in heaven on that day when probably more people were saved than any other single day in history. As the angels rejoiced then we would think that all believers would join in the celebration but sadly for Jonah that was not the case. God had greatly blessed the people of Nineveh and given respite from their evil ways to the nations around including Israel but despite all of this Jonah was greatly displeased.
From chapter 4 we will consider:
- Jonah's prayer part 1.
- God's blessings.
- Jonah's prayer part 2.
Jonah's prayer part 1:
Jonah was greatly displeased and he was also angry that God had saved Nineveh; in this he was not afraid to tell God. Notice that it was in prayer that Jonah approached God with his annoyance. This time he did not bother to run away, it was by then far too late for that, he could no longer hinder God's plan for Nineveh.
Jonah's prayer was simple and straightforward.
Before we move on to consider content of the prayer there is an important lesson in his simple and straightforward approach to God. We must also approach God honestly and in all sincerity. God delights in our simplicity; long, complex and flowery prayers do not impress Him at all.
Jonah came to God in his anger which again is a wonderful lesson for us. We can and must pray to our God even when we are all stewed up with anger or any other emotion, they should never be an excuse to distance ourselves from God.
We must pray to Him all of the time whatever our disposition or mood might be.
Jonah came to God and reminded Him of his earlier prayer when he had been commissioned to go to preach in Nineveh. At that time he had clearly told God that he did not want to go due to his understanding of the character of God. He knew that God is forgiving to all that repent and he fully believed that God's purpose for Nineveh was to would save them and not punish them for their wickedness.
Jonah knew full well the character of God was that He is merciful towards others but paradoxically Jonah himself was now experiencing those same attributes of God himself. Notice how long-suffering God is with him, how patient, how kind and how caring. I am so glad that God in heaven does not treat any of us as we deserve but He always treats us according to His character. He loves His prophet, He has proven that He never leaves or forsakes him even though his prophet greatly desires to escape from God's kind reaches.
Again another wonderful reminder in this is that once His saving love is set upon us we will always benefit from His lovely character.
Jonah also makes a request from God. He tells God that it would be the best thing if he were to die. He could not bring himself to enter into the blessing of Nineveh and so he requested that God kill him. There are two things here that I am pleased about:
- The first is that the True God is not like the gods of this world. There is none of those who has the qualities that Jonah expressed and none I am sure that would treat Jonah as God did. They I am sure would be pleased (if they were anything other than figments of man's imagination!) to wipe one such as Jonah out due to his blasphemous prayer. But God is not like that which brings me to the second thing that pleases me.
- God always answers prayer but He does not always give us what we want. Life is God's to give and god's to take and Jonah had absolutely no right to demand death at that time. God answers all of our prayers but he does not give us all of our wants. He always gives us what we need which is what Jonah learned through the vine experience. More about that later.
Jonah's prayer came to a conclusion at that point when God spoke back to him with a simple question: “Do you do well to be angry?”
Sometimes God's immediate answer is to question our motives and then to leave us to ponder. Very often in the psalms a great statement is followed by the word Selah which simply means, stop and ponder for a while and then continue. We could easily fit a Selah into the text at this point because that is just what God does with Jonah and importantly Jonah does as he records this incident for out benefit.
Stop and ponder what a wonderful God that we have.
We often say that God gives good gifts or blessings to His people. For any gift to be effective it must be received. All of what we learn of God through Jonah's experience is that He wonderfully provides for him whatever the mindset that he is in. We have seen the great gift of salvation given to Nineveh and the many different ways that God provided for Jonah. We are reminded that the word was provided for Jonah, his mission was provided as were all of the events that took him to the people of Nineveh. It is also true to say that Nineveh was provided with a powerful and effective preacher. I am sure that they are eternally grateful for all that Jonah did for them but Jonah did not want to be a part of the blessing.
As Nineveh and heaven rejoiced Jonah sulked and complained but God did not stop providing for him.
Jonah had God's listening ear, he also had God's personal attention and conversation but still he did not want the blessing of being part of the great work that God had performed.
As we ponder Jonah's prayer we see that God did not stop providing for Jonah.
Jonah went off sulking to the east of the city where he erected a little shelter and watched. I suppose that he was hoping against all hope that a fireball from heaven would destroy the city and all of it's people. Even here God is with Jonah and so He teaches a lesson for the sulking, suicidal prophet. He provides a quick growing vine to provide shelter from the blazing sun; with this Jonah is more than happy.
Jonah is basking in God's temporary blessing but not entering into the eternal blessing with other believers.
A day of shade for Jonah was wonderful but when the next day brings about God's provision of a worm that destroys his shelter Jonah is once again angry. He once again wants to die and tells God so.
There are vitally important lessons here for us as the church in Callington. It is so easy to rejoice in small mercies and refuse to be a part of the big things that God is doing.
Jonah is displaying what I might term as “backsliders mentality!” During my years as a Christian I have noticed that when I or others backslide we only want to see the failure of the people of God and not their success or blessing. A backslider or person who has left the church under a cloud is always interested in what is happening in the church in the hope that they will fail. They love to speak to dissenters in the fellowship and get all of the negative gossip and as such delight in their hopes that the church will fall in some way or other. As with Jonah they bask in the small mercies that they are experiencing by God's mercy but lose out on the blessing that He is lavishing upon His people.
Jonah chose to sit and sulk and hope for death and failure for the people of Nineveh, we are equally capable of being like him.
Are you determined to enter fully into the blessing that God has for the church here and to rejoice with us in what He is doing now in us and through us? Or are you rejoicing quietly in the hope of our failure and sulking that things might not be exactly to your liking? There are those who sit on the outside of the church that are looking for our failure, are you feeding them with ammunition which they will fire in our direction. Jonah would have loved to have destroyed Nineveh but could not because God was graciously at work among them and so he would rather die than enter into the blessing. I plead with you to enjoy God's blessing with us.
Jonah's prayer part 2:
Prayer was another blessing that Jonah had and God answered him directly. They had the most amazing conversation. Jonah demanded to die at which God questioned him concerning the viability of his anger. Jonah could see no inconsistency in his anger for the death of a vine and his desire that possibly over a million people go to hell. Nineveh was a very large city that contained 120,000 people who did not know their right hand from their left which suggests infants. This would probably compute that the full population must have been one million or more people who lived in Nineveh. God referred to it as a great city and Jonah was more angry with the death of a vine than he was concerned for the eternal destination of such a large group of people.
Thankfully God has a different concern, and by leaving Jonah with a question displays to us His amazing grace towards undeserving sinners. This of course is fully evidenced in the greatest provision that He has made for man by sending His own Son Jesus to be an atoning sacrifice for all sinners who will come to Him in repentance as did the people of Nineveh.
The work of the church is to take the offer of salvation to all people however I believe that the church in the UK has become more like Jonah than it cares to believe.
We are often evangelistically inept and are more concerned with our own little shelters than we are for the eternal destiny of the lost. I am hearing of more and more great building projects that churches are undertaking in order to build a vine to shelter under. Millions of pounds are being spent to make fantastic citadels and the gospel is being squeezed out. I am not referring to our planned improvements here, they are vital and I believe are a gospel opportunity that we need to grasp right now. The neighbours need to see the effects of our new beginning, a clean tidy and accessible building will speak of our hearts and intentions. I would dearly love this building to be the smartest and cleanest that there is in Callington and for it to be a welcoming gospel haven to all who enter through it,s doors. We do not delight in the building as Jonah did his vine but we must look for every opportunity to bring the people of Callington )which is our Nineveh) into a living relationship with our God in the way that He is leading us now.
God is concerned for our neighbours!