The man of God must have the heart of God when preaching the words of God
Jonah’s Death Wish (v3-5)
Jonah wants to die. Living in a world with Nineveh any longer was unthinkable, and, unbearable. He wasn’t exaggerating, nor was he alone. Other prophets of God have felt the same way at points in their careers. That great man of God, Elijah, ran from persecution into the desert and falling down exhausted he told God “I have had enough, LORD. Take my life” (1 Kings 19:4). Moses, one of the greatest men of Israel’s history was exasperated by the responsibility of leading the Israelites in the wilderness. In Numbers 11 he complains to God and says, “I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now…” Job asked that God would just crush him and end his life in chapter 6 verse 9.
Now Jonah as well, another great prophet of God, no longer wants to live. For the second time in this saga Jonah prefers death to life (1:4-5, 12). The first time, in chapter 1, Jonah was willing that he died himself to ensure the Ninevites would be destroyed.
There is some serious psychology going on here. As a pastor who has counseled people for almost 9 years in a wide range of issues, I see something going on here with Jonah. Intense anger that is unresolved will lead to despair, or, depression. Think about this. Jonah wanted something really bad (Nineveh destroyed). He doesn’t get what he wants (unmet expectations or unfulfilled desires). His reaction is to get angry, really angry. He believes he is being wronged by not getting what he wants and feels he deserves (justice). So, his anger begins to produce self-pity, because he not only isn’t getting what he wants, but, he feels like someone (God) is denying it to him. Then, self-pity grows stronger and stronger until it starts to take on the dark hue of depression. Why? Think about this: because the situation was out of Jonah’s control, the circumstances in Jonah’s mind were “against” him. He was feeling hopeless, angry, self-pity…all the things Jonah was feeling that made him tell God that he was all done living.
The question Jonah never asked was this: “Is my desire a right? Is what I want owed to me?” As a matter of fact, in this whole progression of Jonah’s emotions and thoughts, here is what is really missing: A sincere searching for God’s will, and, a sincere willingness to forgo his own wants to conform to God’s will.
God asks him if he has a right to be angry. The question is meant to get Jonah thinking and searching his own heart. Anger often shuts off thinking. Anger always increases our self-righteousness – “I have a right to be angry; my anger shows I’m in the morally superior position”. God is the originator of the Socratic method, asking the right questions to expose the folly of people’s thinking (or unthinking!).
In one sense Jonah did in fact have a right to be angry. His own country and the surrounding countries have suffered terribly by the Assyrians. They are victims of that vicious nation, and, victims have a right to justice.
We must mention something here that adds another layer: Jonah knew that God was going to eventually use the Assyrians to punish Israel. He knew it from his contemporaries like Hosea and Amos. In Jonah’s thinking two things could very likely have been going on: first, that he might be able to thwart God’s plans to use the Assyrians to punish Israel later on by getting God to destroy them first. That would be irrational since God could use another nation to punish Israel just as easily. But secondly, Jonah may have been thinking about the fact that God just spared the people that would eventually ruin Israel. God ensured Israel’s destruction, in other words. Jonah, in his twisted thinking, may have been feeling even more sorry for himself now, after all, God, in a sense, is favoring a Gentile nation over His chosen, covenant nation Israel.
This requires us to see the hypocricy in Jonah’s heart. Jonah wanted justice for Nineveh over their sins but Jonah did not want justice for Israel over hers. Charles Dickens said, “Charity begins at home, and justice begins next door.” And Israel’s sins were bad – real bad: making treaties with other nations instead of trusting God, idolatry, child sacrifice, sexual immorality, unjust rulers and exploiting the poor, arrogant, and so on. Even a casual reading through Amos and Hosea make you say “God do something about those people!”
And He did. The fact is that God was going to show his justice by punishing that evil nation – and that evil nation was Israel. God was going to use another evil nation – Assyria – to be the agent of destruction. When a nation turns to evil there is no right to expect God to protect it from another evil nation. God uses evil nations for His purposes all the time in history. And no one is suffering an injustice when He does so.
Jonah doesn’t answer. That’s interesting. If Jonah had a right perhaps he would have been very vocal at that point with God. Perhaps he knew God was just for sparing the Ninevites, and, even more so, perhaps he knew that he himself was unjust for despising their repentance. So, maybe it is Jonah’s shame, brought out by the question from God, that silences him.
Instead Jonah goes out east of the city and sets up camp to watch and see what is going to happen to the city. He’s hoping against all hope God will change His mind and burn Nineveh down. He’s watching to see if the repentance of the Ninevites “sticks”. He’s counting the days until he reaches day 40. Will God really spare them? Is he sitting in front row seats to the greatest show on earth or his greatest nightmare? After all, in a sense, the future of Israel depended on the future of Nineveh
Jonah had a right to be angry until Nineveh repented. He had a right to be angry over the violence and the cruelty and he had a right to cry out for justice for as long as they went on in evil unrepentantly. God is just and He will bring justice to the wicked. But, when the wicked repent, and God pardons them, then it is time for rejoicing.
Jonah’s Vine (6-8)
Next we see Jonah’s Vine, verses 6-8.
So Jonah wakes up the next day with a nice big shady plant over his head, and he’s totally elated about it. Application: Be careful that indulging creature comforts or worldly pleasures are not a sign of spiritual famine in your own heart. Jonah was having some spiritual problems here, and, his elation over the shade was way too much, as we see after its gone.
Then, he wakes up the next day to find some worm with an endless appetite chowing down his plant (must have been a teenage boy worm). Then Jonah goes back to being upset. We can relate to Jonah can’t we? When things just don’t seem to be going our way NOTHING seems to be going our way, right? (Is God at work in our lives like He was in Jonah’s?) When our lives have no point after the loss of some worldly pleasure or comfort or ambition, it likely is an indication of our misaligned spiritual lives.
It’s funny how much print is given to trying to identify the type of plant this was. Lots of commentators say it was this kind of plant or that kind of plant because they’re able to grow real fast in the desert. Some even had feuds as a result: Augustine and Jerome for instance. How dumb. These guys would try to figure out the recipe for Mannah thinking it wasn’t really miracle bread from heaven. The plant taxonomy is irrelevant just like the species of fish earlier. The point is that the plant grew up miraculously because God wanted it to for Jonah’s sake. This book is full of miracles: the storm, the fish, the survival of Jonah in the fish, the repentance of the Ninevites, the plant, the worm. God’s supernatural interaction is all throughout this book.
What is God’s point with this vine? Before I get on to that, let me suggest some parallels I see that may or may not have been God’s intention in conveying.
First, Jonah is the vine, and the worm is his bitterness eating him up.
Or, perhaps the temporary shade over Jonah’s head symbolized the sparing of the Ninevites. Jonah was relieved by the shade of the plant from the scorching sun. But only briefly. In the same way a repentant Nineveh gives relief to the nation of Israel – but also, that relief will be temporary. That one generation that repented will fade before long and the heat of Nineveh’s evil will return and threaten Israel.
Jonah’s Lesson (9-11)
Jonah is one of those books in the Bible that God didn’t see fit to wrap up with a nice clear conclusion. It just ends with God’s concern for Nineveh. But thinking again about that fact, we can see God’s wisdom in ending the book this way. Think about it: the last thing we are left with is the fact that God is concerned for Nineveh. God is concerned – even for the wicked. God has a right to have compassion on whom ever He pleases.
God asked Jonah if he had a right to be angry about the vine. Now Jonah answers Him. Yes, angry enough to die he says. God’s answer shows Jonah that Jonah only cared about the vine because of the personal benefit he received from it…in other words, Jonah, we are seeing once again, only cared about Jonah. Lesson: anger brings with it a real selfishness. It warps people’s view and concern for others.
Jonah didn’t create and cultivate the plant. God did. Jonah’s concern was selfish, but the Person who cultivates likes to see what they cultivate flourish for its own sake. When you tend something and care for it, you like to watch it blossom and prosper. God’s point with the plant was to show Jonah a lesson about His love for the Ninevites. God created the Ninevites. He caused them to grow and become a “great city”. They were a deep concern to Him.
God’s point here is to show Jonah how absurd his moral hierarchy had become: In Jonah’s mind a plant meant more to him than people – even children. Even animals!
***Application: The man of God must have the heart of God when preaching the words of God!
In teaching Jonah this lesson about Himself, God was also teaching Jonah about his own self. That is how spiritual growth happens: we learn something about God and that always also brings a new awareness of our own spiritual underdevelopment.
- Consider your storms may be God’s design to get you back into His will
- God wants obedience from the heart out.
- Surrender your rights in order to obey God. The biggest obstacle to obeying God is always going to be your own heart.
- Conform to God’s compassion. When God’s heart is different from yours, you need to change your heart. Some of us have “compassion” down real good and need to learn God’s justice. Others of us have “justice” down real good and need to learn God’s compassion.
- Dream of and pray for the repentance of people you don’t like – or even hate. Long to see them right with God and walking in righteousness. See the people you like the least, or even hate, from God’s perspective. And if you can’t, then get closer to God until you can. Likeness to God inside and out is the point, not getting what we want.
- Understand that you must make a sacrifice to forgive someone. Your sacrifice may be “your right” to justice.