Sermon - Jonah 4 - Angry Jonah and Our Compassionate God
Jonah 4 – preached @ FCC 10/5/08
Lay Reading – Hebrews 1:1-4
Just a quick review this week and then we’ll get into Jonah 4. The book of Jonah was written roughly 3000 years ago by the prophet Jonah. A couple of the key themes we find in this book are God’s sovereignty – the fact that he is in control, and the belief that God cares for all people, even sinful people like the wicked Ninevites, and even disobedient people like His follower Jonah. In Jonah 1 we saw Jonah get called by God to go and preach repentance to Nineveh. Jonah in his disobedient prideful bigoted mind thought that wasn’t the best plan for his life, so he hopped on a boat going 2000 miles in the opposite direction. Rather than let Jonah run off in his sin, God gets Jonah’s attention by nearly sinking the boat he was on with a great storm. The sailors on that boat all become followers of God, and they throw Jonah overboard to save their own lives. Chapter 1 closes with a great big fish swallowing Jonah. Chapter 2 was Jonah talking with God in prayer from inside the fish. Jonah tells us how was about to die, and realized that he could only be saved by God. He cried out to God, and God answered his prayer. Jonah repented of his sinfulness, and at the close of chapter 2 the fish vomited Jonah onto dry land. In Chapter 3 Jonah makes his way to Nineveh, where he walks up and down the streets preaching a simple message – “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” Nineveh hears this warning, and the entire city repents from the king on down to the livestock. As we start in verse 4, remember that at the end of last week all of Nineveh had repented, put on sack cloth for clothes, and begun fasting with the hopes that God would not destroy them and their city. Because the Ninevites hadn’t been worshipping Jonah’s God, the One True God, they were uncertain at this point whether or not God would relent. That brings us to today, Chapter 4 of the book of Jonah. Why don’t you grab a Bible and follow along as I quickly read this chapter to you. Pages 917 and 1438 in your pew Bibles.
JNH 4:1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."
JNH 4:4 But the LORD replied, "Have you any right to be angry?"
JNH 4:5 Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, "It would be better for me to die than to live."
JNH 4:9 But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?"
"I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die."
JNH 4:10 But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?"
Let’s look at verse 1 – “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.” For those of you note takers here today, here’s something to write down – getting angry at God doesn’t work. EVER! Now under line that. How many people here today have gotten angry at God for something? I know I have. Here’s what I’ve learned from that – it is futile. It’s pointless. I can be as angry at God as I want and it doesn’t make me right, and it isn’t going to change God’s plan. It’s like the preverbal beating your head against a wall. It doesn’t work, and you only end up hurting from it. Here God just rescued an entire city from destruction, from their sinfulness. What would’ve been the proper response? Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!! Right?!? But rather than praising God, Jonah gets angry. Jonah is missing out on the beauty and the blessing of 120,000 or so people being saved by God. Do you see that? In our anger, in our unrighteous anger we become blinded. So blinded we miss out on the great things God is doing in the world. We’re angry because a spouse died, or a child rebelled, or someone got sick, or we lost our job or any of the other countless things we get angry at God about. Basically, we didn’t get our way. We didn’t get to call the shots. We didn’t get to play god. And that is Jonah. And we are Jonah. How’s that being angry at God worked for you? My guess is, not too well. Here’s another one for you note takers – in big bold letters write down these four words – I AM NOT GOD! Right?!? So Jonah is angry at God.
“Jonah prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” Jonah is gut wrenchingly honest here. While I don’t think it is good to be angry at God, I do think it is good to be honest with Him when we are. Jonah comes right out and says it – I’m angry because I hate these people, and I knew You would save them if You gave them a chance. Jonah was a prophet to Israel. He was painfully familiar with the stories of Israel’s sinfulness throughout the Pentateuch – the first 5 books of the Bible. Jonah knew all too well the sinfulness of God’s chosen people, how many times they had turned their backs on God, and how many times after they repented that God took them back and gave them another second chance. Jonah’s God is the God of second chances. Our God is the God of second chances. When we, the believers, are repentant of our sins, God through Jesus Christ forgives us of our sins. When sinners repent, God relents, and that was what Jonah was afraid of. Thankfully for all of us, God knows what He is doing.
“Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live." Jonah’s temper tantrum doesn’t stop at just being angry at God. Now Jonah is saying I’d rather be dead than to live in a world where my enemies are followers of Yahweh, followers of God and my God is merciful to my enemies. Here we see Jonah’s true colors really come out. This hatred, this bigotry against the Ninevites has been seeping out throughout the story, but here it is plain and clear. It was bad enough that Jonah didn’t want to help God save them, and then actively disobeyed God. But now he worsens things by showing how deep and dark his hatred really is. Jonah should be rejoicing, but is instead so selfish and prideful and hate-filled that he would rather be dead. Nowhere are we taught as God’s people that it is good to hate. We are to hate the sin, but not the sinner. Jonah’s rage has blinded him, and it is a truly sad tale.
“But the LORD replied, "Have you any right to be angry?" Jonah – what right do you have to be angry? God rebukes Jonah for his sinfulness, but as we see in the rest of the story, Jonah ignores this rebuke.
“Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.” The story continues to get sadder for Jonah. Jonah didn’t want the Ninevites to be saved, and he certainly wanted nothing to do with participating in their redemption. He has already admitted that he knew God would forgive them, and now here in verse 5 we see Jonah still holding out hope that God will judge Nineveh for their sins, or that maybe they’ll backslide on their repentance. Jonah leaves the city for his own safety, just in case God decides to judge them. And then Jonah sets up camp where he can hopefully watch God destroy his enemies. A truly sad tale for a follower of God. How often is this true in our own lives though? How often do we harbor anger and hurt when God has already forgiven? How often do we let that pain of unrighteousness drag us down, to ruin our lives? How often do we miss out on chances to celebrate great works of God because we are mired in our own anger and resentment? I think the answer is far too often. We are all Jonah, we are all blinded at times by our ugly and ungodly anger.
“Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine.” This is the desert – modern day Iran – so there aren’t a whole lot of trees or places to find shade. And it is hot. Out of nowhere a huge plant springs up, so big that it provides shade to Jonah. So when this vine grows up, Jonah sees it as a blessing from God. God is looking out for Jonah – right? He wants Jonah to be comfortable right? Wrong!
Verse 7 and 8
“But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, "It would be better for me to die than to live." God sends the vine not as a blessing, but again as a way to get Jonah’s attention. The vine is a way for God to remind Jonah of his sovereignty – that God is in charge and in control. We’ve seen this earlier in this story haven’t we? God sent the great storm and nearly killed Jonah and the sailors in an attempt to get Jonah’s attention. Did Jonah learn his lesson this time? Look at the end of verse 8 – what’s it say there? Jonah says; "It would be better for me to die than to live." Jonah still doesn’t get it. His wanting to die wasn’t because he now lost the vine and he was baking in the sun – He chose to leave the city and sit out here, he knew what it was going to be like. He wants to die because he knows God is showing him who is calling the shots. Jonah knows God is gracious and because the Ninevites have repented that He will not judge them.
“But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?"
"I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die."
JONAH STILL DOESN’T GET IT! His anger is unrighteous, and it colors and taints everything. Rather than seeing the vine as a blessing, he is angry that it is gone. Rather than having been able to enjoy it for the time he had it, he is focused on the loss. Rather than learn his lesson that God is sovereign, Jonah adds to his anger. Are you catching on that Jonah is stubbornly committed to his sin? Anyone else ever been there? You have started to dig a hole for yourself, and rather than doing the wise thing, you stick to your guns, digging deeper and deeper. It doesn’t even matter what it is about. Jonah is angry about losing a plant that wasn’t his in the first place. Our anger makes us unreasonable and irrational. When you are angry like this, you make bad choices, and you miss out on blessings. Folks, we are Jonah, even if we don’t like it. I know many of you in this room can relate to this. Rather than admitting that he is wrong, rather than changing his ways and repenting, Jonah would rather die than to give up his anger. This kind of anger ruins lives. It destroys relationships. It destroys our relationship with God.
“But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?"
God again rebukes Jonah to close the book. Jonah has been more concerned about this vine that he didn’t own, that he didn’t make grow than the 120,000 Ninevites God was saving. By stating that the Ninevites don’t know their left from their right hand, God is stating clearly that they are morally and spiritually unaware. And here sits a “man of God” on the outskirts of town, throwing a temper tantrum, filled with rage and hate. Jonah was willing to have compassion on the plant, but not on the people. Jonah’s priorities are completely backwards. He is selfish, filled with pride, and doesn’t appear to care about what God cares about.
And so the story of Jonah ends, ending in a form of a tragedy. On the surface it appears that we have no resolution to this story. Remember who I said was the hero of this story was? It’s God, not Jonah. This whole book is pointing to the greatness of God. And while the story isn’t written in such a way that we know the specific conclusion to the story of Jonah, I think we can know a few things that continue to point to God’s greatness. I truly think that Jonah is the author of this book. If that is the case, we can know Jonah became repentant at some point after this story, otherwise we wouldn’t be studying it today. If Jonah remained unrepentant, he writes this story quite differently. He leaves out the bad stuff, the stuff pointing to his stubborn prideful self. But rather we see that all in its dark sad futility. Jonah’s legacy stands as a warning to us, and as a testament to God’s goodness. We should all learn from this lesson, so we aren’t doomed to repeat it in our own lives. We all can be consumed by anger and hatred, and rarely is it the righteous kind of anger that God gives us. We are all selfish and prideful. We all need to repent, and we all need the saving grace of God. With today being a communion Sunday, we will be celebrating shortly our freedom from our own sin through Jesus’ death on the Cross. I challenge you to reflect on what that means today. Pray with me.
Text: Jonah 4 (Ephesians 4:26)
Preparation: You'll need one inflated, tied-off balloon for each child.
The Message: Raise your hand if you've ever been angry. Can you show me your angry face? I'm going to give you each a balloon that you can sit on and pop. Try to make an angry face while you pop your balloon.
How did you feel when you popped your balloon? What's left of your balloon?
Let's listen to God's Word. (Read the Scripture.)
If we go to bed mad enough to pop, there's usually something left over in the morning from our anger. We may still be angry at our friends, or we may still feel yucky in the morning. God doesn't want us to go to bed angry. God wants us to ask for forgiveness from any person we've hurt. And God also wants us to forgive anyone who's made us mad enough to pop. That'll make us feel better, too!
Let's pray. God, help us forgive our friends who hurt us and ask our friends to forgive us. Amen.