THE BOOK OF JONAH
Read Jonah Chapter four and consider the following questions:
1. Why did Jonah refuse to go to Nineveh?
What greatly displeased Jonah?
2. How did Jonah define God?
3. What questions did God ask Jonah?
Why do you think God reasoned with Jonah with questions?
4. What was God's point in "preparing" a plant, a worm, and a scorching wind?
5. Compare how the book began (1:1) with how the author ended his book (4:9-11). What point was the author making in forming his book this way?
1. Why did Jonah refuse to go to Nineveh? What greatly displeased Jonah?
Read 4:1,2 - But it greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry. 2 Then he prayed to the Lord and said, "Please Lord, was this not what I said when I was still in my own country? Therefore in anticipation of this, I fled to Tarshish..." To what do "it" and "this" refer? Read what comes just before 4:1- "God relented of the disaster which He had declared He would bring on them. So He did not do it" (3:10). Jonah was angry that God relented when the Ninevites repented. Why? Jonah thinks justice failed. He was angry that God would forgive an evil nation because he failed to understand that mercy isn't mercy unless undeserved. If you are willing to receive God's mercy, but unwilling to offer it to others, there can be only one reason - you feel you deserved His forgiveness. "Jonah hopes all along that somehow God won't turn out to be consistent with his well-known character. But God is consistent throughout, in contrast to Jonah's hypocritical inconsistency" (D. Stuart).
In chapter 1, the captain questioned Jonah - "What is your occupation, and where do you come from? What is your country, and from what people are you?" Jonah replied, "I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land." Although he has a relationship with God, that relationship seems to be subservient to his nationalistic pride. That is why his fear of God has not led to his obedience to God. 1:7-9. Jonah's "action is nothing less than open rebellion against God's sovereignty." (David Baker) Something was not complete in Jonah's relationship with God.
More than likely, Jonah felt some superiority because he was part of the nation God chose to be His own. If so, he forgot that God had not chosen them based on their worth. As Moses reminded the Israelites, God did not "set His love on you … because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you" (Deut 7:7). Did you read that carefully? God set his love on Israel because God loved Israel, nothing more and nothing less. Jonah had no reason to be prideful; however, he was - to the extent that he became angry when God showed the same mercy to someone other than an Israelite. Jonah has nothing in common with the God he claims to serve.
2. How did Jonah define God? "You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in mercy, and One who relents of disaster" (4:2). These are the words God used when He revealed himself to Moses. Moses asked God to show him His glory, and when God passed before him, He said, "The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in faithfulness and truth; who keeps faithfulness for thousands, who forgives wrongdoing, violation of His Law, and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished" (Ex 34: 6, 7a).
Jonah is, once again, repeating God's words back to Him, but this time, he's not doing so in a "psalm of thanksgiving." We can tell from the context of these words that Jonah is complaining about God being merciful. Notice that when Jonah quoted the Torah, he left off the part about not leaving "the guilty unpunished." I can only assume that aspect of God's character was ok with Jonah. He was only angry when God revealed Himself to be the compassionate, merciful, patient, faithful, and truthful God He promised to be. Now we understand why he ran from God's presence; he knew this is how God would respond when he spoke judgment over the Ninevites. Jonah thought God was wrong for showing mercy to his enemy and would rather they be eternally damned than find forgiveness. Again, this can only be because Jonah does not realize how much forgiveness he has received.
3. What questions did God ask Jonah? 4:4 - "Do you have a good reason to be angry?" 4:9 - "Do you have a good reason to be angry about the plant?" 4:11 - "Should I not also have compassion on Nineveh?" Why do you think God reasoned with Jonah with questions? Because God's questions aren't just interrogatories. God's questions reveal something about our hearts - to our hearts - not to God. He already knows and wants us to realize it as well; that's why He asked...
Adam and Eve· Where are you? Who told you that you were naked? (Genesis 3)
Cain · Where is your brother Abel? (Genesis
Jesus' disciples - Who do you say that I am? (Matthew 16)
Saul - Why are you persecuting Me? (Acts 9)
God knew why Jonah was angry, and He wanted Jonah to realize it. Remember, God reveals to heal. Unfortunately, Jonah was still full of much pride and wasn't ready to admit he was wrong. That is why he "left the city and sat down 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" (4:5). Jonah was still holding out hope that God would destroy Nineveh. When Jonah sat outside the city's walls waiting to see what would happen, God prepared a plant to grow over his shelter. The plant provided shade from the sun, which made Jonah happy - the first time we've seen this emotion in Jonah throughout his book. The following day, God prepared a worm to eat the plant. When the plant withered and died, Jonah became so angry again that "he begged with all his soul to die" (4:8).
4. What was God's point in "preparing" a plant, a worm, and a scorching wind? Knowing Jonah's heart was still too prideful to share mercy, God provided Jonah with an object lesson. God "prepared" or "designated" (this is the same word used in 1:17 when the Lord "prepared" a great fish) a plant, a worm to destroy the plant (1:7), and finally, a scorching wind so that the sun beat down on Jonah's head (4:8) to bring him to recognize how much he prioritized finding shade over the lives of more than 120,000 people. God explains in verses 10-11 why it is foolish for Jonah to care so much about a plant and care so little about souls. And then the book abruptly ends.
5. Compare how the book began (1:1) with how the author ended his book (4:9-11). What point was the author making in forming his book this way? This short book closes without a response from Jonah to God's questions. But that is not the point - the book ends the same way it began - with God showing compassion, revealing Himself to be the God He claims to be. We, therefore, are compelled to answer God's question in verse 11. Interestingly, only two books in the Bible end with questions. Jonah ends with a question about God's compassion for Nineveh, and Nahum ends with a question about God's discipline of Nineveh (Warren Wiersbe). What is the point? God is sovereign. He is sovereign over mercy and sovereign over judgment. His judgment reveals our sin; however, judgment is never God's last word. He graciously judges to reveal our sin, and He reveals to graciously heal. Mercy is always God's first and last word.
It seems appropriate that the book ends with God highlighting Jonah's skewed vision of the world and then asking a question to which Jonah has no answer. It reminds us of Who was in charge throughout the entire book. For us, it is far easier to answer God's final question in the affirmative if we only think of Jonah's enemy, but what about our own? The way our book closes, we must personally answer the question, "Should I not also have compassion on ____________?" You fill in that blank. Our story reveals the depth of God's character and the depth of Jonah's unbelief. However, the author's numerous comparisons compel us to ask how much we have in common with Jonah, particularly how we feel about God's amazing grace.
The Bible is God's book about Jesus, and, as throughout Scripture, Jonah lays a foundation for the grace of God to be displayed in Jesus Christ. Nineveh is a "whosoever" that Christ died to save. This Old Testament book reminds us that we are Kingdom people living with a Kingdom perspective and purpose. We live differently because we recognize that though we were an enemy of God, He, in Christ, has forgiven us and mercifully redeemed us.
Therefore, we treat our enemy with this same mercy. Instead, we sometimes choose to judge "them" and withhold mercy because we have forgotten the mercy that God has shown us. Denying God's mercy to someone who has wronged us or made choices different from ours results in a self-righteous individual who is quite adept at pointing out "their" sin while refusing to acknowledge his own. We become a Jonah who didn't see the sailors nor the Ninevites as his neighbor and, therefore, was eager to accept God's mercy for himself but refused to extend it. Jonah could not see that his sin was the same as his neighbors'.
In the original Hebrew, Jonah 4:1 reads differently than most English translations: Ra'a' Yona gadol ra' hara. That word, ra' (evil/calamity/wicked) is the same word used in Jonah 1:1 where our author told us the Ninevites' wickedness had come before God. Scholars believe that, despite some English translations, the Hebrew writer intends to characterize Jonah as "wicked" (ra') and not merely as angry in chapter four. At the least, because God withholds the destruction of the Ninevites, God's attributes Jonah lists (compassionate, slow to anger, and abundant in mercy) are evil to Jonah, and, therefore, he asks for death (4:3) - to escape this God's presence entirely. Once before, Jonah had given himself over to death (chapter 1), and here again, he sees death as a way to avoid the greatness of a God he cannot control.
Jonah wants a god in his image. When our concept of God does not look like the God of the Word, we begin demanding that others look like our god. In actuality, we are demanding they look like us, and when they don't, we judge them and unmercifully refuse to offer God's amazing grace. We see how Jonah cannot possibly provide mercy because he cannot acknowledge that wickedness also runs through his veins.
Self-righteous people need to judge someone as undeserving of mercy - because as long as there are unworthy people, self-righteous individuals can consider themselves better. "Perfectionists are only perfect by comparison. They must have someone to look down on" (Walter Wink). Jonah could only deny mercy to his neighbors because he had judged himself worthy of it. None of this makes sense to a heart captured by grace as presented in Christ's gospel. That is the message of Jonah. God does not change His character, not even if I refuse to allow Him to change mine. God will not conform to human standards; He offers mercy that we might conform to His.
Therefore, the ending of Jonah leaves us with the opportunity to answer the questions Jonah refuses to answer. Am I a rebellious believer who refuses to accept the Word of God that addresses the common brokenness we all share, or am I a broken believer who anticipates God's mercy and maintains an attitude of repentance? Do I look like Jonah of chapter two, who acknowledged he needed the mercy of God - "Salvation is from the Lord" (2:9). Do I look more like chapter four Jonah, who grieved over an inconvenience more than he grieved over a lost nation? The answer is wholly predicated on whether or not the mercy of God has grasped our hearts.
The primary message of Jonah - God is sovereign. He is sovereign over judgment and sovereign over mercy. His judgment reveals our sin; however, judgment is never God's last word. Mercy is always His last word, and mercy always reveals to heal - heal us and bring restoration to His creation. Therefore, I am left with the following questions from God -
Do you offer your neighbor the same amount of grace and mercy you offer the image in the mirror? Does the image in the mirror bear more resemblance to the God of the Word or a god of your own making?