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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Jonah 4

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God Deals With a Prophet's Heart

A. Jonah's complaint.

1. (Jon 4:1) Jonah's displeasure at the repentance of the people of Nineveh.

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.

a. It displeased Jonah: This is strange, because usually the preacher is pleased when the congregation repents, but Jonah wasn't. There was something about the whole matter that displeased Jonah.

b. Exceedingly, and he became angry: Not only was this strange, it was very strange, because Jonah was very upset at the success of his preaching. We should not miss Jonah's intensity here, because the language in the original Hebrew is strong.

2. (Jon 4:2-3) Jonah explains his anger.

So he prayed to the LORD, and said, "Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!"

a. I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm: Jonah was angry because God granted repentance to the Ninevites, and the Assyrians were enemies of Judah and Israel. Jonah wanted God to bring judgment upon these people he hated.

i. Jonathan Swift wrote some verse that expresses Jonah's frame of mind:

We are God's chosen few,
All others will be damned;
There is no place in heaven for you,
We can't have heaven crammed.

b. Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Jonah knew that God was full of grace and mercy, and that was why he was afraid to tell the people of Nineveh.

i. Jonah himself called on the mercy of God and enjoyed the mercy of God when it was extended to Jonah. Now he resents it when it is extended to others. What if God treated Jonah the way Jonah wanted God to treat the people of Nineveh?

c. For it is better for me to die than to live! The repentance and salvation of the people of Nineveh is so painful to Jonah that he would rather die than think about it; and he also states that this was the reason he fled the call - not out of fear that he would be ineffective, but fear that he would be effective!

B. God confronts a prophet.

1. (Jon 4:4) God questions Jonah's heart.

Then the LORD said, "Is it right for you to be angry?"

a. Is it right for you to be angry? Jonah, in expressing his anger against God, was being honest about his feelings - something good; but we should not for a moment think that all of our feelings towards God are justified.

i. God likes to ask us questions, because they reveal our heart. It also put us on proper ground before God, because He has every right to question us and we owe Him answers.

- Where are you? Who told you that you were naked? What is this you have done? (Genesis 3)
- Where is your brother Abel? What have you done? (Genesis 4)
- What have you done? (1 Samuel 13:11)
- Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? (2 Samuel 12)
- Whom shall I send? Who will go for us? (Isaiah 6)
- Who do you say that I am? (Matthew 16)
- What do you want Me to do for you? (Matthew 20)
- Are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss? (Luke 22)
- Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? (Acts 9)

c. If we are angry against God, He will ask us the same question He asked Jonah: Is it right for you to be angry? And the answer must always be "No, Lord. All Your ways are right even if I don't understand them."

i. Yes, Jonah was angry towards God, and yes, it was all right for Jonah to state his anger towards God; but he must also repent of his anger towards God.

2. (Jon 4:5-8) God prepares an object lesson for Jonah.

So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city. And the LORD God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah's head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, "It is better for me to die than to live."

a. Jonah went out of the city … till he might see what would become of the city: Jonah seems to hope that the repentance of Nineveh was lacking, and hopes that he will see the city destroyed after all. He goes out of the city for safety.

b. The LORD God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah: Just as God prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah, now He prepares a particular plant to shelter Jonah as he waited hoping that they city would be destroyed.

i. This is the first time we find Jonah happy. "Jonah was pleased because at last, after all the compassion of God for other people, God was finally doing something for Jonah. Selfish? Of course, it was. And petty too!" (Boice) 

ii. We could say that Jonah's happiness was just as fleshly as his anger. Both were all about self.

c. The sun beat on Jonah's head, so that he grew faint: Jonah was angry with God because He brought the people of Nineveh to repentance (Jonah 4:1). The ancient Hebrew word for "angry" is literally "to be hot." Now God will let Jonah feel some of the heat!

d. Jonah was very grateful for the plant … "It is better for me to die than to live": When God took the plant and its pleasant shelter away from Jonah, he missed the plant so much that he wanted to die.

i. "If, dear friends, like Jonah, you want to complain, you will soon have something to complain of. People who are resolved to fret, generally make for themselves causes for fretfulness." (Spurgeon)

ii. Jonah allowed even a silly thing like a plant to become an idol. "How often our gourds are allowed to perish, to teach us these deep lessons. In spite of all we can do to keep them green, their leaves turn more and more sere and yellow, until they droop and die." (Meyer)

3. (Jon 4:9-11) God applies the object lesson.

Then God said to Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?" And he said, "It is right for me to be angry, even to death!" But the LORD said, "You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left; and much livestock?"

a. Is it right for you to be angry about the plant? Jonah, in response to God's question, felt totally justified in his anger about the sheltering plant's destruction. This is considering that the plant was just a plant, and Jonah had no personal interest or investment in the plant except what it provided for him at the moment.

i. Jonah made three errors that angry people often make. Each of these things put Jonah in a worse place, not a better place.

- Jonah quit
- Jonah separated himself from others
- Jonah became a spectator

b. It is right for me to be angry, even to death! These are the last words of Jonah recording in this book, but thankfully they are not the last words of the book. God's mercy and compassion still works with Jonah, teaching him and guiding him to God's heart.

c. And should I not pity Nineveh: How much more should God be concerned about the destruction of persons - those made in His image, even if they are Assyrians. God's response to Jonah showed the prophet that he really didn't know God as well as he thought he did.

i. Those who cannot discern between their right hand and their left are those who unable to make moral judgments.

ii. The lesson is clear: not only does God's concern for people go beyond Israel, but He is totally justified in doing so. The lesson of Jonah reminds us that God is the God of all people.

iii. The lesson of Jonah is what he proclaimed before being freed from the great fish: Salvation is of the LORD (Jonah 2:9), and not of any race or nation or class. This is the same message God made clear to Peter in Acts 10:34-35: In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him."

e. Jewish tradition says that after God said the words of Jonah 4:11, Jonah then fell on his face and said: "Govern your world according to the measure of mercy, as it is said, To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness." (Daniel 9:9) We can only hope that Jonah - and we - would have such a humble response.

i. God showed His mercy to Jonah through a lot of preparation.

- The LORD prepared a great fish (Jonah 1:17)
- The LORD prepared a plant (Jonah 4:6)
- The LORD prepared a worm (Jonah 4:7)
- The LORD prepared a wind (Jonah 4:8)

ii. Nevertheless, the real work of preparation happened in Jonah. What God really prepared was a person, a prophet. "I would suggest to some of you here who have to bear double trouble that God may be preparing you for double usefulness, or he may be working out of you some unusual form of evil which might not be driven out of you unless his Holy Spirit had used these mysterious methods with you to teach you more fully his mind." (Spurgeon)

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

Study Guide for Obadiah ← Prior Book
Study Guide for Micah 1 Next Book →
Study Guide for Jonah 3 ← Prior Chapter
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