Jonah Depressed by the Compassion of His Great God
Jonah Depressed by the Compassion of His Great God
Why didn’t the book of Jonah end with chapter 3? God dealt with Jonah’s disobedience. Isn’t that enough? God is not only concerned with our disobedience, but also with our lack of positive righteousness. God wants us to stop sinning. But He also wants us to take on His character so that we move outward to do good to undeserving sinners. God’s word teaches this. But we don’t learn easily. So, God takes us through experiences that in some way unsettle us in order to change us.
Where we find Jonah is that he has submitted himself to obeying God, yet he has not developed a compassion for this generation of lost Ninevites. Sure, a future generation will destroy his people, but can he develop compassion for this generation? Can he develop character that is like Yahweh his God? Jonah couldn’t bring himself to rejoice in God’s mercy coming to such a wicked people. In this way, Jonah is not at all like his God. But God expects His children to become like Him.
God sometimes saves people by the thousands. God works on the broader scale within nations, world events, churches and families. We saw in Jonah 1 that God worked to convert a ship full of sailors. In Jonah 3 we saw how God saved a city full of citizens. In Jonah 2 though, we saw God zero in on one man to do a work of grace in his heart. Jonah 4 continues this and shows us that God goes steadily deeper within a believer’s heart. Sovereign grace penetrates deeply within the heart of every believer to remake them into God’s image.
Jonah experienced three basic stages showing how God re-makes His children into His own image. God exposes sin, enrolls us in a learning program, and expects us to adopt His perspective. We get a front row seat while God does heart surgery on His pouting prophet.
I. God exposes sin in the hearts of His children (Jonah 4:1-3).
Jonah became angry when God showed mercy to Ninevah. God intended to show mercy to the Ninevites, but why did He choose Jonah to bring them the message? Surely God could have found a more willing prophet. So why Jonah? God had work to do in Jonah’s heart. God appointed Jonah to this because He knew Jonah would have a big problem with it and that was not acceptable to God. God looked into Jonah’s heart and saw some things that needed to change.
Literally, this reads, “But it was evil to Jonah with great evil.” To Jonah, what Yahweh did was as disagreeable to him as Ninevah’s sin (1:2). God’s mercy was wrong in Jonah’s sight. Angry means that he “became hot”. Jonah had a difficult time understanding how Ninevah being allowed to live another day can be good. Jonah thought that he knew better than God in this situation.
Ninevah was like a sleeping giant. Why not kill the giant while it is sleeping? Jonah has signed his nation’s death warrant. He just can’t see how this is good. In his mind, the best way for God to be glorified would be in Ninevah’s destruction. Now look at his response to God in vv. 2-3.
Jonah had already had this conversation with Yahweh before he got on the boat to Tarshish. Did he think that compassion was a little short-sighted in this situation? These are the people who will one day destroy Israel. Jonah just couldn’t make sense of it. This isn’t the way the world was supposed to work. “What I said” is literally “my word”. Note the contrast with Jonah’s “word” and Yahweh’s “word” (1:1; 3:1). Jonah had the arrogance to say that his “word” was the right one! “Appointing himself theological advisor to the Almighty, Jonah pronounces himself completely out of sympathy with divine policy” (Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah, p. 229).
Jonah has a good grasp on Gods’ character, using familiar words (Ex 34:6-7; Joel 2:13; Neh 9:17). Among the many gods of men, Yahweh is unique. He is a gracious God who shows favor to others. He is also a compassionate God (Ps 86:15; 103:8; 111:4; 112:4; 145:8). Like the way a mother loves her child, Yahweh shows tender affection toward people. He is slow to anger, being uncommonly patient with sinners. He is abundant in lovingkindness. This is Yahweh’s covenant loyalty, steadfast love toward His people (hesed). But He also displays this lovingkindness to all people: “The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works” (Ps 145:9). Yahweh is also a God who relents concerning calamity. If sinners repent, God turns away His wrath.
Jonah’s worst fear came true. He was worried that Yahweh would exhibit these wonderful characteristics toward the wicked people of Ninevah, and He did! So now Jonah asked Yahweh to take his life from him. Jonah’s anger turned to depression: “death is better to me than life.”
II. God enrolls His children in the School of Sovereign Grace (Jonah 1:4-8).
God’s school is gracious. It is for our good. And He works sovereignly to order everything around us to challenge us. So then Yahweh challenged Jonah’s behavior, “Do you have good reason to be angry?” God is trying to get Jonah to realize that he might just be wrong. Instead of answering, Jonah leaves the city. He is only concerned with himself.
Jonah built a crude shelter, probably of tree branches to protect him from the sun’s scorching rays. Apparently he had a good view of the city and waited to see if Yahweh would destroy the city even though they repented. God had not promised to spare them. Maybe He’ll still destroy them.
God is so patient and kind, even to His rebellious prophet. God provided an object lesson that would draw out Jonah’s compassion so Jonah could see it. What a contrast! Jonah was concerned for his own comfort and Yahweh is concerned with saving souls! As in chapter 1, God used His obedient creation to draw out the sin problem that was lurking within Jonah’s heart.
Jonah’s shelter couldn’t provide adequate shade from the scorching sun so God provided a leafy plant to provide proper shade (it regularly gets to 110 degrees there). God is gracious to His children even when they are angry with Him. God is so gentle and kind to us.
God’s sovereign control of events is seen again here: the plant grew rapidly and in the right place, God sent a worm to attack the plant and God sent the scorching wind. Note the irony here where Jonah was extremely happy about the shade provided by the plant but was extremely angry over the salvation of an entire city! Jonah was glad over his own relief from the heat of the sun, but was angry over the Ninevites’ salvation from the fires of hell!
Jonah’s sad little shelter was of no comfort to him once God had sent the scorching wind. As a result, Jonah cried, “Death is better to me than life!” How quickly we can go from extreme happiness in pleasant circumstances to deep dark depression when those are taken away! God orchestrated creation around Jonah to teach Jonah how shallow he is.
III. God expects His children to adopt His perspective (Jonah 4:9-11).
Yahweh repeats His question from v. 4 but now directed it toward the plant, “Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” This is the anger of pity. Jonah responded that he not only has good reason to be angry but so angry that he wants to die. God’s compassion to us should make us zealous to show compassion to others—all others.
Jonah is reminded that it was God who gave life to the plant. Jonah did not work to produce the plant. It’s funny how we tend to get possessive of blessings God has bestowed on us, as if we should have authority over them! Jonah cared more for a single day’s shade than for the eternal life of thousands of human souls. John Hannah laments, “What a tragedy when God’s people care more for creaturely comforts than for the interests of God’s will among men” (BKC OT, p. 1472).
God shows Jonah how absurd his thinking was. There were over 120,000 people living there who were spiritually ignorant. That is, they didn’t have the word of God as Israel did. Jonah should have had pity on them, not knowing God’s ways. While it is true that the Ninevites, like all humans, knew right and wrong (Rom 1), Yahweh has compassion even on those who are spiritually ignorant (Jesus on the cross, Lk 23:24; 1 Tim 1:13 for Paul acting in ignorance). They still do deserve His eternal wrath. But He has compassion on them. We need to check our own attitudes toward the wicked.
As well as many animals. Here is a touch of sarcasm. “What about those animals? What a waste? Jonah, you seem to find joy in plants, what about those poor animals?”
What we have now are some new layers to Jonah’s sin. God digs deeper into Jonah’s heart. God used Jonah to save Jonah’s enemies. Jonah became angry. Then God took away Jonah’s source of happiness (comfort). Jonah became angrier. On one level, God exposed Jonah’s anger. But God went down another layer. God exposed Jonah’s lack of compassion for undeserving sinners. Jonah’s compassion was not like God’s. God expects that to change.
But there’s still another layer to this. God exposed Jonah’s spiritual pride. Jonah realized that he didn’t deserve God’s mercy. In his mind, Ninevah was far less deserving. So he doesn’t think it is right for God to forgive THEM. When God had mercy on the Ninevites, it put them on level ground with Jonah. That was just too much! Think about Jesus’ parable about the workers who were hired at different times of the day but were all paid the same (Mt 20). Jonah finds himself in the place of those who worked all day and the Ninevites as those who had worked only one hour. He is livid that they would receive the same. Surely Ninevah is far worse.
Jonah ends his story before a resolution is reached. Did Jonah learn his lesson and repent of his sin? Or did he continue in his depression and anger? He doesn’t neatly tie up the story. He leaves it open so we’ll keep thinking about it. How does it apply to each of us? Next week I want to look back over these four chapters and take a look at the lessons we’ve covered, but then to try to put them all together and talk about the right perspective we must have.