The God of Mercy in JONAH 4

Have you ever been angry with God? How did that work out for you? Regardless of our stance or reasoning, God always has the last word. Even with prophets and people like you and me. 

Jonah 2023I’ve been asked if I ever get angry with God.

Like how about when my 9-year-old daughter was near-fatally injured in a ski accident? (see BV post 24 Years Ago)

Or how about when I got laid off from a promising job after the 9/11 attacks and then my own fledgling business was struggling to get off the ground soon afterward? (see BV post God’s Answer to an Anguished Prayer) Or when my wife was hospitalized during the Covid pandemic? (see BV post A Husband’s Prayer for His Wife)

I actually never got angry at God.

I was scared and worried, yes, but I never really took it out on God or blamed Him for my difficult plight. I was driven to go to God, humbled and surrendered, to pray and seek His guidance. My mindset may have been shock and confusion, but never animosity or anger toward the God of Creation, our God of Mercy, who I knew loved me greatly.

So what’s wrong with Jonah and why is he so angry?

Angry Jonah in Chapter 4
In the final chapter of this short Old Testament Book of Jonah, we find a very angry Jonah who should be quite grateful for being alive and seeing tangible fruitful results of his mission to preach to the people of Nineveh.

What’s his problem?

His struggle was in seeing God have mercy on a city full of hated non-Hebrew people. Jonah did not like seeing Nineveh’s repentance and God’s relenting of His judgment upon them.

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:10)

But this displeased Jonah greatly and he goes after God. He reminds God of his reasons for initially fleeing to Tarshish when first given this prophetic assignment.

But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish…” (Jonah 4:1-2)

He just knew that God would forgive the damnable people of Nineveh. It upsets Jonah so much that he’d rather be dead than alive over this.

“…I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:2-3)

Silly Jonah.

God’s Response
As our good, loving, and wise Heavenly Father, I love the reply Jonah gets directly from God. It’s a series of 3 questions asked by God and an object lesson in God’s love, mercy, creative power and omniscient perspective:

Question #1 is a general question about Jonah’s very right to be angry. There is no answer from Jonah, other than to retreat to a self-made shelter outside the city to observe next steps. There is no further commentary from God, only the very convicting first question. 

But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” 

Jonah had gone 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. (Jonah 4:4-5)

Then there is the curious act by God to produce a shading plant over a sulking Jonah only to destroy it the next day with a plant-eating worm and bring a scorching wind and sun upon Jonah. While Jonah is initially happy with the created plant, he’s now really angry and anguished over the loss of shade when it is destroyed. Once again, he’d rather die than live. But now due to his physical plight.

Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint.

He [Jonah] wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:6-8)

Question #2 is simply asked and Jonah gives God a very petulant answer.

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

It is,” he [Jonah] said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” (Jonah 4:9)

Then God comments about a simple plant that sprang up and died in one day without Jonah’s intervention.

Question #3 makes the connection to Jonah’s concern over a single plant versus God’s concern and mercy for a confused city of 120,000 people, and even their animals. 

But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:10-11)

The book ends there and we can only hope that Jonah fully absorbed God’s pointed and loving teaching point.

Lessons in Jonah 4
The entire Book of Jonah is a lesson in God’s sovereignty and man’s choice of obedience and repentance or rejection of that sovereignty. God loves all of mankind and has extended His grace and mercy and revealed his love and truth. It’s on each of us to respond to the God of all Creation.

Here are 4 key specific lessons from Chapter 4:

  1. God is patient with us. – We may be petulant or angry in our worldly plight, but God can handle it. In fact, He understands and patiently wants us to understand His love, mercy and grace.
  2. God is our teacher. – He instructs us through His Word (Bible), through prayer and spiritual intervention, and through our life experiences. We can trust that He is involved in the very detail and fabric of our lives.
  3. God intervenes. – If we seek Him, we can sense or hear and read His pointed questions and guidance that apply directly to us. He has created shady plants and worms around us all through our life. Do you have a broader vision of what He is doing?
  4. God is merciful. – Yes, God loves and has mercy, that none should perish, for cities of people who we think may not be worthy of forgiveness. His love and mercy extends even to the animals. How much more for us created in His image?

Have you personally experienced God’s mercy?
But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” – Jonah 3:10

Categories: Abundant Living, Books of the Bible, Calling, Devotion, Discipleship, Evil, Faith, Fathering, Forgiveness, Israel, Jesus, Marketplace, Old Testament, Prayer, Prophecy, Purpose, Suffering

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