When the typical person thinks about the story of Jonah, they may think about the story culminating with Jonah getting spit up by the fish onto dry land again, or his obedience in finally fulfilling his mission to Ninevah. But the story does not end in chapter 3 with Jonah’s resurrection from a watery death. The story ends in chapter 4 with Jonah’s astonishing reaction to the repentance of the Ninevites, as he backslides deeply into anger, judgement and despair. This is where the powerful lessons of this story lies. Chapter 4 is so important to this story that we’ll spend two weeks exploring it.
Why is Jonah so angry? He’s angry about God’s grace. This man who was just been singing and rejoicing about God’s mercy and grace in chapter 2 now seems disgusted with it. He rails at God, "I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live!” When Jonah was the recipient of God’s grace, he was ecstatic. But when his enemies were the recipients of that same undeserved grace, he was furious. Like Jesus’ parable of the man who was forgiven a million dollars and proceeds to throw another man into prison for being unable to pay him back a few bucks, Jonah has forgotten his own place as the recipient of grace.
This Sunday we’ll explore what happens to us when we too become “grace amnesiacs,” forgetting the grace we’ve received. In preparation for worship this week, spend some time meditating on this final chapter in the book. As hard as it may be, try to relate to Jonah, and ask yourself in what ways you too may be forgetting grace. What happens to you and your relationships when you forget what a debtor you are to grace?
10 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’s Anger at the Lord’s Compassion
4 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 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. 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, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
4 But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
5 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. 6 Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant[a] 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. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant 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.”
9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”
10 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. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”