Better Off Dead

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Last week we saw that God changed the course for Nineveh because they responded to Jonah’s message. Because of their response, Jonah became angry with God for not destroying Nineveh. Jonah knew all along that would happen and now he believes he’s better off dead. God’s not through with Jonah though. Let’s see what God does.

Jonah 4:4-6 says, “The LORD said, “Do you have good reason to be angry?” Then Jonah went out from the city and sat 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. So the LORD God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant.”

God is always at work. Jonah blamed God for Nineveh’s salvation and instead of being overjoyed, he was angry. God uses every opportunity He can to get us to the point He wants us to be. He’s not going to violate His character, and He often chooses to exercise patience. God asks Jonah the question we would probably ask too. “Do you have reason to be angry?” No immediate judgment. No stoning or death. Just a simple question. Even though Jonah is angry at God and tells Him as much, God lovingly and patiently engages Jonah. Don’t lose this image. We’re quick to demand judgment for others, but we want patience and mercy for ourselves. Why not give Jonah a chance to repent? Why not give Jonah the opportunity to recognize the error of his ways and turn to God? It’s hard to comprehend how God could still be so loving and patient with Jonah. God’s question should cause Jonah to reflect on what just happened in Nineveh. In other words, “Jonah, do have justification for being angry?” Is there some compelling argument for your actions, for the way you feel? Police officers often give us this opportunity. Parents give opportunities to children. Bosses give opportunities to their workers. This was Jonah’s moment to explain himself.

God’s question remains, “Do you have reason to be angry?” Anger in this verse means to burn or be kindled. Are you justified Jonah? Remember the reason Jonah is angry. Jonah’s anger was not the justifiable anger Paul mentions in Eph. 4:26 when he says, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Jonah’s anger was wrong – it was sinful and God wanted Jonah to see and understand this. God’s desire was for Nineveh to recognize its wickedness and respond to His offer of redemption and that happened. Jonah would rather be dead than see Nineveh repent and be saved. He hated the Assyrians, even after they repented. Paul asks the question in Rom. 3:29, “Is God the God of the Jews only? Is He not the God of the Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also.” God loves Nineveh just like He loves Jerusalem, but Jonah hates Nineveh. Jesus provides the solution to this type of intense hatred. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ ‘But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you.’” (Matt. 5:43-44) If you love your enemies, they are no longer your enemies. God thinks on a grander scale than we do. The command in Matt. 28:19 is clear. “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” All the nations are included in God’s plan. We cannot leave out a single nation regardless of our justification. There is just one plan, one hope, one message. God commissioned His followers to carry that message to the world and that includes nations like North Korea Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Iran. There is no plan b. If we ignore any nation, they’ll turn to false gods and false religions.

God asks Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry?” Jonah has no right to be angry. He only has the right to obey. In our lives we lack faith because we ignore the clear commands of God. We complain when God doesn’t answer our prayers, but we’re unwilling to be obedient. We have no record of Jonah praying for Nineveh; not one single utterance for God to prepare their hearts to receive the life changing message of hope. Imagine the joy if Jonah had only prayed. Our job is obedience; leave everything else to God. “Do you have good reason to be angry?” Jonah does not respond to God’s question. It’s not just rude. It reveals Jonah’s unchanged heart even at the miracle of Nineveh’s repentance.

In our results driven world, we would be over the moon as the results of preaching Jonah’s simple message of repentance. It wasn’t that one or two people or even one or two families that responded to the message. It was the entire city. Total success in God’s eyes, total failure in Jonah’s. Verse 5 says, Then Jonah went out from the city and sat 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.” We don’t know how much time passed if any between vs. 4 and 5. It’s interesting that Jonah chose to head east of the city and not west. Some suggest he wanted to see the sun set on Nineveh. Had he gone out the west gate of Nineveh, he could see the sun rise on a new Nineveh, a city that is no longer an enemy of Jonah or his homeland of Israel. The threat of military invasion erased, the threat of terrorism eliminated. This was the dawn of a new day in history. Jonah didn’t want God’s solution, he wanted destruction, he wanted Nineveh and Assyria wiped off the face of the earth. God’s solution results in changed lives; today’s solution? Tolerance. Compromise. Indifference.

Jonah exits the city and makes himself a shelter to get out of the hot Assyrian sun. What is going through Jonah’s mind is not known. He’s going to sit back, watch, and wait. He’s going to wait a long time because God had already decided that Nineveh would not be overthrown because the people responded to the condition that God set forth. So what’s he waiting for? Was he watching the city to see if their repentance was real? We have many professing Christians that look, act, and talk the same as they did prior to their confession of repentance. We sit back and watch if their repentance is real, maybe even waiting until they mess up so we can say, “I told it wasn’t real.” Jonah still hated these people; nothing had changed except that he preached what God told him to and the people responded. God is delighted; Jonah is disgusted. Jonah could have taken an active role in Nineveh’s spiritual growth. He could have stayed there and discipled the people. He could have been like Paul to the city of Antioch, Iconium, Derbe, Philippi, and Thessalonica just to name a few. But Jonah was content to watch and wait leaving discipleship to someone else, but who? Nineveh was a city known for its wickedness and now they have responded to the message of truth and as a result are all new believers. Who can disciple the people? Who is there to teach them? Who is there to say, “Here’s what God says?” To be fair, nothing is recorded about God saying stay there to teach the people, but wouldn’t that be appropriate? Isn’t that a part of making disciples? This further reveals Jonah’s heart.

God does something that seems strange given Jonah’s attitude of disgust toward Nineveh. Jonah did finally go to Nineveh, but it was only after some divine convincing. Remember, our job is to obey, everything else is in God’s hands. Jonah exits the city and builds a shelter to wait and see what’s going to happen. He’s sitting in his little shelter and God shows up again. Verse 6 says, So the Lord God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant.”        In the Hebrew language, Lord God is Yahweh Elohim. This is interesting because in v. 4, it’s Lord – Yahweh. In v. 7 that we’ll look at next week it’s God – Elohim. Yahweh is the proper name for God in Israel. Elohim indicates God’s divine creative power. So it was God the divine Creator that appointed the plant. Appointed is the same word used back in 1:17 describing how God used the fish. It’s interesting that the word plant, translated in some versions as vine, has been the subject of a lot of controversy. What kind of plant was it? Some argue that it is the castor oil tree, a shrub with large leaves that was common to the region. Others say it was a bottle or gourd plant. There was such disagreement about this that when Jerome changed the translation from gourd to castor oil tree in his Vulgate, a riot broke out in Carthage, in what is modern day Tunisia. What’s really messed up is that it doesn’t matter what type of plant it was, God was the One that appointed it.

It’s easy for us to determine what Jonah may or may not deserve. We might say that Jonah doesn’t deserve God’s provision. Jonah was clearly not in right in spirit; he didn’t like his mission to Nineveh or the results that occurred. God’s not through with Jonah. He provides some shade, to deliver him from his discomfort.” That’s kind of an understatement. It literally reads, “To deliver hi m from his evil.” Jonah is a disgruntled malcontent. It’s hot – temperatures are probably hovering around 110 F. Maybe he can hear the people from the city crying out to God. It must have been awful for Jonah to hear the joy of salvation knowing that he is completely out of the will of God. He is miserable. What’s the worst part? He played a major role in the repentance of Nineveh and was disgusted and yet when God provided him a plant to shade him, he was extremely happy about the plant.” Jonah rejoiced with great rejoicing. He was deliriously happy. In fact, for the first time in this book, Jonah is happy. He didn’t express this emotion when he was delivered from certain death in the sea by the fish God sent; he didn’t express this emotion at the total and complete deliverance of Nineveh. He was happy because the plant provided relief from the heat, and maybe he’s thinking that God’s provision is an indication that all is well between him and God. As we’ll see next week, all is not well.

Even in the depths of our despair, God is there with us. Even when the despair is of our own making, God will never leave us. He wants us to get to the point of complete trust in Him. Jonah has some learning to do and God is not through. For us, we must be willing to learn life’s lessons the way God intends for us to learn. There are no short cuts or bypasses.

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