480. Jonah 4. Having The Right Motivations In Life

Chapter 3 of Jonah ends with these words, “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.” 3:10.

It meant that the ministry of Jonah as a prophet sent by God to warn the people of Nineveh had been an outstanding success. The whole city including the king had believed God’s message and had turned from their sin. Their response to Jonah’s message meant they averted God’s judgment. 

It is quite surprising that the next verse in chapter 4 of Jonah has these words, “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.” 4:1.

Why would the prophet of God be angry when the people repented upon hearing his message so that God relented of His plan to destroy Nineveh? 

God Desires Good Motivations In His Servants. To have a heart like His

It seems that Jonah’s motivations were at odds with the heart and mind of God. We see that in the way he addressed God in prayer, “And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” 4:2.

Jonah had a serious problem. He was a prophet chosen by God to take His message to people. BUT he had a distorted view of what God should be like. He saw him as being “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” 4:2. That was a true picture of the character of God, but Jonah wanted Him to be different, to not be gracious, to not be merciful and wanting Him to bring disaster on the people of Nineveh. When God relented of bringing the disaster on Nineveh, Jonah got really angry. He told God that was the reason he fled from delivering God’s message initially because he was hoping the people of Nineveh would reject the message and disaster would come upon them. How sad that a prophet of God could wish to have a vengeful Master to obey. When the disaster did not happen, Jonah was shattered. He had a death wish for himself, “Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4:3. He was angry that God’s gracious will had prevailed and that what he wanted to happen, didn’t. 

The Lord Questioned Jonah’s Motivation

 The question, “Do you do well to be angry?” is relevant for God’s people at any time. Can any believer ever resent God’s compassion on anyone, including their enemies? It was a question Jonah had to ponder. In the meantime, Jonah would go outside the city to see what God would do, “Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.” 4:5.

The Gracious Lord Acted Graciously For The Downcast Prophet

Jon 4:6 “Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.”

As Jonah sits waiting hopefully for God to bring disaster on the people of Nineveh, God takes the time to make life more bearable for Jonah. 

The plant the Lord provided would comfort Jonah in his discomfort while Jonah sits waiting for the city to be destroyed. What a difference in their view of the people of Nineveh. The Lord waiting for the people to repent, while Jonah is hoping they don’t repent and thus would suffer judgment. 

God Teaches Jonah A Lesson About Life

One wonders if Jonah would ever humble himself to want God’s will to be done rather than what he personally wanted.  God had another lesson to teach His unruly prophet, “But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8  When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”4:7-8.

God destroyed the plant He had provided for Jonah’s comfort, and the sun and the scorching wind brought great physical distress to him. He was also angry that the plant had died. God challenged Jonah again with the same words as before,“ But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry?” [for the plant] ” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 4:9. He was angry that the plant that gave him relief from his discomfort had died.

God Teaches Jonah A Lesson About Love

God challenged Jonah about the contrast in their attitude to the people of Nineveh,  “And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labour, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night.” 4:10. Jonah had concern for the plant which he had done nothing to create and only lasted for a short time. 

Then the Lord rebuked Jonah by showing the contrast He had in His attitude to the people of Nineveh.  “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” 4:11.

The contrast was obvious. Jonah had no real concern for the lives of thousands of people who were facing disaster, many of whom were very young. His focus was on his own needs. He longed for the comfort of a small piece of vegetation that God had provided in his mercy for Jonah and when it died he was angry. But it was a plant, not a person. 

On the other hand, God had created not only the plant to bring comfort to Jonah but He had also created all the thousands of people including innocent children and all the animals in Nineveh. He didn’t want them to face disaster. He wanted them to turn from their evil ways. That was why He had sent His prophet to Nineveh with a message for them to turn from evil lest He be forced to destroy them. 

Perhaps Jonah eventually saw the error of his misunderstanding of the value that God had placed on people, even those who were rebelling against His ways. If Jonah actually wrote the book, he tells the whole story warts and all in describing the compassion God has on all the peoples of the world and the lessons God taught him. 

The story of the book of Jonah is relevant for today 

It shows the value the Lord has on all peoples even those who have no deep knowledge of Him and His ways. He knows they all face destruction unless they repent of their sins and turn to Him to be saved. So He has commanded His people to take the gospel message of His love to all parts of the world. The “gospel in a nutshell” as someone once wrote, reminds us of that, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:16-17. Or as Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” God hates sin but loves sinners so much that He made it possible for even the worst sinners to be forgiven. All they need to do is to repent of their sins and receive salvation freely by accepting Christ as their Saviour and Lord.

God knows His world and the hearts of every individual in it. He wants them all to live and not die in their sins. He has made it possible for everyone to be saved, for the blood of Jesus shed on the cross can cover the sins of the whole world. But that salvation, that forgiveness is only to be found in Jesus whom He sent into the world to be its Saviour from sin. 

Jesus certainly used the story of Jonah to bring a warning to the people of Israel when He preached.  In Matthew 12:41 He said,  “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” If the people of the evil foreign city of Nineveh could repent of their evil deeds and turn to God for salvation when God warned them, then how much more should the Jews of Jesus’ day repent and turn to God as they listened to one of their own, not just a prophet, but to One who was the Son of God and the Saviour of the world. 

Blog No.480. Posted on Wednesday 10 May 2023. 

About Jim Holbeck

Once an Industrial Chemist working for the Queensland Government but later an Anglican minister in Brisbane, Armidale and Sydney. Last position for eighteen years before retirement in 2006 was as the Leader of the Healing Ministry at St Andrew's Cathedral Sydney.
This entry was posted in BIBLE PASSAGE OUTLINES, Bible verses. Comments, Creation, Evangelism, Faithfulness, Forgiveness, Healing, Holy Spirit, Judgement, Justification, Mental Health, Prayer, Real Life Stories, Salvation, Sanctification, Temptations and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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