The Bible comprises of real stories of God’s relationship through the time with man and vice versa. We find that God is constantly and purposefully coming close to man, and man in his rebellion is always running away from. After the floods in Noah’s time, God said about man’s heart: Genesis 8:21 Every inclination of man’s heart is evil from childhood. On the contrary, look at God’s heart: Psalm 145:8-9 8The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. 9The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. This is exactly what we find in the Book of Jonah – Jonah’s anger at the Lord’s Compassion!
God wanted Jonah to preach to Nineveh of its wickedness. Jonah was unwilling to do God’s will God’s way. God had to step in, interrupt his journey and finally Jonah obeys and goes to Nineveh. The entire city, right from the king to the lowest on the social ladder fasted and changed their actions. 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.
No pastor or missionary has ever received such a response. Most ministers would be so elated by this, but not Jonah: Jonah 4:1 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. If the people of Nineveh repented, it meant they would not be judged and Jonah was not happy about it. His attitude of hatred toward the Assyrians was seen.
Jonah 4:2-4 2He 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. 3Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Jonah’s rebellion could not overturn the sovereign grace of God; the Lord used Jonah to accomplish His saving purposes in spite of the prophet’s hatred.
Jonah’s prayer not only exposed his own prejudice and pride, but also showcased the loving kindness and compassion of God. In His infinite mercy and grace, the Lord can rescue any sinner, even one as wicked as the pagan king of a barbarian nation. Ironically, when Jonah himself was in trouble, he cried out for God’s mercy. But when the Lord extended grace to others, Jonah was filled with resentment.
Jonah 4:5 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. Evidently, he hoped that the people’s repentance would prove to be hypocritical and superficial so that the Lord would still destroy them after forty days. The prophet hastily constructed a temporary shelter to shade him from the blazing sun and waited to see how it all played out.
As Jonah sat disgruntled in his shed, the Lord graciously caused a large plant to instantly grow up for Jonah. Jonah 4:6 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.
Jonah was thankful for the plant, but God withered it the next day. Jonah 4:7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered.
God made life for Jonah even difficult. Jonah 4:8 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.”
Jonah 4:9-11 9But 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.” 10But 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. 11And 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?”
The book of Jonah ends abruptly with a question to Jonah about God’s heart and the prophet’s heart. This book ends in a cliffhanger; we do not know what happened to Jonah. However, if you really see, we can find the big contrast between man’s rebellion and God’s love. Many times we as believers can identify our hearts with that of Jonah.
Jonah’s attitude – Man’s rebellion
Jonah had been mightily used by God but if you see there was hardly any change in his attitude. Many times we are believers for years, we minister to God in various capacities but sadly the attitude of our heart remains unchanged. True repentance has to change our attitude.
Jonah was totally concerned about him, his comfort, his people, and his country. He was very selfish in spite of being used by God. He had a rotten attitude at the beginning and now he has a bad attitude even in the end. He is full of selfishness, prejudice, pride, and he cannot tolerate the magnitude of God’s grace to a barbarian nation. He would rather be dead than see people happy. Even today many are struggling with the same attitude.
Jonah 4:2 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.
“I can’t stand the Assyrians being converted.” In one way he is right because the Book of Nahum throws some light on Nineveh. Nahum 1:1 An oracle concerning Nineveh.
- Plotted evil against God. Nahum 1:9
- Exploited the helpless. Nahum 2:12
- Barbaric. Cruelty in war. Nahum 2:12-13
- Idolatry, prostitution, and witchcraft. Nahum 3:4
They don’t deserve God’s grace but Jonah never understood that God’s grace is about loving and blessing those who persecute us. He was so selfish in wanting God for himself and his people.
The one attitude of Jonah that stands out in this book is that of his disobedience. Out of the selfishness came disobedience. He would not go to Nineveh. He ran away from God. You see, the root is selfishness and most of the times we disobey God because we are selfish, we do not want God’s ways, we rebel and we want our ways and plans for us.
Out of the selfishness came displeasure. Now Jonah is back in Nineveh and God relented in brining calamity on Nineveh. Now Jonah is quite displeased that God is not brining calamity on his enemies.
4. Wrong Prayer.
After his prayer of repentance in Jonah 3, look at his prayer in Jonah 4. Jonah 4:2-3 2He 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. 3Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
It is absolutely a selfish prayer. Sometimes we pray “wrongly” as James says: James 4:3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.). We want what we want, not what God wants and most often we pray wrongly.
Some time ago I heard a girl praying on her wedding day: Dear God. I can hardly believe that this is my wedding day. I know I haven’t been able to spend much time with You lately, with all the rush of getting ready for today, and I’m sorry. Now I am feeling a little guilty when I try to pray about all this, since my fiancée is still not a believer. But oh, Father, I love him so much, what else can I do? I just couldn’t give him up. Oh, You must save him, some way, somehow. You know how much I’ve prayed for him, and the way we’ve discussed the gospel together. I have shared the gospel to him and I don’t understand why he hasn’t responded. Oh, if he only were a Christian.
Dear Father, please bless our marriage. I don’t want to disobey You, but I do love him and I want to be his wife, so please be with us and help us.”
That sounds like a sincere, earnest prayer, does it not? But if it is stripped of its fine, pious language, it is really saying something like this: “Dear Father, I don’t want to disobey You, but I must have my own way at all costs. For I love what You do not love, and I want what You do not want. So please be a good God and let me take over my life. If You don’t like what I am doing please don’t spoil my plans, but let me enjoy myself.”
Have you ever tried to move God off his throne and put yourself there instead? Most of the time our prayers are wrong and selfish and God does not hear such prayers.
See the contrast of God turning from his anger against Jonah and Nineveh and Jonah turning to anger.
Jonah was angry with not punishing Nineveh:
Jonah 4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
Jonah 4:4 But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Jonah was angry with God for talking away the shade plant: Jonah 4:9 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.”
If you see Jonah’s anger, he was just angry at Nineveh. He was angry for one thing but now he is getting angry at each and every thing. That is the case with anger, we may be angry for our own selfish reasons but then we will get mad at everything around us and spoil everyone’s day.
So the Book of Jonah shows as man’s rebellious heart – Selfishness out of which everything arises.
If you really see the hero of this book is God. We will draw a few simple lessons on God and close this series today.
1. God’s sovereignty.
God is sovereign overall. God is sovereign over man, creature, and nature.
a. God’s sovereignty over man: God calls Jonah. God forgives and rescues Jonah. God gives Jonah the message. God makes the people of Nineveh hear the message. God makes people believe the message, repent and be converted, and come to worship Him. God forgives Nineveh.
b. God’s sovereignty over the creature: God prepares the fish. God has the fish swallow Jonah. God makes the fish vomit Jonah. God grows the plant that shelters Jonah. Finally, God who sends the worm that eats the plant.
c. God’s sovereignty over nature: It was God who started the storm. Then God clamed the sea and the storm. In one day God sent the scorching east wind and the sun burned upon Jonah.
It is God who does all of this. It is God who has power over creation, power over creature, and power over the nature. The God we serve is the sovereign. He is in control of all things.
2. God’s compassion.
God is compassionate about the world. Jonah 4:11 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?”
Nineveh was a great and evil city. It took three days to get through the city. God was compassionate about Nineveh. God was compassionate for the people in sin there. Jesus had compassion on the city of Jerusalem. Matthew 23:37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing
God is compassionate for the city of Bangalore. Bangalore is also great city with 8.52 million people, the third most populated city in India and the fifth urban city in India. Do you know that God is compassionate about our city? He is compassionate for the people in sin. Do you share that compassion or are you like Jonah, looking for selfish gains. God has put you as a missionary to the city of Bangalore. Be the change for the change to come.
3. God’s provision.
As much as God is sovereign and cares for a city, God is also compassionate about people’s individual needs. In spite of Jonah’s anger and rebellion God provided shade for Jonah. God cares for you today and he will provide for you in spite of our rebellion.
God is faithful to his creation. Matthew 5:45 He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Today God is proving for us not based on our credit but his faithfulness and love.
4. God’s love.
We saw how God loved both Jonah and Nineveh and did not punish them. But what we are going to see about the future of Israel and Nineveh is frightening. The future of this book is in the historic journals of the world as well as in parts in the Bible.
Israel who sent missionary Jonah to Nineveh with the message of repentance could not hold on to their holy life. The Ninevites (Assyrians) attack, defeat and take away people of Israel into exile in 722 BC, just 30-50 years after Jonah preaches to Nineveh. See the fall of Israel in 2 Kings 17:22-23 22The Israelites persisted in all the sins of Jeroboam and did not turn away from them 23until the Lord removed them from his presence, as he had warned through all his servants the prophets. So the people of Israel were taken from their homeland into exile in Assyria, and they are still there.
After warning and warning and warning, God’s people are defeated and taken into captivity. They not only defeat Israel but also defeated the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
The Book of Nahum talks about the judgment against Nineveh. The repentance that we see in Jonah did not last and God sends a warning again to the Nineveh though Nahum. In 612 BC is destroyed. Nahum 2:8-10 8Nineveh is like a pool whose water is draining away. “Stop! Stop!” they cry, but no one turns back. 9Plunder the silver! Plunder the gold! The supply is endless, the wealth from all its treasures! 10She is pillaged, plundered, stripped! Hearts melt, knees give way, bodies tremble, every face grows pale. There is no Nineveh today, the Babylonians and Medes destroyed in 612 BC.
So what do we learn from the God’s judgment on Israel and Nineveh? God is a holy and loving God. It is in his nature that he punishes sin. God’s love demands that he be just. So the wages of sin is death but those who believe in Jesus Christ, he has taken that sin in him. But if we keep on sinning against God, and God knows that sin is bad for us, he will punish sin out of his love.
For love of God to be truly loving there has to be judgment. If there is no judgment then there is no hope for a slave or a rape victim, for those who have been betrayed, rejected, cheated, robbed or face injustice here. In this world people get away with their wrongs and injustice but for God to be just and loving to you, he has to have a judgment where he holds man accountable for every word, every action, and every injustice he has done to God and others. God holds everyone accountable. Genesis 6:8 My spirit will not contend with man forever.
God’s ultimate love is displayed in the Great White Throne Judgment where God’s love is displayed for his people and wrath against the nonbelievers. This morning God is calling us to turn from our rebellion and wickedness to the grace of God. Amen!