The Purposeful Pursuit of the Grace of God (Jonah 4:1-11)
One of the top selling video game applications created for Apple’s Iphone is called “Pocket God.” Listen to the description given on Itunes: “What kind of god would you be? Benevolent or vengeful? Play Pocket God and discover the answer within yourself. On a remote island, you are the all-powerful god that rules over the primitive islanders. You can bring new life, and then take it away just as quickly.” Well, I did some more research on this to see what the options were to be a benevolent god as well as the vengeful god. I found one benevolent act: give the islanders a fishing rod. However, I found a plethora of things you can do as a vengeful God including “throwing islanders into volcanoes, using islanders as shark bait, bowling for islanders with a large rock, or creating earthquakes to destroy the islanders' villages.”
Wow, isn’t it interesting that there is a game where you can be your own god? Actually that’s how most people live anyway isn’t it? You can create God in your own image and live as you please. It is also interesting that the developers figure that the only roles people would want to play is the one of a vengeful god.
If Jonah was here today, he might be first in the game called “Pocket God.” Jonah wants to create God in his image and the image is a God of vengeance. He wants to put God in a box. Today we are in the final chapter. It would have been nice to end in Jonah 3 right? And the whole city repented and everyone lived happily ever after. But in Jonah 4, God will pursue Jonah to uncover Jonah’s heart. Thankfully, our God does not try to fit into the boxes we put Him in. And even more thankfully, our God does not give up on us when we try to do that. We have been studying these days in the book of Jonah. It is a short book with full of great truths and lessons for us. I am very thankful for Jonah 4. I’m glad it’s in here (though a lot of children’s bibles omit it). One of the things I love about the Bible is that it is so raw and real. There is no sugarcoating of the lives of these believers who struggled with the complexities and messiness of their hearts. I hope that encourages you! I hope you do not fall into the trap thinking Biblical characters or even famous Christians over history had this perfect life, on fire for God all the time, witnessing every day, praying five hours and never struggling with sin. Actually if you study anyone’s life closely, you will see that there are times when they are full of contradictions, yet it is God’s amazing grace that keeps them going.
Here we see that amazing grace (remember the theme of this series is “Grace in Pursuit”) again pursuing God’s prodigal prophet, Jonah. We saw God’s grace pursuing Jonah through the storm, the captain, the sailors and finally, the fish. We saw God’s grace capturing Jonah in Jonah 2. We saw God’s grace give Jonah another chance and God’s grace poured out and lavished upon the Ninevites in Jonah 3. Now if I was God, and I’m sure you all are thankful that I am not, I would have given up on Jonah way before, maybe on the boat, before the fish incident. And somehow if I did give him another chance in Jonah 3, by Jon. 4:1, I would have given up after seeing his little temper tantrum there. But no, our God of grace is extremely gracious. Our grace, if you want to call it that, has limits. God’s grace is limitless, even appealing and pursuing a self-righteous, judgmental, religious prophet. His capacity of grace is greater than our capacity to sin. And today we are going to look at the purpose of the pursuit of grace. Why does God pursue us with His grace? I want to make two observations about God’s grace today. One is a micro reason, a personal one. The second is a macro reason. First of all, then:
I. God extends His grace to us to reveal our deepest heart issues (Jon. 4:1-4)
I like the word “extends” which means “to stretch out; to draw out to full length.” God is all about extending grace in this book. I was amazed at the fish story in Jonah 2. I was even more amazed at God’s love for the lost in Jonah 3. However, I am even more astounded how this grace now extends to narrow minded, judgmental, racist, religious, angry prophet of God. Each time I draw the line of how far God’s grace can go, God broadens it even further. God’s grace does not color just between the lines. It colors the whole page. If only Jonah got that!
So revival happens in Nineveh. People are repenting left and right, everyone from the king to the commoner. Even their livestock join in. But wait a minute? Where’s Jonah in all of this? The last we heard of him he was preaching a five-word sermon in Jon. 3:4. Now the camera zooms in to one person, a person sitting by the city gate, perhaps in a corner, with his arms crossed, face downcast and smoke coming out of his ears. Look at Jonah 4:1. Notice “but.” We have seen in Jonah already that whenever you see someone butting up in the story (actually it’s been Jonah every time), it’s never good.
God’s anger has ceased, but Jonah’s has just begun, or perhaps, finally exploded. This guy is writhing in anger. The verse literally reads, “but Jonah was deeply offended and he was burning hot.” But this time he prays instead of running. Have you ever prayed in anger? I do appreciate the fact that he is not hiding his true feelings and purposefully praying about it.
And in his prayer, it is revealed for the first time the true reason for his running from God in Jonah 1. “I should have known! I knew it, I knew it!” Jonah says, stomping up and down like a two-year old. Jonah knew when God had called him the first time to go to Nineveh, the capital of Israel’s enemy, Assyria, that they deserved judgment. But in preaching about Yahweh’s judgment to them, there was the possibility that they might repent, and knowing Yahweh’s character, He will show them mercy when they do. He didn’t want anything to do with that. So he says he ran. Jonah cannot stand the fact that God is good and a God of grace and mercy. Do you know who Jonah is? He is like the elder brother in the prodigal son story, who represented the religious snobs of Jesus’ day, who loves grace for themselves, but unable to show grace to anyone else (Luke 15:25-32).
Notice what comes out of Jonah’s mouth about who God is. He is good at saying the religious things, like he does in Jon. 1:9, but believing it to point of changing his heart is another matter. He is quoting Ex. 34:6. The irony is amazing. God had saved Israel from Egypt. He miraculously delivered them from Pharaoh and the Egyptians through the Red Sea. God cared for them, loved them, provided for them and delivered them. And how does Israel thank God? They gather all their jewelry and make a golden calf and worship it saying, “This is the god that saved us!” (Ex. 32:8). But God, through Moses’ plea, forgives them and tells Moses to let the people of God’s character. “This is who I am,” God says, “A gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” God is gracious, a word that means, “He longs for and favors others.” A God who is “touched by simple human need.” He is merciful, one who is “tender in His affection.” He is slow to anger, describing how God “suffers long” as He does not delight in the death of unbelievers. And He is abounding in “hesed,” this loyal, steadfast, covenant love. The people of Israel owed their existence to the fact that God was who He was and had spared them time and time again of His wrath and extended grace to them. And what about Jonah himself? Why is he alive? He is alive because God was who He was and extended grace and mercy to him as well!
But no, God, that grace and mercy has a limit according to Jonah. He does not like how undeserving grace is. He cannot accept a God who “throws away” grace to anybody who asks. And Jonah, like Israel, does not admit how undeserving he was to receive it either and as a result, he has become self-righteous. He thinks God loves Israel because of who Israel is. No Jonah, God loves Israel because of who God is: a God of grace!
Jonah is making a box and trying to squish God into it and throw away the key. But God broke out of Jonah’s box and Jonah cannot stand for who He is. He cannot stand a God who is so lavish with His grace and extravagant with His love. Jonah’s angry because cannot control God. And what happens when circumstances do not go our way and the way we hoped it would go? We get angry. Now we get a clue to why in this entire story, Jonah never once truly says, “I’m sorry.” He doesn’t say sorry because he feels totally justified, now probably more justified than ever, that he was right about God. It is almost if he is coming up to God’s face exclaiming, “If I could this all over again, I would do it again and I would run faster and farther from this assignment!” Perhaps there is also the shame that a heathen nation’s repentance will bring on Israel and Jonah feels responsible for being a catalyst for it. His reputation was at stake here that God apparently doesn’t seem to care about.
And since Jonah can’t seem to change God’s mind, he wants out again. He wants to die. For Jonah, dying is better than living, if the enemies are going to live. This is the second time he asks for this. The funny thing is that he is so thankful he did not die in Jonah 2 and now that’s all he wants here. He is full of contradictions. Are we any different?
But notice how God responds to Jonah. Notice that He would even have this conversation with Jonah! What that tells me is that God is never satisfied with compliance without conviction. “Ok God, I’ll do what you want me to” is not enough for God. He wants conviction from Jonah. He wants to take Jonah deeper with Him and God will never relent from doing the same in our lives.
God answers Jonah, in typical fashion, with a question. He wants Jonah to get to the root of his anger. This is very similar to how God dealt with Adam, Eve and Cain, as He does not ask the question for His benefit, but for theirs. Jonah, is this really necessary? One translator suggests God is asking, “Are you right to be angry? Are you sure you have gauged this situation accurately?” Notice God does not rebuke Jonah for criticizing Him with a thundering “Who do you think you are?” Neither does He leave Jonah to himself. What is God doing? He is being true to His character, whether to Ninevites or a sulking, angry religious prophet. God is extending His grace to show Jonah’s His deepest heart issues. Grace always goes farther than we expect. But Jonah doesn’t see the grace that God is extending like the Ninevites did and respond in repentance.
Beloved, God is interested in your deepest heart issues. We like to treat the symptoms, but God likes to treat the cause. I’ve been saying this the entire series. God is not a make-up artist, but an interior designer. God is not done with us and we are under construction, but do not think that you simply sitting here and doing some religious things will bring the change that God desires to see in you. He extends the grace, but we must receive it and experience it for it to transform us. Interestingly, Jonah makes an observation in Jonah 2:8: “Those who cling to idols forsake the hope of hesed.” Notice that God is coming to Him with that hesed love, but Jonah is clinging tightly to his idol of Jonah. One pastor says, “He is more committed to his own concepts of God and how God should act than he is to God himself.” Jonah, like Israel, is self-absorbed and self-deceived. In Hebrew, “I” or “my” occurs nine times here in these verses. Jonah’s is about Jonah and he clings so tightly to himself, that he cannot se God clearly.
As a result, we have power struggles with God. We have those hall closets in our heart that we will not give over to God. We have certain sins we do not want to give up. And God’s grace then hits a barrier. And when you are about you, you cannot see God correctly and you go through life looking at the symptoms, going through the motions and never allowing God, who is interested in getting to the heart of the problem, which is always the problem of the heart. God cannot clean the house of you, one author put it, if you are still in it. And if you are about you, it is a huge barrier to God’s grace changing you. Every breakthrough in our life will come with a collision of grace and our sin. But if we never deeply think and pray about who we are and why we do the things we do, we will never experience the breakthrough. And not only that, you will try to create God into your image, to fit your agenda, and when things go wrong, when you realize you cannot control God, your expectations are not met and then you end up in anger. Just ask Jonah.
Secondly and lastly,
II. God extends His grace to us so we can extend it to the lost (Jonah 4:5-11)
Why does God want to meet you at your deepest heart issues? Why does He extend that grace to you? Is it so you can feel better about yourself? Is it so that you can just be blessed? No, He does it so that you can be a blessing. Look at Psalm 67:1-2: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us.” Oh, we love for God to do that! Shine your face upon me Lord! But why? Verse 2 gives us the reason: “So that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.” How much of your heart you surrender to Jesus Christ will determine how much of you He can use to pour out into the lives of others.
In this paragraph, through Jonah, I want you to see barriers that keep us from extending grace to the lost. Here is barrier #1:
a) When I choose comfort over conviction
The whole situation grows from bad to worse. Notice Jonah does not even answer God’s question. He again leaves God’s presence in silence in Jonah 4:5. We are so much like Jonah. God points out a weak spot in our heart, convicts us of an issue, calls us to repent, and what do we do? We say, “I’ll think about that…later, after I watch the Bears game.” And we find a more comfortable place to be. By the way, he is not even interested in following through with the Ninevites, i.e. helping the Ninevites understand more about God or even praying with them.
Jonah makes a shelter of some sort, probably with leaves and branches. He sets up on the east side of he city, because it was “up in the hill country, up at an elevation.” And so he sits outside Nineveh with a great view, still waiting for God to destroy it. Notice the contrast. One commentator notes, “Inside the city walls, the king of Nineveh sits in great discomfort in sackcloth and ashes, hoping that, just perhaps his city will be saved. Jonah, meanwhile, sits in silence outside the city walls, waiting for it to be destroyed.” Now the question arises if Jonah was in Nineveh for 40 days already or if this conversation with God happened before the 40 days was up. Most likely, I think Jonah preached and saw that the Ninevites responded immediately, and then fearing his worst nightmare coming true, had this conversation with God in anger (Jon. 4:1-4) and stormed out to wait for the 40 days to be up. Perhaps he wondered if the Ninevites would go back to their wicked ways within the 40 days. So he picked a good spot, made a temporary shelter and hoped for some Sodom-and-Gomorrah type of fireworks to happen. So he must have sat there for a while since Jonah does not see any fire and brimstone come upon the city. And after some time, he gets very uncomfortable sitting out there. It is probably close to 120 degrees in the desert sun. Notice that Jonah can’t even take care of himself as his homemade shelter fails him. So what does God do here?
God intervenes here and make for Jonah his personal roof. Here is barrier #2:
b) When I am blind to acts of grace in my own life
Again, God acts in grace. And since Jonah is not going to respond to verbal reasoning, God decides to use an object lesson. God is all about creative learning, using a large thing like this fish or a small thing like a worm. So just like God appointed a fish in Jonah 1:17, He “appoints,” a plant, probably with large leaves. By the way, “appoints” is a word, which means to “…provide, or prepare to fulfill His purpose.” All of God’s appointed creatures in the book of Jonah fulfill their purpose, that is, except Jonah. But again, grace in pursuit! What compassion God extends to this sulking, pouting prophet here. Even in the midst of his unrighteous anger and silence toward God, God responds with such grace. But God is not merely being nice to Jonah, but trying to take his circumstances to reveal Jonah’s heart to Jonah as well as to reveal God’s heart to Jonah in an effort for him to repent and be used by God to reach others. That is the goal of grace, to be moved so much by it that it spills out in others lives. That was God’s desire here in these verses.
Notice how Jonah reacts. He is “exceedingly glad.” But no mention is made of giving thanks to Yahweh for His provision. Before in Jonah 4:1 he was “exceedingly angry.” Is this guy bi-polar or what? I once saw this t-shirt at Moody that someone had after the pastor’s conference that said “Moody Pastors.” I wanted to get that for myself, and maybe one for Jonah here. Jonah is so moody. He is full of contradictions, but God extends grace to him. Again, notice the fact that Jonah loves when there is provision made for him, but hates when God wants to graciously provide for the Ninevites.
Look what happens next. God is not merely interested in Jonah’s comfort. He is interested in Jonah’s character, so He has more “appointing” to do. This time a worm comes and attacks the plant. To make matters worse, the desert wind starts to blow. Jonah was hoping judgment was going to fall on Nineveh, but it seems like it is falling on him instead. And now deprived of all comfort, Jonah, physically exhausted, is depressed again and wants to die. Jonah is experiencing what it feels like to have God remove grace from His life. It stinks. It is horrible. Bob Deffinbaugh observes, “When you stop to think about it, Jonah should have found it easier to identify with the worm than with the plant. He, like the worm, seemed to find greater fulfillment in the destruction of God’s creations than in bringing pleasure, as the plant brought shade and enjoyment to Jonah.” But Jonah is blind to how good God’s been to him so far and the fact that even in his second stubborn rebellion, when his homemade shelter failed him, that God makes a personal shade for him, he doesn’t see it. Beloved, every day, I pray God opens our eyes to see all the acts of grace He bestows on our lives. His fingerprints are everywhere? Do we see it? If we don’t see it, how are we going to help others see it? The third barrier is this:
c) When my love is misplaced
God is also showing Jonah here how he is wrapped up with himself. His happiness comes from temporary pleasures. I will give my joy to those things that bring me temporary comfort. That is what my life is about. Is that what our lives are about? Worm-eaten plants? Fleeting pleasures? Jonah’s love is misplaced here. One of the ways our love is different from God’s love is that God always values people most. The saying goes, “in God’s city, the inhabitants love people and walk on gold, while in man’s city, the inhabitants love gold and walk on people.” No wonder we cannot extend grace to others. And God again comes to him with grace, again asking a question. This time Jonah replies, “I am angry enough to die!” In Hebrew, the force of Jonah’s reply is really as if he curses here. And the last word recorded of Jonah in the book is literally one of death. One commentator says, “In his questioning and quarreling with God he loses all that makes life worth living.”
I want you to notice something here. There are three parallel statements here, with each beginning with a divine appointment: the plant, the worm and the wind. Each appointment ends in Jonah’s reaction to it. When God appointed the plant, Jonah was exceedingly glad. When God appointed the wind (coupled with the hot sun), Jonah was angry again. But no mention is given of how Jonah reacted to the plant. How did Jonah react to the plant? The storyteller puts it in the mouth of God.
Look at Jonah 4:10: “You PITY the plant” (emphasis mine, and I don’t mean to sound like Mr. T here). Jonah actually felt compassion for something for the first time. The word “pity” here literally means, “to have tears in one’s eyes.” God tells Jonah, “You pitied something for which you had no personal involvement in whatsoever. You were not the reason for the plant’s origin or its growth. You may have helped a little to prune it, cultivate it or water it, but nevertheless, the whole thing is here not because of you. In fact, you had compassion for something that was here one moment and gone the next.” Jonah, you did not labor for the plant. It was a gift from God. You put so much value in something that does not last. And even this compassion is not really compassion. Deffinbaugh notes, “Jonah’s “compassion” is not really centered on the plant, but rather on what that plant did for him. The plant made him very happy. Had the plant not pleased Jonah, he would have had no compassion toward it at all. Jonah’s compassion was really self-centered. He cared for himself, but not for others.” Do I value what God values? Is my love placed on the wrong things?
And underlying in this verse is God letting us know more about His love and grace. The essence of love is to labor for something and make it grow. Love and labor are inseparable. We love that for which we labor and we labor for that which we love. And I can tell where my love is by the things I labor for. If I love the lost, I will labor for them. By the way, I am blessed by how much many of you take time dialoging and loving the lost every Friday night, even long after the bible study is done! Notice the word “perish.” It is used of the captain speaking of human life in Jon. 1:6 and again from the king, also speaking of human life, in Jon. 3:9. What is God implying? I think it is the fact that Jonah was more concerned about the plant that perished than if Nineveh perished. But also notice how much God labors for Jonah to get His heart. What does that tell you Jonah about my love for you?
But God’s argument is amazing. He is putting the spotlight on His heart and on Jonah’s. He argues from the lesser to the greater. Jonah, you felt compassion for what is lowest on the value scale: plant life. Should I not care about 120,000 people who are ignorant? I thought originally that this phrase: “who do not know their right hand from their left,” was talking about the children in the city, but I think it is a picture of their ignorance of God and His Word. They are moral infants. They are lost, wandering around in darkness.
God is saying, you put value on what has lowest value in the world: plants. You felt compassion for it. You cared for something that cost you nothing. However, should I not put more value in human life, for which I have labored? Human life, which I have cared, provided, cultivated in love, who live in ignorance of me? And not to mention the cattle, i.e. animals, of lower value? One commentator adds, to translate Yahweh here, “Your attachment to [the plant] could not be very deep, for it was here one day and gone the next. Your concern was dictated by self-interest, not by a genuine love. You never had for it the devotion of the gardener. If you feel as badly as you do, what would you expect a gardener to feel like, who tended a plant and watched it grow only to see it wither and die, poor thing? And this is how I feel about Nineveh, only much more so.”
This sounds like Jesus doesn’t it? “Look at the birds of the air. They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt. 6:26). And in fact, Jesus will show how much value God would put on human life wouldn’t He? He would show that God not only cared for, provided for or grew humans, but even more, God himself would die on a cross their behalf, so they may not perish. Should not God show compassion for something that cost Him everything?
Notice the abrupt ending. God ends with a question. The answer needs to come from us examining and comparing our hearts with God’s. God essential is saying, “Come with me Jonah and all believers. See my heart of compassion for the lost. Stop living so self-centered and self-absorbed in your religious ways. Join me in spreading my love to all nations. I love them so much and desire for them to come to know me.” By the way, according to history, the next generation of Ninevites went back to their violent ways and ended up taking Israel into exile. But later, the Medes and the Babylonians would destroy Nineveh. And many wonder what happened to Jonah. But I think the question is not, “Did Jonah get it?” The question is for us, “Do we get it?”
God is challenging Jonah to let go of his tribalism and embrace God’s missional heart. A tribal community exists for themselves and for self-preservation. They want to make sure they protect themselves from those who are different from them. They run away from their enemies. They hoard God’s blessings for themselves. They are like reservoirs instead of channels. They think if everyone were like us, this world would be a better place. The missional heart does not care about self-preservation, but self-sacrifice. The missional community lives is willing to sacrifice inconvenience and comfort to reach others on God’s behalf. They run toward their enemies. In this way, they are like God, who not only runs toward His enemies, but even dies for them. They are channels, not reservoirs.
As we close here, I want us to consider a few questions. First of all, what has God called us to do where we are in constant battle with him over? Where do we not allow the grace of God to come and reach us? Have the circumstances of life broken the shell of prideful individualism in our lives? Or maybe I want to control God to do things in my way and in my timetable and I am angry that circumstances have not gone my way? Do I live for worm-eaten plants? Where is my value? Is it on the stuff I have? Is my value on the comforts of my life? And will losing those things cause more pain in my heart than if a lost loved one died without Christ today? Do I have misplaced love? Am I constantly aware of God’s gracious acts in my life? Do I have God’s heart of compassion? Who are my Ninevites? Are there people we resist loving and caring for because their values, beliefs, or lifestyle contradicts ours? Am I a tribal or a missional Christian?
These are a lot of questions to consider here for us as end in Jonah. The greatest news is that God’s grace pursues us today, not simply to reveal the depth of our sin, but the depth of His love as well. And this revelation is not simply to revel in, but to fill us up, so God can pour us out in reaching the lost around us. Grace has come for us. Grace has a name: Jesus Christ. A greater than Jonah is here. We are all Jonah’s, so incredibly lost and stubborn, stuck in our religious, narrow-minded Pharisaical ways. But for Jonahs like us, a greater Jonah has come, thrown overboard in the ocean of God’s wrath, where God did not relent the disaster that was to come on Him, then in utter darkness for three days in the belly of death, He rose to life and lives today, not just for us, but that through us, the whole world may know that Jesus saves.
Taken from http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/pocket-god/id301387274?mt=8# accessed 22 January 2011.
Lowery, Brian. managing editor, PreachingToday.com; http://www.apple.com/iphone/
(Pocket God entry) taken from http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2009/april/3042009.html accessed 20 January 2011.
Taken from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/extend accessed 22 January 2011.
Baldwin, J. (583).
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Nixon, R. (186).
Walvoord, J.F., Zuck. R.B. et al, Ibid.
Tchvidjian, T. (115).
Goins, Doug. “Jonah: Developing a Concern like God’s.”
http://www.pbc.org/files/messages/6235/4345.html accessed 20 January 2011.
McGee, J. V. (1997). Thru the Bible Commentary (electronic ed.) (Jon 4:5). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Nixon, R. (194).
Tom Constable. (2003; 2003). Tom Constable's Expository Notes on the Bible (Jon 4:7). Galaxie Software.
Deffinabugh, Bob. “No more Mr. Nice Guy,” http://bible.org/seriespage/nineveh’s-repentance-and-jonah’s-wrath-jonah-3-4 accessed 20 January 2011.
Tchividjian, T. (134).
Baldwin, J. (587).
Nixon, R. (200).
Deffinabugh, B. Ibid.
Allen, L. C. (1976). The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (234). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Tchividjian, T. (135).