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Jonah 4

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Learning Compassion

The book of Jonah is a favourite of mine – wonderful prophecy and pictures of Jesus. But why it is special to me is that the LORD has spoken to me personally in it and challenged me. It is the chapter before us today that penetrated through to my core – it is the rather strange story of a gourd that grows up overnight only to die the next day. The message of the chapter is a simple one: compassion! Jonah was a prophet, he heard from God, had the right answers, knew God …. But he lacked compassion! That strikes very close to home! I can be so analytical and correct in my doctrine but when it comes to feeling for my fellow man ….! Probably the reason the LORD gave me a wife and family was to try to teach some warmth to a cold heart. In chapter 3 there had been a great response to Jonah’s preaching, the Assyrians believed יהוה’s message and repented, God’s anger was turned aside, greatest revival recorded in the Bible. Surely that is the end of the story - chapter 4 deals with Jonah’s reaction to the revival. Though he was very grateful for God’s loving-kindness and mercy to himself, he was none to happy when Nineveh was a recipient of it. Like us, undeserving sinners soon forget they are objects of grace and mercy and think themselves superior to others and that others are unworthy to receive God’s mercy. I know the grace of God toward myself and am extremely grateful for it but when it comes to others I am not so eager for grace and mercy to be extended. I should not be preaching this chapter; I still need to learn its lesson! How can the uncompassionate teach compassion? Jonah had to be taught the lesson again that it is only by God’s grace and mercy and kindness that our life continues. God had saved a wayward prophet from the ocean depths because of His loving-kindness - should He not show it to others also? This quality which Jonah so appreciated, he now despises (v.2) because it is extended to others. God rebukes the prophet: he must be shown that God loves all His creatures, not only sinful Ninevites but even dumb cattle. READ

Devoid of compassion [v.1-4] v.1 – What displeased Jonah? (Read 3:10) – That God had compassion! That He relented and didn’t carryout the judgement that he had prophesied. יהוה relented (had compassion). Don’t you find this strange? After all he had preached to them, didn’t he want them to listen and respond? Here is the greatest revival, response, repentance ever recorded in the Bible – and he is not happy! Prophets had a miserable lot – their message was almost universally rejected – here at last one has a positive response to his preaching and he is upset! God listened and responded – here was יהוה’s hand evidently at work – he was dissatisfied! We want people to be saved – it is hard to conceive this attitude, or is it? Evan Thomas knows how hard it is to get Palestinians and Jewish Christians to fellowship together – the hurts run deep. How would you like sitting in church next to someone who had raped your daughter or impaled your husband on a stake? But we find it hard to overcome far less obstacles! I know people who will not fellowship with another just because of something the other once said – don’t go to fellowship because they have ‘been hurt’! They don’t know what hurt is!! How ready are we to forgive? Love our enemies? Do we want the Mongrel mob to be saved? – Or what about the sexual offenders we preach to in the prison? How comfortable would I be with one of them teaching in Sunday school? Do I really want God to have mercy? Muslim fundamentalists …. [Elizabeth Elliot went to live among the Aucas who had murdered her husband]. Jonah was incensed - he trembled, so great was his displeasure and burned with anger. His prophecy had not come about - was his professional pride piqued? Instead of wanting the hearers of the message to respond and repent, he wanted them to harden their hearts and be destroyed by God! Plain vindictiveness! He was totally devoid of compassion. It must have been frustrating to see this exceedingly wicked, godless, nation respond to one day’s preaching when his whole career of prophesying in Israel had brought about no large scale change of heart. v.2 - Jonah prayed and let his complaint be known to יהוה. Jonah had not fully repented of his disobedience to God’s call, for here he is still justifying his action. We see the real reason for his fleeing - it wasn’t fear of the Assyrians but based on a true knowledge of God’s character - he knew God was gracious, compassionate, and slow to become angry, abounding in loving-kindness and relenting concerning the calamity he intended. Jonah had seen this nature again and again in יהוה’s dealings with His people - Jonah did not want to see this same goodness to be extended toward his arch enemies. He knew God wouldn’t follow through with His judgment and that’s what happened. v.3 - He didn’t want to serve a God that showed kindness to his arch enemies. Jonah no longer wanted to live. There was no purpose for him anymore - he was a prophet but no longer wished to proclaim יהוה’s message, so what was left for him? He had prophesied the destruction of Nineveh and it had not come to pass - he was a failure as a prophet. Like Elijah, when his message from יהוה failed, Jonah asked יהוה to take his life [though in Elijah’s case the word came to pass but didn’t produce repentance, in Jonah’s case the word didn’t come to pass but did produce repentance - Jonah was concerned with his reputation as prophet, Elijah’s concern was for the state of the people]. v.4 - יהוה doesn’t specifically answer Jonah’s complaint - it is patently ridiculous to complain against God’s kindness and goodness - it is the illogical ravings of an angry man. יהוה points Jonah to examine his statement - does he have good reason to be angry? Does he, of all people, have reason to criticize God’s merciful and compassionate nature, when it was God’s kindness, mercy and compassion that rescued him from a watery grave? יהוה’s response directed Jonah to consider the mercy that he had received. He was an object of mercy, why should others not be also? We stand only by יהוה’s grace - who are we to say which other undeserving should not also be recipients of it? We are like the man forgiven so much, yet doesn’t want those in debt to him to be forgiven (Matt 18:21-35) or those paid the same at the end of a full day’s work (Matt 20:1-15). Should Jonah be angry because others had received grace just as he had? Though miraculously delivered himself, Jonah had not yet learnt to have compassion for others. In his fit of rage he had become focused on himself (those wishing themselves dead are always overly taken up with themselves and their own situation) - so God, in His unbounded love had not given up on Jonah, continued to teach the introverted prophet to look outside himself and have compassion for the lost, for those who face death. In the ship Jonah was unconcerned for the perishing sailors (cf. 1:5, 6) he was dispassionate about death, unconcerned even for his own death (1:12; 4:3), he was unconcerned over the death of innocent Nineveh (3:10-4:1, 11). Where is our compassion for the lost, our concern for those on their way to imminent destruction?! Jonah knew God, knew יהוה, was close to God on an individual level, heard His voice, but he had no compassion for others! Sound familiar?! Jonah had to be shown that God loves all His creatures, not only sinful Ninevites but even dumb cattle and plants (v.6-11).

God’s character: compassionate [v.2] - gracious, compassionate, abounding in loving-kindness Jonah knew God, knew יהוה’s character - he knew He was gracious, compassionate, and slow to become angry, abounding in loving-kindness and relenting concerning the calamity he intended. This is the nature of יהוה that was revealed to Moses on the mountain (cf. Exodus 34:6 Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving-kindness and truth; - cf. also Num 14:18; Psalm 86:5, 15; Joel 2:13). This is יהוה who is: GRACIOUS, COMPASSIONATE, SLOW TO ANGER, ABUNDANT IN LOVING-KINDNESS, PITYING and RELENTING concerning calamity. Jonah had seen this nature again and again in יהוה’s dealings with His people - Jonah did not want the Assyrians to receiveit. He knew that God would have compassion. Jonah despised God’s inherent goodness because it was extended to those other than Israel - national and spiritual pride. Jonah judged Assyria as undeserving of God’s mercy - he judged! - placed himself above God! Though Jonah didn’t want the knowledge of God to come to the Gentiles, Jonah is a clear prophecy that this is יהוה’s intention: to extend His mercy and salvation to Gentiles also - both sailors and Ninevites. This was a radical departure from the Jewish thinking of the time. Isaiah took up this theme but it was not a welcomed concept (cf. Luke 4:24-29). Compassion is part of יהוה ‘s nature.

Compassion on the uncompassionate [v.5-6] v.5 – Jonah doesn’t respond to יהוה‘s question – in petulant anger he left the city, he wasn’t talking with יהוה anymore. Jonah was preoccupied with the city (3x in this verse), he had done the task given for him, now he did nothing - he just sat (2x). He went out of the city having finished his preaching - he didn’t stay to instruct those penitent sinners in the way of יהוה whom they were so desperately seeking. He did not want to be contaminated by the unclean goyim. He didn’t nurture them for still he hoped for the destruction of the city. Still wanting his prophecy to be fulfilled, he wouldn’t let it go even though יהוה had relented. יהוה had compassion but there was none in the heart of this prophet – he wanted the full force of יהוה ‘s wrath to strike them in judgement. He sat outside the city watching it - watching for its destruction - maybe even praying for it. East of the city is on the city furthermost from the land of Israel - he was still moving away from God. In the scorching Mesopotamian sun he would soon perish, so he constructed himself a temporary shelter, sitting in the shade, anticipating, longing for Nineveh’s destruction. v.6 - As יהוה appointed a fish (cf. 1:17), He now appointed a plant to grow up. He taught Jonah compassion by having compassion and showing compassion. Jonah showed no compassion, but still יהוה had compassion on him because that is His nature, His character. He causes the sun to rise on the just and unjust. But man made substitutes are never as good as God’s handiwork. Jonah’s shade was hardly adequate so יהוה had pity on him and caused a plant to grow to be shade over his head and to deliver him from his discomfort. Jonah would endure discomfort just so he could witness the destruction of Nineveh! Despite his continued going contrary to God’s will and objecting to God’s mercy and kindness, יהוה still continued to show mercy, kindness and compassion to him. יהוה saw his state, had compassion on his misery and alleviated it. Jonah was extremely happy when this plant grew. Jonah did delight in deliverance, in salvation, in יהוה showing mercy and kindness to those in distress. Again Jonah was a living parable.

A lesson in compassion [v.7-9] v.7 - But his happiness didn’t last long - he soon reverted to his depression and anger (cf. v.1, 3). Again יהוה "appointed" - He is sovereign - in absolute control over all creation, commanding individual creatures, down to a tiny worm. יהוה appointed a fish (1:17); a plant (4:6); now a worm. The plant that יהוה had provided, the worm killed. Both were at the LORD’s direction. The LORD brings into being, gives life and takes it - it is all in the hands of ׃יהוה Why did He provide it, if the next day He was going to destroy it? – In order to teach the cold-hearted prophet compassion! By making Jonah experience loss, destruction of something he valued and appreciated, that brought him joy and pleasure, he would feel for that which life had been so transitory and futile. Thus Jonah would feel compassion (cf. v.10). If he felt compassion for something so valueless and lacking consciousness as a plant, how much more should he feel compassion for living souls who would have likewise been destroyed. If a plant should be given a chance to live, how much more should innocent people (cf. v.11)! v.8 - God appointed a fish (1:17), then a plant (4:6), then a worm (4:7), now a wind. Mighty, sovereign, all powerful, in absolute control, is יהוה! - Directing both great and small to do His will - they carry out His commands. God, in compassion, provided shade for Jonah - but it was the same God who removed it and then compounded Jonah’s plight by sending a scorching east wind (heated by travelling over the baked Mesopotamian plain) and the sun beating down on his head. God can be kind but He can also be severe (cf. Romans 11:22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.). The happiness of Jonah soon evaporated. Not only "good" but also "bad" is from the LORD - in fact both were good, for they were part of יהוה’s teaching and training of His servant. We tend to evaluate "good" and "bad" from out own personal, subjective (selfish) point of view - we don’t appreciate יהוה’s purpose - that the discomfort can produce in us good. But Jonah certainly didn’t appreciate what had taken place. יהוה used Jonah’s self interest (his preoccupation with himself) to teach him concern and compassion for others! Great and marvellous and wondrous are the ways of יהוה! Once again Jonah wished himself dead (cf. v.3) - יהוה had delivered him from the sea, and from the sun’s heat, and still he did not trust יהוה’s loving-kindness. יהוה had preserved him thus far, would He not continue to do so? Did יהוה save him, just to destroy him? Did He provide shade, just to tantalize him before letting him fry in the sun? But Jonah was so totally taken up with himself and his own situation, that when things went against him he wanted to pack it in, give up and die. But Jonah was far from really wanting to die - he was too angry - there was still very much remaining of his human will - he was still fighting God - his will pitted against God - he disapproved of God’s ways i.e. was judging יהוה, setting himself as superior to Him!! Jonah was not yet broken. v.9 - Again God asks Jonah if he does well to be angry (cf. v.4). This is teaching – ask a question, give some training then repeat the question. The same question but in (v.4) יהוה asks but Jonah doesn’t reply - he is out of communication with God - distancing himself from Him (east of the city). יהוה acts in compassion by appointing the plant but from then on it is "God" (אֱלֹהִים) not יהוה - Jonah has distanced himself - it is now no longer a personal relationship but the remote acts of Almighty. Here, in (v.9), God speaks to Jonah not יהוה. But this time Jonah replies - he is so incensed that he answers back to God in his self-centred frame of mind: "Yes, I have every right to be angry, even to death!" storms the petulant prophet. He was angry because the plant’s life had been taken from it - it had only lived a day - that which Jonah loved and appreciated was snuffed out before it had chance to live. Jonah had lived the lesson (cf. v.11) - a living parable.

The message of Jonah: compassion [v.10-11] - the question repeated v.10 - A different word for "compassion" (חוס) is used in (v.10, 11; cf. נחם 3:9, 10; 4:2) – Jonah’s compassion is not God’s compassion, it is mere human sentiment. Now God speaks once again to Jonah as יהוה - he has been brought close again - in compassion, as to a son, יהוה speaks to Jonah and brings out the lesson from what he has gone through. Jonah has been brought to the state of feeling compassion! - And that for a plant! A plant that only existed for one day! A plant that he had had nothing to do with - he hadn’t planted it, nurtured it, planned for it, caused it to grow - Jonah spent his compassion on something barely worthy of it. How much more should יהוה have compassion - have compassion on what He had planned, brought into being, caused to grow, human souls - souls that are eternal - souls over which He had laboured. [Hannah breaks rubbish bin] I can get more upset when something breaks than when a soul is eternally lost! v.11 - If Jonah had compassion on a plant, how much more was יהוה right to have compassion on Nineveh, that great city. For in it there were many innocent people and animals that had done no wrong - weren’t involved in the atrocities of the Assyrians. It only takes a few innocent ones to cause יהוה to spare a city - for He will not destroy the innocent with the guilty (cf. Gen 18:22-32). Yes, יהוה is concerned about animals too! If Jonah felt compassion for a plant will not God have compassion on animals? יהוה had finally taught His prophet compassion. What is the message of Jonah? – Compassion – it runs through the whole book. Compassion on the sailors at sea, compassion on Jonah in the depths of the sea, compassion on Jonah in the belly of the fish, compassion on the city of Nineveh, compassion on a prophet frying in the sun. יהוה is compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in loving-kindness! This is the lesson of Jonah – it is easy to see that but a lot harder to be that. Jonah finally learnt, I can preach it but I still need to learn it.

? the lesson learnt - who wrote Jonah? – That’s where the book ends, but not where the story ends. What about Jonah, the man? Written in third person, but Jonah is the only one who could have written it. It is the story of his life – how differently I would have told it if I were him. Autobiographies are bit of blowing your own trumpet. I would have downplayed the disobedience bit, played up the response to the preaching, left out that unnecessary incident at the end, left with the story on a high. If I had mentioned the events of this last chapter I would have mentioned how the LORD had taught me and I had learnt the lesson of God’s nature. No, Jonah is quite prepared to allow himself to appear bad in order that others may learn of God. Did Jonah learn the lesson of the יהוה’s compassion? Of course he did – otherwise he wouldn’t have written the book. Jonah had learnt the lesson! This we know for the lesson is recorded in this prophecy written by Jonah, and because he was back in relationship with God as יהוה. Chastened concerning his hardness of heart, coldness and lack of compassion, it is a mark of the humility and greatness of this prophet that he does not record his learning of the lesson. From being a self-centred man, he has nothing more to say about himself. He leaves himself in the position of being the small-minded man with no compassion in order that others may learn from his experience. His reputation is of no importance - what is important is that the lesson of having compassion for the lost, even our cruel, heathen barbaric godless enemies who persecute us - that all men need to be saved. That יהוה has compassion on all and saves all who repent. HAVE COMPASSION FOR THE LOST! - Those headed for destruction. This was the heart of Jesus (cf. Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” 15:1-32; 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.). Jonah paints himself in that petulant position at the end – all he wants is to portray יהוה, His character, not himself. Everyone knows Jonah as the disobedient prophet – he disobeyed, ran away from God, obeyed reluctantly, was angry, unmerciful, petty, vindictive – this is how Jonah paints himself. But which prophet did Jesus draw attention to more than any other? Jonah – why? Because he humbled himself in order that God might be seen. Jonah did not seek to vindicate himself – but God did! Chose him to be the sign - the prophecy of Jesus death, burial and resurrection - His victory over sin, death, the grave and satan! – Why? because he had the same attitude of humility that was in Christ Jesus and in the other prophet that Jesus honoured: John the Baptist who said, “He must increase and I must decrease.” He had learnt meekness and compassion - may we also.

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