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Jonah's Pity Party and God's Compassion

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Jonah’s Pity Party and God’s Compassion

Jonah 4


The most pleasurable journey you take is through yourself...the only sustaining love involvement is with yourself...When you look back on your life and try to figure out where you’ve been and where you’re going, when you look at your work, your love affairs, your marriages, your children, your pain, your happiness—when you examine all that closely, what you really find out is that the only person you really go to bed with is yourself...The only thing you have is working to the consummation of your own identity. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do all my life.

Shirley MacLaine

I have not come across a single person besides Shirley Maclaine who has so candidly expressed their motivation for everything they did.

• While many would never say it out loud but they may be living it.

• Selfishness is the enemy of God.

• Selfishness is the enemy of God’s sovereignty

• Selfishness is the enemy of God’s mercy.

• Jonah and Shirley Maclaine have much in common-their attitudes are remarkably the same.

• But as we will see today, Maclaine one day will have to face her maker and Jonah had to stand in front of God and account for his attitude.

• Today we will conclude our series on the book of Jonah with the culmination of God’s lesson to Jonah about his sovereignty and his mercy.

• Jonah’s Displeasure (4:1-3)

4:1 This displeased Jonah terribly and he became very angry. 4:2 He prayed to the Lord and said, “Oh, Lord, this is just what I thought would happen when I was in my own country. This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish! – because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment. 4:3 So now, Lord, kill me instead, because I would rather die than live!” 4:4 The Lord said, “Are you really so very angry?”

• Jonah has practically redeemed himself.

• He has gone through a miraculous episode with God and has been willing to be obedient to God by declaring his message to Nineveh.

• We are left at the end of chapter three with a demonstration of repentance and of God’s mercy.

• For anyone commissioned by God to bring a message of God’s judgment and then see them reconcile to God would more than likely bring joy and praise but not for Jonah.

• Through all that has happened he has maintained his nationalistic prejudice.

• Verse one states that Jonah was extremely angry-in the Hebrew it reads “It became evil to Jonah as a great evil”

• This kind of double use of a phrase indicates the intensity of Jonah’s anger.

• God declared judgment on Jonah’s enemies in 40 days if they did not repent because he was angry at their sin.

• But as they repented his anger cooled and they found his mercy.

• As God’s anger subsided, Jonah’s was building because he saw what was happening.

• It says that he became very angry-literally “It burned in him”

• Jonah was fuming with anger that consumed his entire being.

• So in his anger he prays to God with accusation and lament.

• Verse 2 reveals plainly for the first time the reason Jonah fled to Tarshish.

• He had it in his mind that by running away he might prevent God’s mercy

• All along Jonah has maintained in his heart a belief that only Israel deserved God’s compassion-it was beyond him to understand how God could give favor to any other nation.

• But he reveals that he did think about it for Jonah may have recounted the times God provided mercy to those who did not deserve it.

• He may have recalled when Moses appealed to God to not destroy the people after they had made the golden calf.

• Or when they were wandering in the wilderness and God had mercy despite all the complaining.

• So Jonah laments that God is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, great in mercy and relents concerning judgment.

• The impression that we are left with is that Jonah is having a huge pity party or temper tantrum.

• He saying, “God how can you be so nice, stop treating others with mercy because that is something only Israel should receive”

• Almost like a spoiled child Jonah complains about God’s goodness because his goodness should be reserved for him.

• So his response to God is the desire to die-If I don’t get my way I will hold my breath until I die.

• Jonah’s anger was so consuming that he wanted to be removed from seeing God do something nice for someone else and death seemed to be his answer.

• What we are seeing in Jonah an incredible example of selfishness.

• Further we see Jonah display a tremendous example of warped injustice.

• He has no problem seeing God’s kindness when it is directed at his interests but when God show goodness to others he is outraged.

• We see this in our world all the time-we determine what is right and wrong depending on our own interests.

• For example: Women’s rights over the rights of the unborn.

• For example: Human rights but only as far as it does not interfere with a liberal agenda.- religious freedom vs. gay marriage.

• Because God did not act the way he wanted Jonah flew into a fuming rage.

• But God responds to Jonah with a question that makes better sense when translated “What right do you have to be angry”

• God asks this rhetorical question to say to Jonah, “Is it not my right to do as I please”

• Jonah had an impression about how God should work but what about us?

• Do we have a warped sense of justice that does not allow for God to stretch our concept of mercy?

• Are we so selfish that we are unable to rejoice in good done to others?

God’s Mercy (4:5-6)

4:5 Jonah left the city and sat down east of it. He made a shelter for himself there and sat down under it in the shade to see what would happen to the city. 4:6 The Lord God appointed a little plant and caused it to grow up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to rescue him from his misery. Now Jonah was very delighted about the little plant.

• God has throughout the story of Jonah used object lessons to try to explain to Jonah the extend of his sovereignty and expanse of his mercy.

• He has done it by providing Jonah with lessons that directly affect him.

• We see in in verse 5 that Jonah heads out of the city and sits down to observe what may happen after his brief discussion of displeasure with God.

• It may be that Jonah does this simply because he thought that his pity party may have convinced God to get his act together and judge Nineveh as Jonah knows he should.

• So in hope that God would act Jonah made himself a small shelter in order to wait and see what would happen-maybe he thought that he would witness a Sodom and Gomorrah type destruction.

• His shelter more than likely would have been constructed from anything he could find and since wood was scarce and he could not create a very good roof his shelter was less than adequate.

• This is born out when God sees the misery that Jonah is facing due to the sun and his own angry disposition provides Jonah with a plant to shade him.

• This is once again a prime example of God’s sovereignty and his mercy.

• Only God had the power to grow a plant in such a short time and in exactly the location that Jonah was sitting.

• Jonah did not have to adjust his position but the plant adapted to him as God intended.

• This expression of God’s power was so that Jonah would not suffer from the heat of the sun- a sign of his mercy.

• We might stop for a moment and think of what is really happening here.

• Jonah has choosen to bring a message to a people that was intended by God to bring reconciliation but Jonah meant it as a taunt.

• He may have declared the exact words that God had given him to speak but he meant them as a declaration without a way out.

• Jonah was clearly disobedient and deserved to be punished for his attitude.

• But God even as Jonah hopefully awaits God to change his mind provides mercy for the undeserving.

• There was no possible way that Jonah could not have understood the miraculous nature of this plant.

• It grew so fast that only God’s hand could have been involved and so he rejoiced in his good fortune.

• In the process Jonah reveals to us his hypocrisy-it is fine to have underserved mercy when it is for my own good but not so good when it happens to someone else.

• Do we take the time to thank God for the mercy that he has provided for us and do we ever stop to understand how often we receive it undeserved?

During the late 1800s English evangelist Henry Moorhouse made several trips to America to preach. On one of these occasions, he was taking a walk through a poor section of the city when he noticed a small boy coming out of a store with a pitcher of milk. Just then, the boy slipped and fell, breaking the pitcher and spilling the milk all over the sidewalk. Moorhouse rushed to the youngster’s side and found him unhurt but terrified. “My mamma’ll whip me!” he cried. The preacher suggested that they try to put the pitcher back together, but the pieces of glass would not stay together. The boy kept crying. Finally Moorhouse picked up the youngster and carried him to a nearby store where the preacher purchased a new pitcher. Then he returned to the dairy store and had the pitcher washed and filled with milk. With that done, he carried both the boy and the pitcher home. Putting the youngster down on his front porch, Moorhouse handed him the pitcher and asked, “Now will your mama whip you?”

A wide smile spread upon his tear-stained face, “Aw, no sir, ‘cause it’s lot better pitcher than we had before.”

• The fact of the matter is that all mercy from God is undeserved and it is only because of God’s goodness do we receive any of it.

• So amazing is his mercy that it improves and makes us much better than we were before.

• Jonah was so self-absorbed that he did not see this-but do you?

Jonah’s Despair (4:7-9)

4:7 So God sent a worm at dawn the next day, and it attacked the little plant so that it dried up. 4:8 When the sun began to shine, God sent a hot east wind. So the sun beat down on Jonah’s head, and he grew faint. So he despaired of life, and said, “I would rather die than live!” 4:9 God said to Jonah, “Are you really so very angry about the little plant?” And he said, “I am as angry as I could possibly be!”

• At this point God wants to show Jonah that his mercy is clearly within his power to give and take away to whom ever he chooses.

• The story tells us that after Jonah had received relief from the plant God sent a worm to destroy the plant and then it died.

• To make matters worse and to make God’s point, God sends a hot wind to Jonah so he could feel the full brunt on his head to point that Jonah was going to pass out.

• This was all so that Jonah would not be able to dismiss God’s interaction with him.

• The combination of the events-worm killing the plant, and hot east wind were to send a clear message to Jonah regarding God’s power and mercy.

• Unfortunately, Jonah’s response was not repentance but despair and stubbornness.

• He would have rather died than face the lesson God was trying to teach him.

• It is easy for us to say how foolish Jonah was but do we realize that God interacts with us in a similar way?

• Maybe it is not about mercy that God has a lesson, maybe its about trust, or forgiveness, or obedience or compassion but God does place us in situations to open our mind to who he is and how we need to respond to him by giving to others what he has given to us.

• So we need to think that the circumstances we are in may be a way that God is trying to teach us something.

• When God hears Jonah’s desire to die rather than face his failure God asks a question about his anger as he did in verse 4.

• Jonah why are you so angry over the plant and Jonah replies that he is furious.

• The wording in Hebrew gives us the idea that Jonah felt the plant was extremely important.

• It had given him relief from the sun and given him a great deal of delight-the plant should not have died because it was important to Jonah.

• It is at this point that we can see the culmination of God’s lesson for Jonah.

• Without wanting to Jonah has admitted that a plant is worthy of saving even though it is just a plant.

• We too can cause ourselves a great deal of anguish and anxiety when we place importance on values or things that are not the values that God has.

• Whenever we come into conflict and face opposition from God it is because we have embraced beliefs, values or things that just don’t measure up in God’s eyes.

• I think we need to consider more where our concerns are rooted-are they in the will and design or God or are they in the will and design of our selfishness?

• Why do we not find hope in our trouble-maybe it is because we are fretting over things that are distracting us from God.

God’s Sovereignty (4:10-11)

4:10 The Lord said, “You were upset about this little plant, something for which you have not worked nor did you do anything to make it grow. It grew up overnight and died the next day. 4:11 Should I not be even more concerned about Nineveh, this enormous city? There are more than one hundred twenty thousand people in it who do not know right from wrong, as well as many animals!”

• In these last two verses God gives the final punch line to the lesson he has tried to teach Jonah all along.

• Jonah has basically admitted that God should have spared the little plant even though it was relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things- but nonetheless important because it was important to Jonah.

• So God says to Jonah how he was so distressed about this plant that he did not earn or have any power to control.

• God’s point is his sovereignty over his creation-he created the plant and he gave live to the people of Nineveh.

• The plant was his to give and take away and it was his right to give life or bring death to Nineveh.

• Then God asks a very important question of Jonah that implies a positive response.

• His question assumes that Jonah understands that people are much more important than a small plant in God’s design.

• Not only is one person more important than this plant but 120 thousand of them only compound the value that God has for them.

• God is responding to Jonah’s actions that say that a plant for my own benefit is more valuable than thousands of people for God’s benefit.

• Then God gives Jonah one more punch in the gut when he mentions the worth of the animals.

• Here he is saying two things possibly.

• One is that God is concerned to save even animals like cattle over a small plant.

• Second that if the animals were worthy of saving how much more valuable are the people who care for them?

• We are not told how Jonah responds to God’s admonition.

• We do not know if he repents or walks away from God.

• I think that the incident is left up to the reader to think about because it calls each of us to examine what we would do in Jonah’s place.

• Would we crumble before God realizing our selfishness and arrogance or would we harden ourselves in our wrong beliefs and values?

• These verses ask each of us where our values lye?

• Do we want to see God’s mercy flow through us or are we concerned with only ourselves?

• Would we rather help ourselves or help someone else?


The fish was a gift to Jonah. It delivered him from death. He certainly did not deserve that deliverance. The climbing gourd was also a gift to Jonah. He had done nothing to earn it (4:10). Why then cannot God, in the same sort of way, give Nineveh something it does not deserve, has not earned? What right does Jonah have to be angry? What right have we to be angry that God should bless people, groups, institutions, nations who have done nothing to deserve such blessing? Can we ever rightly resent—let alone denounce—the grace of God shown to any of the world’s nations or peoples, oppressed or oppressor, peace-loving or war-making? What sense is there in the common, tacit assumption that our only nation is his only nation?

Douglas Stuart, vol. 31, Word Biblical Commentary : Hosea-Jonah, electronic ed., Logos Library System; Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 509.

• Further can we ever make the assumption or live a life where we view our own interests as the chief end of God’s time and efforts?

• We can so easily get caught up in a state of mind that says that the whole world revolves around us.

• What is the culmination of our lives?

• What do we want to be remembered as- a Jonah or a Shirley Maclaine?

• Or do we want to live in the mercy of God?

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