Jonah Chapter 4: Jonah is angry, God’s Mercy

Oct 28th, 2009 | By | Category: Jonah, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Jonah Chapter 4: Jonah is angry, God’s Mercy

Jonah 4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.

“But it [God’s not carrying out the judgment] displeased Jonah exceedingly.” One reason Jonah fled to Tarshish was that he felt God would repent and spare Nineveh, and to not destroy the city would make him appear foolish. Also, Jonah did not want God to deal with Israel’s enemies. One lesson for us as we consider Jonah’s actions is that we should question our own motives, not God’s.

Of course we have to speculate because of limited information, but there are several possible reasons why Jonah had not wanted to preach to Nineveh. (1) He considered the forgiveness of an enemy to be a reflection on his role as a prophet. (2) He felt the Ninevites would return to their evil ways later and not stay repentant. If so, then in the long run, their repentance would do more harm than good. (3) Based on Deuteronomy 18:22, he might be perceived as a false prophet. “When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.”

And there was another possible motive for Jonah’s fleeing. The prophet was conscious of Israel’s own evil. Many in Christendom feel that without the fear of hellfire, people will not be converted. Thus they want a stern message for the sinner, with no “second chance.” Jonah might have been thinking that Israel was getting reprobate, and for him to go to a foreign nation and give a judgment message and have the people repent would result in the Israelites’ thinking there was no point in trying to improve their ways. After all, if God forgave the Ninevites of all their evil, wouldn’t the Israelites be encouraged to continue in their sinful ways? However, God was justified in His mercy, for Nineveh truly repented.

Comment: Many times in Jewish history, a king delayed judgment on the nation by repenting. Jonah would have known this history, yet when mercy was extended to Gentiles, he was “very angry.”

Reply: Even King Ahab got a temporary reprieve based on repentance, with the result that his children were not slain in his day. Nevertheless, the judgment had to come—it was merely postponed. The same was true of Nineveh, which was overthrown 40 years later. The judgment was merely held in abeyance.

Q: Does Jonah’s exceeding displeasure over Nineveh’s repentance reflect the sentiments of those Jews who could not understand the change in the Law Covenant dispensation at the First Advent and the gospel going to the Gentiles in AD 36?

A: Being schooled under the Law as a favored nation that was to be kept separate and distinct from other peoples, many Jews had difficulty seeing God’s mercy. That prejudice was hard for them to overcome, and they needed a lot of convincing in one fashion or another. Those Jews who could accept the change were flexible enough to realize that God has this prerogative. The Apostle Paul gave a sermon on this subject, showing that it is God’s prerogative to have mercy on whom He will have mercy (Rom. 9:15).

Jonah 4:2 And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.

Jonah 4:3 Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.

Jonah was willing to die. He was so schooled in thinking of the worthiness of the judgment to come upon Nineveh that he could not stand to see the judgment reversed. Probably he knew very acutely the degradation and cruelty of that people.

Without having a proper religious background, some individuals who have witnessed atrocious crimes have a hard time believing there is a God. They reason, “If He exists, why didn’t He stop the crime?” But God will repay—in due time (Rom. 12:19). What a man sows he will reap (Gal. 6:7). In the Kingdom, what a victim has experienced of fear, pain, etc., will be transferred into the mind of the victimizer. Thus, as retribution, not only will the victimizer be in the exact same position his victim was in, experiencing all the attendant sights, sounds, pain, suffering, and fright, but he will feel like the victim and see himself perpetrating the crime. The scales of justice will be balanced. So that the peace and calm of a restored society will not be disturbed, the victimizer will get these sensations in his sleep. To obtain life after experiencing the trauma, the victimizer will have to go to the victim and ask for forgiveness—and mean it.

The victimizer will be only too happy to do this if he can survive the retribution aspect.

To preach that God will forgive everything in the future without conditions is a wrong message. In fact, it is the false prophet message. To teach that everything will be forgiven and man will start fresh when he comes forth from the tomb contradicts scriptural principles.

Comment: It is hard to understand Jonah’s attitude of wanting to die. His job as a prophet was to bring people to repentance, so he should have rejoiced over the Ninevites’ reaction.

Reply: Sometimes Christians make rash statements too. Jonah felt hopeless and confused, for he did not understand what was happening. A lot of understanding was not yet due in his day.

For example, the Jews did not know the significance behind the sacrificing of animals. Few Jews had the remarkable faith of Abraham, who was willing to kill his own son because he believed God must have had a good reason for giving the command. For that extraordinary level of faith and obedience, Abraham is the “father” of the faithful (Rom. 4:16).

Comment: Since Jonah can picture the Jewish people, an example in more recent times is the Holocaust. When Jews who were cruelly persecuted under Hitler’s policies come forth from the grave, no doubt many will have trouble, at least temporarily, accepting the fact that their persecutors, who exterminated millions in the gas ovens of the concentration camps, will get an opportunity for life—especially if those Jews were righteously inclined and tried to keep the Law.

Reply: Yes, for they experienced real traumas.

Incidentally, brethren who oppose the thought of animal sacrifices in the Kingdom Age, when the Lord’s Word says they will occur, do not have a proper attitude (Ezek. 40:41-43; 44:11; 46:24). Many can accept the concept of a literal Temple but not animal sacrifices. God Himself required animal sacrifices in Old Testament times, so there cannot be anything morally wrong with the performance. If sacrificing animals is wrong today or in the future, it was wrong back there as well. Brethren who argue against animal sacrifice in the Kingdom Age do not realize that their hearts are not attuned to God’s Law in this area. If God thinks animal sacrifice will have some benefit in the future, so be it. When the Lord’s Word says something will occur, we must adjust our thinking and trust there is a reason. As commanded by God, animal sacrifices are highly instructional and beneficial when properly considered.

Comment: Animals are slaughtered all the time for food, yet most people think nothing of it. Before the Book of Jonah began, the prophet had evidently expressed his opinion that God was merciful. Perhaps we “argue” with the Lord at times too. And the Lord is tolerant because of our weaknesses. Things we do over and over, if exposed, would make us also appear mean and small. Only God can judge the heart. We need His mercy too!

Jonah 4:4 Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry?

Jonah 4:5 So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.

Jonah 4:6 And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.

Jonah 4:7 But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.

Jonah 4:8 And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.

Jonah went outside the city and sat under a temporary booth to wait out the 40 days. The booth was on the east side of Nineveh, which probably gave him the best view, or vantage point. When the fortieth day came, he watched intently, but nothing happened. Jonah experienced a conflict of emotions, for he appreciated the worthiness of the Ninevites to be punished and could not understand God’s act of forgiveness.

Q: The NIV calls the “gourd” a “vine.” Is that correct?

A: Yes, God prepared a vine with leaves to make a shadow over Jonah’s head. The prophet was pleased with the arrangement, for the vine delivered him “from his grief”; that is, it eased his discomfort.

Q: What does the gourd represent?

A: We believe the gourd pictures the Law Covenant. God prepared the Law Covenant as a shade, a comfort, and a sense of security for the Israelites.

Comment: God prepared the great fish, the storm, the vine, the worm, and the vehement east wind. What a lot of care He expended to get the lesson across to Jonah! He does the same for us at times.

Reply: Yes. If it were not for His mercy, God would have thrown up His hands and had nothing more to do with us. In principle, therefore, we ourselves may be doing some of the very things Jonah did. With Jonah, the disobedience was dramatic and outstanding, whereas our personal judgments may be much less noticeable but very meaningful, nevertheless. We certainly need schooling along many lines.

The next morning God prepared a worm that caused the gourd to wither. Just as the gourd was a temporary arrangement, so Israel’s Law Covenant was temporary. If the Jewish people were meek, they would be able to see their weaknesses and their need for the Lord’s help. At the time of the Exodus, God provided the Law Covenant, a temporary means of helping them. In the Kingdom Age, the New (Law) Covenant will be established. God was dealing with the Jewish people through His grace, and not because of their beautiful characters, for “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). The same danger exists among Christians, namely, to think “once saved, always saved.” Moreover, no one should think he owns the ministry or deserves God’s favor or is the only one who has a right to preach. We must stay humble.

When God took away the vine and the shadow and caused a strong east wind to blow, Jonah not only felt the heat of the sun but inhaled the heat. He fainted and wished he could die, uttering the same emotional response for the second time: “It is better for me to die than to live” (see verse 3). Jonah had the courage to stand up for God only when he could understand the reasoning. However, God did eventually destroy Nineveh—and He will requite the evils and atrocities that have been committed down through history, even though it looks as if He has winked the eye. Most of the wicked have lived, prospered, and died without receiving retribution, but the end of the matter is not yet. Not only will the Ransom be testified in due time but also God’s method for balancing the scales of justice for the wicked.

In antitype, Jesus is the “worm” that God prepared to wither, or cut down, the gourd (the Law Covenant). Jesus abolished the Law for those Jews who transfer over to him, nailing it to the Cross. The Grace Covenant is open to all people, not just to Jews.

Psalm 22:6 prophetically gives one of Jesus’ thoughts while hanging on the Cross: “But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.” The human body God prepared for Jesus was humiliated on the Cross. Jesus was naked, without clothes (without scales like a worm), and his body was twisted out of shape (resembling a wriggling, twisted earthworm). The spectacle of Jesus’ death was not appealing to the Jews, for they expected a noble, regal King. His whole life was one of humility, contrary to their expectations.

Jonah 4:9 And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.

Jonah 4:10 Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:

Jonah 4:11 And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?

Q: If Jonah built a booth (or “shelter”) to sit under (see verse 5 in the NIV), wasn’t the shade sufficient? Why was a gourd, or a vine, also needed?

A: The heat of the sun was so intense that the booth was not adequate. The vine grew like a trellis and provided a shadow for which Jonah was very thankful. When the vine withered and died and the sun was still so hot, Jonah felt he had a right to be angry and wished he were dead. His words were, “I do well to be angry, even unto death.”

Jonah needed direction, but he showed an honesty of heart. Subsequent to this experience, he no doubt was a completely reformed individual. The lesson can be transferred to us as Christians, for with those who are indoctrinated for many years with erroneous thinking, the Lord sometimes has to use rather drastic measures and providences to eradicate or soften the reasoning. For example, Paul was blinded (Acts 9:1-9), and illness can make a Christian think very soberly on his actions. God may be dealing with individuals and appreciating their character but permits experiences because their character needs a different perspective. In other words, trials may be judgmental not in the sense that the individuals are outcasts but in the sense that they need to get another perspective. They can still make the grade if they submit to the experience, being rightly exercised.

Jonah was used favorably of the Lord and is one of the creditable prophets, but we see him throughout this book at his most unfavorable moment. Similarly, we see David at some most unfavorable moments, but God saw in him commendable characteristics. As time went on, he was a changed man, as reflected in the Psalms. David was very reverential in his earlier days and very sober and reflective in his later days when he wrote the Psalms. Studying the Psalms gives us insight as to why he could be considered a man after God’s own heart in spite of some of the sins he committed. He was a changed man through repentance and reform following the afflictions that came upon him for sins against the Holy Spirit that could not be forgiven. Sins against light cannot be forgiven but must be expiated through a judgment. If we read carefully about David’s life and the things that happened to him, we can see that his experiences were very helpful in making his own calling and election sure as an Ancient Worthy in spite of his sins. Sometimes we view a person at his most unfavorable moment, but it is possible that the moment was the low of his career and that change followed. However, when a situation grows progressively worse, as with Saul, we can see that the person is proving himself worthy of Second Death. There are cases where we cannot pray for a certain individual because he did not repent of gross sins (1 John 5:16).

The 120,000 Ninevites who could not discern between their right hand and their left hand were not accountable because they were children. (Nineveh had a population of almost 1 million people, and approximately 8 percent of them had not reached the age of moral responsibility.)

The Lord tried to use natural reasoning with Jonah to get him to soberly reflect along the following lines. “For the sake of the infants and children, who have no moral responsibility for their actions but would perish in the coming judgment, shouldn’t Nineveh and the braying, hungry, thirsty cattle be spared? Your reasoning on this subject is wrong. You should have compassion for the animals, let alone for the people. Have faith in me that I know what I am doing. If I forgave the Ninevites, my reasons are quite sufficient.”

Q: Could the terminology that 120,000 Ninevites were not able to “discern between their right hand and their left hand” refer to their being so wicked and steeped in sin that they did not know right from wrong?

A: That wording can refer to adults depending on context, but we think that in this case, the reference was to the young. In trying to reason with Jonah, God pointed out that neither the cattle nor the children had moral responsibility. God condescended to reason with Jonah on the prophet’s own terms to show the fallacy of thinking.

Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 1:39 are a scriptural precedent for the 120,000 being children: “Moreover your little ones … and your children, which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil, they shall go in thither [into the land], and … they shall possess it.” The young Israelites in the wilderness—those under a certain age—could enter the Promised Land because they did not bear moral responsibility. The count ended up with 2 million Israelites leaving Egypt and 2 million entering the Promised Land. Of the 2 million who entered, only Joshua, Caleb, and two priests were spared of those over a certain age. Partly, then, for the sake of the 120,000 young ones, Nineveh’s judgment was delayed.

Q: The little ones and the animals were favored here because a God-fearing element was among the Ninevites. But what about other Old Testament cases where God ordered infants, children, and animals to be destroyed?

A: Not only did they have other gods, but the environment was so evil that those who grew up in it would have become incorrigible. With all dying, they will come forth in the resurrection with a less damaged character. The children were killed for their own eternal good.

As Bro. Oscar Magnuson used to reason, if the children were spared and thus continued to live under the tutelage of an environment that was so corrupt, they would become so reprobate as they developed into maturity that their eternal salvation would be jeopardized. Thus God took them away as He saw best for their eternal good. Stated another way, to terminate their lives in the midst of corruption was beneficial in the final analysis, for short-term gain would have meant everlasting damnation. Of course the Pastor called attention to the fact that there will be a resurrection and a future opportunity. Man has to die anyway, and most people die very unpleasant deaths. To die quickly in warfare is preferable to dying by degrees and inches as, for instance, on a life-support system. God knows what He is doing, and the long-range viewpoint will eventually vindicate His wisdom.

The question, then, is how we would harmonize the sparing of Nineveh with other instances where all (old, young, and animals) were killed. The divine attributes are revealed separately and in a certain order so that one’s faith in God can be tested. For instance, Justice was the first attribute to play a prominent role. Consider the four attributes as follows.

1. When Adam sinned, the death penalty was imposed. However, that penalty was not severe from the standpoint of the advice God gave to Adam. “Of every tree of the garden, you may freely eat except one. In the day you eat of that tree, dying you shall die.” When Adam disobeyed, Justice was revealed in condemning him to death. As the human race went down into death, God’s Justice was prominently seen, and it was hard to see His Love.

In order to bring out the side of God’s character that He cannot be trifled with because of the nature of His office and that man cannot deal with Him disrespectfully (as many do with a human father), it was necessary to show that life and death hinge on obedience. Justice is the foundation of God’s throne. He cannot tolerate sin, nor does He intend to tolerate sin at all in the future in any shape, manner, or form. Therefore, the temporary permission of evil—as terrible as it appears at present—is necessary to teach an everlasting lesson. The little time of approximately 6,000 years is nothing compared to eternity.

2. Power was the next attribute to be revealed. God used Power to bring judgments such as the Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. There is nothing God cannot do in exhibiting His Power.

3. How could God’s Love be manifested if conditions did not exist where He would have to exercise compassion and forgiveness? Evil had to happen so that God could show His Love for mankind in sending His only begotten Son. He thereby showed His concern and the soft side of His nature—that He is easily moved by the sinner’s repentance and contrite heart and that He is pitying to those who are in need of His mercy.

4. Each of God’s four attributes is shown separately in order to furnish a bold release of that particular characteristic. The separation exposes Justice, Power, Love (especially in the introduction of Jesus and his gospel message), and Wisdom, the last attribute, which is yet to be seen. When Wisdom is realized, then all four attributes will be seen in their true and balanced perspective. At the present time, the attributes are not seen as balanced except in proportion as one is consecrated and has the Holy Spirit of God, but even then, the consecrated only glimpse God’s Wisdom because they have only a measure of His Spirit. We cannot appreciate God’s character in its fullness—we try our best, but faith has to bridge the gap in the present life.

At a particular time (such as with Nineveh), God may choose to emphasize one of His attributes. Only if the picture ended there and nothing else followed in God’s plan would there be disharmony. Stated another way, God is always a God of Love, even if He chooses to exercise a certain quality on a certain occasion. Only in the future, at the end of the Kingdom Age, will mankind be able to see God’s attributes in the full and balanced sense, for then the people can look back at His plan fulfilled.

Some of God’s acts were done to furnish types, as shown in the following examples:

1. Sodom and Gomorrah were intended to be a type of God’s burning judgment against sin.

2. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, their battles with the Canaanites pictured the Christian in the present life, who has to root out, as far as lies within his power, all the “Canaanites” in his heart. God used this drastic method to show that the Christian cannot reason or parley with sin but must slay and crucify it—whether that sin is a youth (a baby thought), a warrior, or an old adult. All sin has to be treated alike and killed. The harsh treatment that was meted out to the Canaanites was intended to show the battles of a Christian in the present life in order to attain the heavenly inheritance.

Paul enunciated the principle: “Now all these things happened unto them [the Israelites] for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world [age] are come” (1 Cor. 10:11). For example, one lesson is purposed with the Canaanites, and another lesson is intended with the picture of Jonah. None of the pictures are contradictory, and each has its own peculiar lesson to convey. We must investigate the Scriptures and study the principles and be practicing lawyers and judges in a good sense in the present life.

3. Jonah is a type of Jesus. However, there are both differences and similarities between Jonah and Jesus. When Jonah started on his mission, he fled from the presence of God and boarded a ship at Joppa to go to Tarshish. In contrast, Jesus was willing to perform his mission. For the joy that was set before him, he left the presence of God to come down here at the First Advent, humbling himself and becoming a man to the extent that he died on the Cross (Heb. 12:2).

Jonah’s sleeping while the great storm and turbulent waves raged in the sea pictures Jesus’ sleeping in a boat during a violent storm on the Sea of Galilee. Jonah’s being in the belly of the great fish for parts of three days and nights pictures Jesus’ being in the grave. Jonah’s being vomited out on dry land by the great fish represents the resurrection of Jesus. Jonah went to the great city of Nineveh and preached a judgment message, urging repentance, and in the final analysis, Jesus’ preaching will bring the repentance and salvation of the antitypical

Ninevites, for the response of the people to Jonah’s message prefigures the salvation of the world of mankind in the Kingdom Age.

In addition, there is a partial application to the Gospel Age. The small number of mariners in the ship who gave their hearts to God and made vows corresponds to those who are converted to Christ in the present life and make consecration vows to serve God.

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