In this last post from the Jonah library, we’ll return to the COMA method and insert the narrative reading technique into the Observation section. That’s where it belongs but I wanted to focus on listening to the story unfold over the last few posts. I’ve noticed in a few Growth Groups how easy it is to imagine what it might have been like and to insert all sorts of extra bits into the story to try and understand how Jonah was so influential over Ninevah. We really need to practice and train ourselves to listen to what the bible is saying. The writers of the bible (the Spirit and the hands he used) didn’t forget to mention things. They crafted their stories so that we would get the point. It takes time and effort to uncover what the stories teach but we don’t need extra historical facts and trivia to get to the meaning.
So, let’s look at chapter 4.
Jonah has been given a second chance to take up the mission of God. He brought the message that God told him to speak into Nineveh and that message spread like wildfire! Nineveh, who knew very little about Yahweh, repented nation wide and hoped that maybe there would be a chance that God would show compassion and mercy. He did. Jonah, who knows and worships The Lord of heaven and earth, and who knows that salvation comes from him alone, preached his message of destruction or warning. What should Jonah expect will happen?
Structure of the narrative
This is not just another part of the story, this chapter makes up the closing part of the whole book. 3:10 gave us an end to the book’s overall quest – Jonah went, Nineveh repented and God showed mercy. The issue of chapter four is a reflection on how this Israelite will react to this. This chapter will draw together some of the themes of the book and address the real purpose for writing the book of Jonah.
- 4:1-3 Jonah’s heart and mind revealed – the beginning of this mini story.
- 4:4 God’s first reply to Jonah – the problem – will Jonah be reasonable?
- 4:5-8 the story of the plant and Jonah’s second complaint – the quest
- 4:9 God’s second reply to Jonah – the quest continues
- 4:9 Jonah’s final word – the quest concluded
- 4:10-11 God’s heart and mind revealed – the closing left open ended…
The problem seems to be plainly stated by God in verse 4: is it right for Jonah to be angry? Which leads us to wonder, will Jonah see reason? The story of the plant is like a parable used to show Jonah how selfish and unlike God his heart is.
Chapter four is quite special. We have heard that God has been speaking to Jonah in the past (1:1, 2:1) but in chapter 4 we hear the conversation between God and Jonah. We get to hear what’s on God’s heart and mind.
Jonah complains about God’s known traits, being gracious and compassionate and slow to anger, and these three traits are demonstrated to Jonah throughout the chapter. God’s words are gracious throughout. He shows compassion for the needs of Jonah. He waits for Jonah to see what is right, holding back his wrath from this stubborn and childish prophet.
God continues to ‘provide’. He provided the storm in chapter one as well as the relief from the storm. He provided a big fish in 1:17 and provided release from the fish at the end of chapter 2. He provided a smooth mission for Jonah when he arrived in Nineveh. Now he provides a leafy plant 4:6, a worm 4:7, a scorching east wind 4:8. God is able to provide comfort and discomfort. Mercy and judgement. Peace and wrath. God may well hope to provide Jonah with wisdom and godliness, but will Jonah receive it?
Jonah tried to make a shelter for himself but it must have been pretty useless since a plant was needed and without the plant, his head burned. Jonah’s attempts to provide for himself were hopeless.
Compare the ignorant hopes of Nineveh 3:9 with the informed arrogance of Jonah 4:2. This was seen in the sailors of chapter one – desperate for help without knowing where to turn.
Jonah knows the character of God but it is only skin deep. He seems to resent it while Nineveh were desperate to know it. Do we know it? Do we desire it? Do we embrace it? When you bring your sins to God do you ask if he might forgive you or do you thank him for his nature to forgive. Do we knock timidly on his office door, or do we enter, expecting to see his tender face? Jonah enjoyed the priviledged of knowing this for himself in chapter 2 but resents God’s grace shown to others.
‘But to Jonah this seemed very wrong…’ I hope this sounds outrageous to you! Who is Jonah to judge God? We need to tread carefully before we condemn Jonah ourselves. I want to be careful to only learn from God and not to fall in love with a god that I have fashioned. This is the key to Christian maturity – to grow in our knowledge and obedience to the one true God and not to adopt anything or anyone less. Jonah is later very happy with the plant. He isn’t thankful to God for the way God has treated him. The plant didn’t teach Jonah anything about God’s character. Jonah’s focus was on himself and how the plant made him happy! It seems that our Jonah has a very ego-centric view of the universe and God needs to fit inside his view of the world.
Jonah became angry. The very thing that God is renowned to be slow at. Anger is not the sin, but the eagerness to be angry for our own sake. Why couldn’t Jonah rejoice with God that his mission had been a success?
‘That’s why I fled to Tarshish’ we may have originally imagined that Jonah was scred of the mission. But he reveals what has always been on his mind – that he wanted to delay the grace of God being extended to others. Perhaps by fleeing, the patience of God would have run out for Nineveh. But God just extended his patience to Jonah all the more.
Jonah wanted to be dead in verses 3, 8 and 9. This is not suicidal but an extreme emotion linked with his anger. He desired to just stop being. This could create discussion of depression, anxiety and stories of great sorrow for your group. Please take care, as I know you would, to listen to anything shared and judge if there needs to be follow up afterward. Please note, however, and try to show your group, that this expression is to underscore how outraged Jonah was with this situation. He is furious and reacting irrationally like an infant temper tantrum.
Notice how Jonah’s feelings link so closely to his circumstances. When he didn’t like God’s mission and fled on he boat, he went straight to his room on the ship, even when a deadly storm was threatening his life. He may have been sulking. When he spoke to the sailors, he told them to throw him overboard and kill him. Why couldn’t he have turned to God in repentance? When he sank to the depths of the earth, he suddenly found remorse and cried out to God. When God saved Nineveh, he lost it. When he sat under the scorching sun, he was miserable. My point is that Jonah’s environment played a close connection to his emotions. I can identify with this. It does widen the difference between us humans and our maker. We may struggle to deal with emotion but God is slow to anger and abounding in love. Recognising that we are creatures subject to our surroundings should help us to lean on God’s wisdom when our emotions threaten to overcome us.
Last observation…Jonah knew the nature of God because God revealed himself to Israel. He introduced himself to Moses as ‘the LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness.’ Ex 34:6. Jonah had no unique insight into God that we don’t have. We know even more than Jonah because we have read the full account of God’s mercy to this world. His graciousness and mercy means that we have received grace upon grace. What a great God who has sent his son to die for us, to call us to come home, filled us with his Spirit so that we can know his mercy from within – not just facts about God but we have experienced forgiveness. Does this make you angry or glad? Should the world know about our great God too? Or should they remain like Nineveh – not knowing their right from their left?
- Our anger is hard to manage. Thank God that he has his anger under control. If he didn’t, then we wouldn’t be here today. Our anger, however, may reveal which kingdom you are fighting for – is it the kingdom of God’s son who you are eager to defend, or is it your own kingdom which you are familiar with defending?
- Do you yet understand the grace and compassion and mercy of God? If so, it should create a similar outlook in you and teach you to embrace grace and love. If not, you may discover that you are a very unhappy Christian – knowing facts about God, but not experiencing or trusting in him personally.
- Are you able to change? The Christian life must be a life of reform. As we get to know our maker and Saviour better, we grow closer to him and like him. Maturity is about grasping the basic Christian message and watching it impact your whole heart, mind, soul and strength. What is God trying to teach you at the moment?
- In chapter 3 we read that Jonah began… Now we have read that Jonah really wanted to delay this mission for as long as he could, that’s why he fled. Are there ways that we forestall the missin of God? What does it mean to be on God’s mission? Do you see yourself as part of the mission or just on the sideline? Is your thinking right on this?
PRAYER FOR THE WEEK
Dear God, we know that your nature is always to have mercy. Teach us to be merciful like you. We know that you have a heart for the lost. Teach us to have a heart like yours. We know that you are patient with us all. Teach us to know this ourselves. Help us to rejoice in knowing you as our personal LORD and Saviour and we pray you would use us to spread your name throughout the world. Amen.