Jonah 4 – Knowing the Heart and Mind of God and Jonah

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.

Other Observations

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?


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.

Jonah 3 – A second chance for Jonah and Nineveh

Chapter three if very short and straight forward. The book seems to be written in a wave of call and response: what God says/does; what Jonah says/does; what God says/does; what Jonah says/does and so on. God directs Jonah to Nineveh, Jonah goes the other way; God sends a great storm, Jonah instructs the sailors how to respond to the storm; God sends a big fish, Jonah prays; God delivers Jonah and directs him again to Nineveh, Jonah goes and preaches; God responds to Nineveh with grace, Jonah responds to grace with a tantrum…and so on.


Jonah 1:1 – The word of the Lord came to Jonah to go to the great city of Nineveh and speak against it. After Jonah’s own rebellion and experience of God’s mercy and salvation, the word of the Lord comes again to Jonah.

Narrative Structure and Commentary

The Beginning

3:1 – The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time. Since we are in the middle of the whole story of Jonah, the scene setting is very minimal. Jonah is on dry land again (2:10) and the story has been reset back to the beginning. 1:1 and 3:1 mark the two parts to the whole story. The similarity of the two verses stand out. Nineveh is described again as that great city. The task for Jonah is to go there and preach right across the city. The context of the story also hints at what the problem will be: will Jonah do it and how will Nineveh receive the message?

The Problem

3:2 – “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
There appears to be two problems given to us in this story:

  1. will Jonah obey God?
  2. will Nineveh listen?

Note that the very fact that God is sending a message to Nineveh shows that God wants Nineveh to repent. Patience means salvation.
There is less information in this word from the LORD compared to 1:2. Jonah needs to proclaim the message that God gives him to send. We aren’t told what the message is, what words he should use etc. In 1:2 we know that it is a word against Nineveh. Here the emphasis is that it must be what God has given Jonah to speak.
In 2:9 Jonah vowed (promised) to say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD.’ He may have meant that he will speak this generally throughout his life or specifically to return to Nineveh or wherever God sends him and to preach that word.
So, will Jonah go?

The Quest

3-9 – Jonah does go and Nineveh repents!
Verse three answers our question straight away. So, the major problem of this story is the one that takes up the rest of the narrative: will Nineveh receive the message and will they repent? After all, it is a great city!

The problem is not just how Nineveh will respond but how will Jonah get the message to such a large city.

The solution to this problem appears to be a social and cultural miracle.
Verses 4-5 – Jonah’s mission begins and is an immediate success.
Verses 6-9 – How the message of Jonah travelled throughout the city to generate a city-wide revival.
“it took three days to go through it.” Historians have pointed out that Nineveh was not actually as big as this sentence suggests. Diggings in the area have uncovered the ancient city and it would not have taken three days to travel from one end to the next. The narrative, however, is raising the problem of how one man is going to get a single message across an entire city. It would be a three day exercise to preach in key areas of the town. 4:11 gives us an estimated population of 120,000 people.
‘Jonah began…’ two simple words that every procrastinator needs to recite… although the task looked mountainous, Simon began…. Note Luke 3:23 – ‘Jesus began’.
The work seemed a challenge for Jonah but he got to work. How big a mission it is to take the gospel to Campbelltown, let alone the Macarthur region. If God wants us to take the gospel to everyone (Matt 28), where do we start? We can wait for a master plan to be created and driven by a charismatic leader, or we can just begin.
On Jonah’s first day on the job, he preached his message and it was sent across the city for him. It reached the ears of the king who then became the mouthpiece for Jonah.
The recurring theme in this book is the message that God hears the cries of repentance and relents from judgement. The storm was stopped when the sailors obeyed the word of God. Jonah was rescued from both the waves and the fish when he called on the name of the LORD. Nineveh repented with mourning and acts of turning their lives around from evil.
The gospel, which is the information for salvation, must always be accompanied with repentance for it to be confirmed in the believer. That is, the gospel calls us to repent and believe – not just to believe.

The Close

10 – God shows compassion on Nineveh
The word of the LORD had reached Nineveh and they responded with hope that God would relent. He saw their repentance and showed mercy. Does this mean that the whole city were saved? That is, are they now God’s people? I think what we see here is a city-wide revival in response to hearing the word of God. Whether this repentance touched the hearts of individuals or not, is not clear. The city, however, responded to the fear of the Lord and were saved.

The End

4:1 – But Jonah…
The story of the book could really have ended at chapter 3. It’s a happy ending. Jonah is obedient now to the call of God and the gospel has gone to the nation of Assyria. God’s word has achieved its purpose in converting both a rebellious city and a rebellious prophet – plus some sailors thrown in!
But chapter four gives us the reality of Jonah’s ongoing need for sanctification. He still has a lesson to learn…but more on that next time.

The Message

The LORD is compassionate and the word of the LORD is stronger than the strongest of us. One man couldn’t change a great city, but it only takes one God to pierce the heart and soul of a rebellious multitude. It’s not the size of the church that matters, it’s the message it brings.


  • Remember that we are all on the same mission of God: to take the gospel to all people. That may seem like a massive and impossible task but we need simply to begin. Where will you begin?
  • Hearing the word of God is only useful if it leads to obedience. Don’t be merely listeners of the word but be doers also (James 1:22). Jesus said those who love him will keep his commandments – to love one another!
  • What the Ninevites needed to hear was that there is a God who is much bigger than them. They acknowledged that their size was no match for the authority of God – so they surrendered themselves to God. We need this constant reminder that God is stronger, wiser, bigger than us and that peace with him matters.
  • Like the sailors in chapter one, the Ninevites heard the message and repented and it seems that Jonah did very little. Jonah was proactive this time but it took a miracle to get the message through that great city. The task of preaching is less about strategy and much about speaking the truth in love.
  • Are you great? Or do you serve a great God? We can easily make ourselves and our lives as idols that we worship instead of surrendering ourselves to God.

Prayer for the week

God of all creation, help us to surrender our lives to you in trust and obedience. May we, like the people of Nineveh, repent of our sins and turn to you for life. May we, like the prophet Jonah, begin the mission of obeying you and proclaiming the good news to the world that you love so much. Amen

Jonah 1:17-2:10 – God provided a big fish

The book of Jonah is a most extraordinary book. Chapter one was filled with great excitement and adventure. Chapter two has the form of a Psalm. Chapter three seems like a nice and tidy finish to the book. Then chapter four is a revisit to the grumpy and short-sighted Jonah. This week, we look at chapter two and see Jonah at his best. His prayer is full of imagery that can be quite literal and yet fits perfectly as a metaphore for the Christian life or the story of Israel.


Jonah was commissioned by God to take a word of judgement to a foreign nation – Nineveh. He rebelled and tried to escape from God by going to the end of the earth in the opposite direction. God tormented his escape and he was thrown into the sea in order to save some pagan sailors. In the final verse of chapter 1, Jonah was swallowed by a huge fish – something which God had arranged for him.


  • 1:17-2:1 Narrative Context: The Lord provided – the fish swallows Jonah
  • 2:2 – Jonah’s opening summary: In my DISTRESS, I CALLED to The Lord and He DELIVERED me (past tense)/li>
  • 2:3-6 – Jonah’s distress – downward movement/li>
  • 2:7 – Jonah’s call for help/li>
  • 2:8-9 – Jonah’s deliverance/li>
  • 2:10 narrative close: The Lord provides again – the fish ejects Jonah/li>


Jonah, who disappeared at the end of the last narrative section (1:1-1:16) is now the centre of attention again.
The story begins with this context: Jonah is in the belly of a fish for three days and nights. Note that this phrase: ‘three days and three nights’ is a kind of short hand for three days (doesn’t sound short), and is not meant to be an exact timeframe. It does act, in the scriptures, as a repeated phrase to help us readers link events together – like this event and the event of the resurrection!

God, the LORD, is in complete control. This is no rogue fish, but a message from God to Jonah.
Jonah prayed to God from inside the fish. There seems to have been two prayers that Jonah offered, one in the fish and one prior to being in the fish – while he was descending to the deep. The prayer of Jonah while inside the fish reflects much on what happened to him prior to being swallowed.

The narrative of Jonah works fairly well without the inclusion of the psalm (verses 2-9). Try and read the narrative skipping these verses (so 1:17-2:1; 2:10 onward). The narratives simply tells us that Jonah prayed while inside the fish, and the LORD commanded the fish to vomit Jonah out. So, the actual prayer he prayed while in the fish could have been for deliverance from the fish. Then, a psalm is inserted in the story to tell us what was in Jonah’s head. You might expect a lament to be given but we get a song of thanksgiving.

It is probable that Jonah cried for help while descending to the depths of the ocean, then he prayed again for help when in the belly of the fish and then he created a psalm to describe the two events together. Thinking of it this way, helps us to relax and enjoy the psalm to hear what it contributes to the whole book of Jonah.

Although 1:17 tells us that the fish was a provision from God to save Jonah, Jesus and the Apostles use the same imagery to describe judgement. See the following NT references…Matt 12:39-42; Acts 2:22-28 – esp 24 and 27.

This introduces the shape of the whole psalm. Distress leads to calling out for help which results in deliverance by the only one who can.

This verse contains a classic Hebrew poetry technique where two sentences mirror or parallel each other.
“In my distress | from the deep in the realm of the dead,
I called to the LORD | I called for help,
and he answered me | and you listened to my cry.”

This summary from Jonah could recall his time in the sea or his time in the fish. The following verses lend it to being about the former, but the summary nature of this verse, and the observation that this psalm was probably constructed after Jonah was spat out, lets us say that both are true.

Jonah’s existence was thrown into chaos. He was out of control with no hope to live.

‘I have been banished from your sight’ – wasn’t this what Jonah wanted?

‘yet I will look again toward your holy temple’ – the temple in Jerusalem symbolised almost literally the presence of God. This phrase should be taken to mean that Jonah turned to the LORD for help. His mind’s eye turns toward the presence of God. He looked to God for salvation.

‘the roots of the mountains’ – just picture how low Jonah feels he is going.

‘But you, LORD my God, brought my life up from the pit.’ Jonah’s story here is the story of judgement. The place he was being sent was the abyss – ‘banished from God’s sight’, ‘the realm of the dead’, ‘barred…forever’, ‘from the pit’. There is no long stretch to imagine this story being about a sinner who is aware of his oncoming destruction. His life is out of control and only hell is the future – unless God can raise up their life!

Another summary statement that could apply to both the abyss of the ocean and the stomach of a fish.

Before it was too late, Jonah remembered the LORD and he cried to God for help. This is the message of the gospel – to repent and believe the good news. But we are called and we call others to repent before it is too late.

Jonah was given a second chance by God. He fled his responsibility to obey God and tried to run from God’s sight – but God would not let Jonah go. He cares for Jonah. God’s patience means salvation (2 Peter 3:15).

Both the sailors trapped in the storm and the people of Nineveh had to turn away from their idols and turn to the God who made heaven and earth (1:9, 16).

An idol is anything that we cling to I suppose. If it is not God that we are clinging to then there will be an idol or a few that you will be able to identify.

Also and conversely, when there is anything that we cling to in competition with God, this is an act of denying the love of God and the only one worthy of our worship.

The one who serves God gives thanks to him and are full of thankfulness.

The one who serves God will freely confess: ‘Salvation comes from the LORD’ – Jesus Christ is LORD (Romans 10:9)

The sailors and Jonah and the Ninevites call on the name of the LORD and then made vows (1:16, 2:9, 3:9). Turning to God for salvation is not just idle words but we are to repent and obey. Faith is not just what we believe or know, it is how we will live.

This verses is the matching bookend to the psalm to 1:17. The LORD is in control. The fish is no random accident. Jonah is transported from the depths and judgement of the ocean to the safety of dry land.

Jonah went into the belly of a ship to run away from God and go in the wrong direction, but God gave Jonah a one way ticket back in the belly of a huge fish.


Jonah’s psalm gives us the shape of God’s mission: all the world are to turn from worthless idols and cling to the God who saves. The sailor’s had no idea who Jonah’s God was. They were told and they sacrificed to him and were saved. Nineveh will hear the impending judgement coming, they will cry out to God and lament, hoping to be rescued. Jonah, who had denied the true God fell under God’s judgement but was saved when he turned back to the true God.
Salvation and deliverance are themes of this psalm. Salvation is of the LORD. Thanksgiving and praise follow.


  • Notice how much work goes into reading the bible. It is one thing to simply tell the whole Jonah story to Sunday School kids. It is quite another thing as adults to pick up the scriptures and consider every word and sentence as though they were crafted by someone far smarter and wise than ourselves. Do you pick up the bible and read it with a craving to learn and grow and struggle to understand?
  • Sometimes, as Christians, we forget where we have been saved from. Jonah was in great distress and needed a saviour. The sailors and the people of Nineveh respond to the word of God in the same way – each lamented and cried out to God for help. Have you forgotten what distress you were in before you turned to God? Do you carry a sense of urgency or desperation to know God and to turn away from idols?
  • Being aware of sin in the world and sin in your own heart is a good place to start. That means God is speaking to you. Have you, though, called out to God for his salvation? Jonah describes his problem, called to God for help, and committed himself to follow God – he made a vow to God. Have you declared God as you master? Have you committed to follow him no matter where he takes you? Turning to God and turning away from idols?
  • Jonah had a ‘big fish’ experience. I like to see this as God doing whatever it takes to wake us up and get us back on track. In no way do I see the time in the fish as pleasant for Jonah. God’s care for us will mean that we will experience discipline from him as we would expect from a loving Father. In a time when we would expect a lament from the mouth of Jonah, we hear thanksgiving. I wonder if you have experienced a ‘big fish’ moment in your life? Perhaps there will be more to come?

Prayer of the week

Heavenly Father, help us to want to be in your presence. Rescue us from everything that takes our attention away from you. Teach us to keep turning to you for our help. Thank you for the salvation that comes through Christ alone. Help us to live for you everyday. Amen.