God commanded the prophet Jonah to preach against the wickedness of the city of Nineveh. Jonah disobeyed and fled on a ship going the opposite direction.
God caused a storm to buffet the ship. The sailors were afraid, and Jonah revealed the storm was due to his disobedience. They threw him into the sea, and the storm abated. God appointed a fish to swallow Jonah. He prayed in the depths, and God saved him. The fish spat him out on dry land.
Again, God called Jonah to preach against Nineveh. This time, Jonah obeyed. He went to Nineveh, and cried out that God’s judgment was coming against the city in forty days. Surprisingly, the people of Nineveh believed in God, repented of their deeds and proclaimed a fast. God changed His mind and did not destroy the city (Jonah 3:5-10).
But Jonah’s response is just as surprising as Nineveh’s response. Jonah “became angry” (Jonah 4:1). He got so angry that he despaired of life.
God asked him, “Do you have good reason to be angry?”
Do we suspect for a moment that God didn’t know Jonah’s heart? God knew Jonah’s heart as well as He had known Jonah’s location in the ocean. But Jonah needed to realize that his anger demonstrated a particularly bad form of shortsightedness and selfishness—Jonah wanted to limit the grace of God.
Do YOU Have Good Reason to Be Angry?
Anger is a complicated thing. On the one hand, Paul says to put away all “bitterness and wrath and anger” (Ephesians 4:31); but in the same breath he says, “be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (4:26). Anger is like pain—it is a signal that something is wrong and needs to be addressed. Christians should express anger in a mature way, and remember that in all cases “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:19).
But this isn’t a lesson about anger in general. Jonah was angry that God didn’t wipe out Nineveh. Jonah admitted this was the reason he had disobeyed God’s command in the first place (4:2). Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the pagan nation already threatening Israel, which would in fact eventually destroy Israel. Jonah wanted Nineveh to get its comeuppance! He didn’t want to preach to them, because he didn’t want them to be saved!
God soon made Jonah realize that he had no right to protest God’s sovereign decisions of destruction or salvation; and that moreover, Jonah was being petty and self-centered to accept God’s mercy when it came his way, but withhold it from others. Jonah took up a position overlooking Nineveh, and God caused a plant to grow over Jonah to provide shade from the scorching sun. “Jonah was extremely happy about the plant” (4:6). The next day, God caused a worm to destroy the plant, and “the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die” (4:8).
God pointed out that Jonah had more compassion in his heart for an inanimate plant than for all the human beings and livestock of Nineveh. Jonah could get worked up about his own discomfort, but was ready to watch 120,000 people, who were made in God’s image, who did not have the benefit of God’s law, suffer the destruction of their homes and even their lives.
From the belly of the deep, Jonah had confessed with praise, “salvation is from the Lord!” (2:9); now he needed be willing to extend that benefit to the people of Nineveh.
Let us be careful that we do not fall victim to Jonah’s attitude. It’s easier than we may think. James and John, two disciples of Jesus, offered to destroy a village of Samaritans who had rejected them (Luke 9:51-56). The laborers got mad when the eleventh-hour latecomers got paid the same salary (Matt. 20:1-16). The faithful brother refused to come to the feast that the father hosted for the prodigal brother (Luke 15:28).
We too can express outrage that a person who spent much of his life in sin can receive the same reward of Heaven as someone who worked hard in the kingdom. In fact, like Jonah, we can crack a satisfied smile at the thought of God’s wrath poured out upon foulmouthed neighbors, sexual revolutionaries, and Islamic terrorists. But God loves them. God’s grace is not fair; that’s the point! It wasn’t fair that God saved us from the fate we deserved, either (Ephesians 2:5-8). Let us rejoice to see God’s grace extended to others, and do our part to preach it. –John Guzzetta