This past week we finished our series in the book of Jonah. In Jonah 4 we got to see God’s grace poured out on Jonah all the more. Right after the people of Nineveh repented and God relented from the disaster they earned, Jonah was irate. The literal translation of Jonah 1:1 is, “It was evil to Jonah, a great evil.” Jonah loved it when grace was poured out on him at the bottom of the sea in chapter two, but he couldn’t stand it being given to a group of people like the Ninevites. And to this illogical/hypocritical hatred God gives Jonah grace by entering into a conversation with Jonah and graciously pointing this out.
Now in the conversation between Jonah and God, Jonah can seem like a puzzle we just can’t figure out. Frist, why is he so angry when God spares the Ninevites? Well, we’ve already seen that the Ninevites were a ruthless people that had devastated Northern Israel previously. We’ve talked about their horrific pagan rituals. But there is something else that also might have been bothering Jonah in this last passage. Both Amos (5:27) and Hosea (11:5), contemporaries of Jonah, had both predicted Nineveh would come from the north and punish the Israelites for their sin. Now, just imagine being Jonah. Essentially Jonah has been used as a source of divine blessing to the future killers of his fellow countrymen, family and friends. He has enabled the enemy. How would you feel. Just think how horrible you would feel if God lead you to help someone who would deeply hurt your family and friends. It would not be an easy feeling to deal with. This makes Jonah more understandable and relatable. Sometimes God leads us to do things we don’t understand and we, like Jonah, can get angry.
Second, why is Jonah so angry over the plant. J.V. McGee, I think has a tremendous insight into this when he writes the following:
If we understand a little about human nature, we can understand Jonah a little better. It is amazing how people can get attached to living things other than human beings, especially if they are lonely. If they have no person to love, they will have a dog or cat or even a vine to love. Several years ago I visited a friend in Chicago who lived in an apartment. She had several plants, and one of them was a geranium. She took me over to show me the geranium which was just a little old stub sticking up out of the pot. In my yard in Pasadena I have to cut back the geraniums with a hoe in order to keep them from taking over! But this lady said to me, “Dr. McGee, look here at this little geranium. I know you grow them in California, but this one is such a sweet one. It grows up each year and has flowers on it. It dies back in wintertime, although the apartment is warm—I don’t know why it does that.” I told her. “Well, geraniums have a habit of lunging out in a spurt of growth at times.” But hers hadn’t done much lunging, you can be sure of that—it was just a little, bitty thing. As we walked away, she patted that little geranium and said, “You sweet little thing, you!” I thought, My gracious, does she talk to the geranium? I guess she did. She certainly was a very sensible and intelligent woman, but she lived alone and really did not have many friends. Jonah has no friends, he doesn’t like Ninevites, and there’s not a person in that city whom he cares about visiting. He’s alone, and he’s out of fellowship with God at this time. So God lets him get attached to a little old gourd. I have a notion that Jonah would come panting up the hill with a bucket of water every afternoon and would say to the gourd, “Little gourd, I’ve brought you your drink for today.” Can you imagine that? Well, people can get attached to dogs in that way also. One evening when my daughter was just a little thing, I took her for a walk. We came to a corner where there were a lot of vines, and we couldn’t see around the corner, but we could hear a woman talking. I have never heard such sweet talk in my life! I thought we were interrupting a romance; so I took my daughter and started to cross the street. But then the woman came around the corner, and she was carrying a little dog. Imagine talking to a dog like that! I do not know if she was married or not, but if she was, I’ll bet that her husband wasn’t hearing sweet talk like that. We speak of some people leading “a dog’s life”—there are some men who wish they could lead a dog’s life! Jonah talked that way to this gourd vine—he’s attached to it! (McGee, J. Vernon. Jonah / Micah: The Prophets (Jonah/Micah) (Thru the Bible Book 29) (Kindle Locations 1012-1030). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.)
Jonah’s attachment to this plant, this object lesson is a little more understandable after reading that.
But now that we have a little more compassion for Jonah the truth is still the same. There is no excuse for being a person of God who is not abounding in grace. Jesus knew the future pain the people of Jerusalem would bring Him but he ministered to them anyway. Jesus knew the future pain the Roman soldiers would inflict on Him but He healed soldiers. Jesus listened to God’s will no matter what the present or future held and what was the result, it was the pleasure of God the Father, His raising up to the right hand of God, and the salvation of those He loves. Being a person of grace, as Jesus was, isn’t being a person without pain or hurt but it is always worth it in the end