We now turn to Jonah’s reaction to the mercy of God to the penitent Ninevites. He was enraged that God could consider their repentance, leave alone forgiving them!
1) Jonah was displeased exceedingly for the Ninevites repented
Jonah instead of being pleased that he served God who is so rich in mercy and abounding in steadfast love, was furious that God would forgive them! In fact the passage shows that according to Jonah, ‘It was evil to Jonah a great evil,’ and this tells you that his reaction was very strong.
He was not just irritated, he was burning with rage and fury over the mercy of God on people who were outside the commonwealth of Israel. He did not appreciate the sovereignty of God in the dispensation of His grace. If God had consulted with Jonah, if or not to pardon them, Jonah’s counsel could have been ‘no pardon’ without any reservations or remorse! Before you and I lift up our hands to flare Jonah, let us at least appreciate that he lacked the understanding of what God was doing and he is not the only one. Habbakkuk and Jeremiah had the same problem.
Back to Jonah we see that in his prayer to God he justified himself. His word came out that his problem was he had wanted the people of Nineveh to be punished for their sins and particularly because they were enemies of God’s people. He knew that bringing God’s word to Nineveh was itself an act of God’s mercy, therefore he fled to Tarshish. He felt justified in his defiance of God, because ‘God’s mercy is only to be spent on His people, and no other!’ This was Jonah’s theology! In this position Jonah had imbibed a false entitlement to the grace of God that Israel had. Did God chose Israel because they were the best nation? Read Deut. 7:6-8
"For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
No one deserves or will ever deserve God’s grace, and except the one who doesn't deserve it will receive it. If by any chance it turned out that you deserved the grace of God, then it would cease to be grace – Grace it always unmerited. If it is deserved, then it is one’s dues (Rom. 4:4-5). In this chapter, we see the blowing up of the Jewish balloon – they deserved the grace of God and everyone else was unwelcome.
Jonah finally admitted the wickedness of the intent of his heart. If Jonah’s theology was true, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, the Ethiopian Eunuch, you and I should not be recipients of God’s saving grace. Thank God that His grace does not depend on counsel from any man, not even a prophet. God does not solicit for human counsel. In fact God does not have a cabinet, outside of Himself! This is the lesson that Peter was taught of God before being sent to the household of Cornelius in Acts 10. Later on he explained this to the other apostles and this was the conclusion: If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?" When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life." Act 11:17-18.
Thank God that He is not hindered by human failure. He turns the hearts of men, even kings to do His bidding. They may not like it, but they will only accomplish the purposes of God even in their wickedness – no one, even the devil can stay His hand to accomplish His will. Jonah’s displeasure was all in human vanity and folly.
2) Knowledge puffs up (1Cor 8:1)
Jonah knew that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster! Excellent theology but only intellectual confessionalism is not a sufficient Christianity. But while we may be made indignant by Jonah’s rage we must instead see the infinite patience and wisdom of God in dealing with this prophet. But before casting any stone against Jonah, let us ask ourselves how we use the knowledge we amass here. You may be a well educated person in things of God, thank God for that and use it for His realize the purposes for which He has given it. Never make the knowledge you have as the basis for slamming other people. Use it to edify and not to tear down. Any knowledge could be used either for good or for evil.
3) God exposes the selfishness of man in love for the posterity
Ultimately the Lord forced him to accept the divine love that motivates divine government in providence by appointing a plant to protect Jonah from the scorching heat and save him from the discomfort. This made Jonah exceedingly happy. This was another demonstration of Jonah’s shameful selfishness (4:6) While he was glad for the plant provided but when it was destroyed by a worm the following day he was back to his fits of anger. Self-entitlement fails to receive the grace of God in affliction. We must guard against the thought that God owes us anything – He does not owe you or me any apology when He governs His creation.
Just as Jonah was beginning to enjoy the shade of the vine, God appointed a worm to attack the plant so that it withered. God then appointed a scorching east wind and the sun to beat on the head of Jonah so that was faint! Jonah got even angrier! In this Jonah was getting a tiny taste of the horrors of the Hell the Ninevites were headed to before they were saved.
This time, God sets the record straight! He reminds Jonah that Jonah cared more about a plant than he did the souls of the people of Nineveh. People made in the image of God and people who would have perished had He not intervened! Do you see the same attitude in your life? Where you look at the wickedness of sinners and think that they deserve hell? Are there people that you consider unworthy of the grace of God? This is the same attitude.
We all should be highly convicted by this. We tend to get upset about things that simply do not matter. Think about the last thing that made you mad. Now, ask yourself this question: What will it matter in 100 years? Friends, the only thing that really matters as we pass through this life is finding God's will for you and walking in with all your power! People are going to Hell and we are worrying about plants and other comforts. Our priorities need to be refocused and narrowed until they want only what God wants in all of life. That would please Him and it would get His work done in the world! Eph. 6:6; Heb. 13:21; 1 John 2:17.)
What has your attention today? Jonah didn't care about the eternal destiny of the people on Nineveh! All he cared about was his reputation as a prophet and the foolish prejudices he carried with him through life. He learned, or at least we hope he did, that God's will in this world is all that really matters. Isn't it time we put aside all the things that cloud our vision of His glory? Isn't it time we put aside our hurts, our desires and our wills so that we might be better able to do His will in the world?
Jonah suffered because he didn't care about God's will. What do you care about today? If anything is more important to you than doing the will of God, then I invite you to leave your booth and come to Him in humble obedience. God has a right to spend His mercy, grace and steadfast love on whoever He wills. We should not imagine that a mortal man can give counsel to God.