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Jonah’s Callous Heart Confronted

Jonah 4

If you would turn in your copy of the scriptures to Jonah and as we come to the end of the book of Jonah, we’re reminded of the beginning of the book. As we see Jonah at the end, he resembles much the same hard hearted, calloused man that he resembled at the beginning in chapter 1. When Yahweh initially commissioned Jonah in chapter 1 to go preach against Nineveh, Jonah fled in the other direction to go to the other side of the known world.

He was willing to leave everything behind, forfeit his life as he knew it in Israel in order to avoid going to Nineveh and avoid taking the mercy of God to Nineveh. And thus, it is important to be reminded of why Jonah didn’t want to go, in case you weren’t here. Jonah didn’t want to go because he hated the Ninevites. And as we will, see as we go on today, Jonah did not want God’s mercy to reach Nineveh. And Jonah knew if the Lord was sending him to Nineveh, it was for the purpose of bringing mercy. Because if the Lord just wanted to destroy Nineveh and wipe them off the face of the earth for their wickedness, he didn’t need to send Jonah to do that.

But Jonah, he hated the Ninevites because they were a part of the Assyrian empire. Enemies of Israel. Not just any enemies, but these Assyrians they were brutal and ruthless enemies. They had no mercy on those whom they conquered. They tortured people as they conquered them for fun. They had no respect for human life. The Assyrians they celebrated their violence by putting it on billboard, so to speak, massive stone release and carvings that depicted limbs flying in the air that they had often chopped off and thrown through the air, their favorite form of torture.

They rejoiced and celebrated their brutality because it made the entire world fear them. And we know from history that their brutality reached down into Israel prior to the time of Jonah. So, Jonah would be very familiar with these Barbarians and their torturous ways. Maybe even Jonah had family members on the receiving end of the Assyrian attacks. But if not direct family was the indirect family of Israel.

So, Jonah had personal reasons to hate the people of Nineveh, but his hatred and anger towards the Ninevites, was it justified? I mean they slaughtered countless people destroying image bearers everywhere they went. Wicked and grotesque destruction of the image bearers of God. Was his hatred for that justified? Should we hate such murderous actions as well? Well, we should detest the destruction of fellow image bearers. But Jonah had moved beyond hating their way of life and what they did to hating them as a people group for their actions.

Jonah had hated them, and he had hated them for so long. He began to dehumanize them and no longer see them as image bearers, but as rabid animals that needed to be put down, expunged from the earth. And what we’re going to see today. As Yahweh confronts Jonah’s callous heart, Yahweh will remind Jonah of the fact that these Ninevites, they’re still image bearers of God that no one should wish destruction upon, but rather mercy. But if you’re in the book of Jonah, let’s read chapter 4 together.

This is on the heels of Jonah preaching to Nineveh and we see a wholesale national repentance from Nineveh. And this is where we pick it up in verse, chapter 4, verse 1. “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord, is this not what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you were a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’

“And the Lord said, ‘Do you do well to be angry?’ Then Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.

“But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant so that it withered. And when the sun arose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’ But God said to Jonah, ‘Do you do well to be angry for the plant? And he said, ‘Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.’

“And the Lord said, ‘You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the right hand from their left, and also much cattle?’”

Now before we get into the outline. I want to go to the end of the book and make some observations that we might just make appropriate application through this chapter. We, as we examine Jonah’s anger that we might identify if we have a similar anger for others in our hearts that, in order that we might repent of it. I mentioned last week that as I made some application towards LGBTQ plus people that I didn’t just pull that group out of a hat. The end of chapter 4 is a correlation between the Ninevites and the LGBTQ people of today.

Look at chapter 4, the end of chapter 4, verse 11. God tells Jonah, “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” This verse alone has been the topic of much interpretive debate. A lot of ink spilled on trying to figure out what these verses mean. One commentator says, “Some have suggested that this means young children, that is, those who can’t tell the right hand from their left. Young children who have literally not yet learned the difference between their two hands. The expression means all of the Ninevites who are ignorant but still responsible.”

Others say that this reference is a reference to the Ninevites ignorance of special revelation. They didn’t know they were turning off of the straight and narrow path to the right or to the left, so to speak. They didn’t know right from wrong. This second explanation is on track I think. It refers to the Ninevites being morally confused as to what is right and wrong. They can’t tell up from down right from wrong, left from right, and I would tend to agree with this, but I think we can be much more specific as to what this means, and I’m going to propose a radical interpretation of this phrase, “People who do not know the right hand from their left.”

I’m proposing that this verse means that they can’t tell the right hand from their left, that it means they can’t tell the right hand from their left. And maybe you’re thinking, “Gee, thanks Brett, that’s super helpful.” But let me import a couple different words into that sentence, see if it makes any more logical sense to you. But I think you’ll understand what it means. Would it make any more sense to you if I said that these people, they couldn’t tell the difference between boys and girls? Doesn’t, the same thing, doesn’t make any sense in a logical society.

But the Ninevites, they were so depraved in their thinking that they could no longer make basic biological, physical, anatomical distinctions. They couldn’t tell the difference between their left hand and their right hand. One person would ask, hey, is this a left hand or a right hand? And the other would answer, you know, who knows? Who cares? They’re just good for cutting off other people’s hands, because that’s what the Assyrians did. They had become so degraded in their thinking. They had marred the image of God and so many people, cutting off appendages. They had seared their consciences so much that they couldn’t even make basic anatomical distinctions between hands.

And this is no different than those today who are darkened in their thinking. They have suppressed the truth so much, God has given them over to a debased mind, that they can’t even tell the difference between boys and girls. They likewise cannot make basic anatomical distinctions between body parts. Who knew the ‘A’ and LGBTQIA could stand for Assyrians. What we see today is nothing new. It’s what happens when the image of God is marred so severely in man.

But then there’s that phrase and also much cattle. This word translated in the ESV as “cattle,” it’s a word that just can generally refer to any animal, the animal world in general. So this has to do with the Assyrians inability, due to their darkened minds, to distinguish between men and animals and many different animals. And this is why they even called the animals to fast and put sackcloth on in chapter 3.

They also couldn’t distinguish between men and animals. They lost the moral distinction between men and animals and maybe, maybe even the physical one as well. Just as we see today people pretending to be animals and people indulging them in it. Is this a man or a dog? I don’t know. It’s whatever he wants to be. The Ninevites were so darkened in their thinking that they could not make basic moral or anatomical distinctions between their left hand, their right hand, between men and animal agents.

And if someone is this way, they’re so darkened in their thinking. Do you think there’s any hope left reasoning with them through logic? No. The only hope is preaching the gospel to them. The only hope is that they might see the ugliness of their own sin and to call out to God for mercy. And we live in one of the few points in history where these verses, as plain as they are written, make sense. We understand the interpretation and we need to be careful that we don’t fall into the same trap that Jonah did and let our righteous anger for the wickedness and violence of our time against men, women, and children.

We must be careful that we do not dehumanize any other people like Jonah did the Assyrians and give in to hate. The Germans, back in World War 2, they had the, the saying of the Jews that they were “Lebensunwertes Leben;” Leben, life unworthy of life. They dehumanized there those that they hated in order that they could justify all their brutality against them.

So let’s look at the book of Jonah and see if we find the in our society the temptation towards the same hatred, or even maybe we find the same hatred in our own hearts. And let’s be counseled by the Lord himself to reorient our thinking. So the outline for this morning? Just two points. Point number one, Jonah’s anger and Yahweh’s compassion. We’ll find that in verses 1 to 4, Jonah’s anger and Yahweh’s compassion. And point number two, Jonah’s anger and Yahweh’s object lesson in 5 to 11.

So first we see Jonah’s anger and Yahweh’s compassion. Back in chapter 1, Jonah’s hatred for the Ninevites had led him to run far away, or at least attempt to, to take any agent that would carry the mercy of God to the Ninevites to take that far away. But now his hatred for the Assyrians is expressed in a great anger. He is hot, he is livid. But what is Jonah upset about and why? This is a sub point for our first point, Jonah’s anger and Yahweh’s compassion.

First we see Jonah’s reason for his anger. Look at verse 1. “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.” But it displeased is the verb from the noun translated above as evil and disaster, so the evil of the Assyrians way and the disaster that the Lord was going to bring upon them. This is the verb form of that same word, raa, evil or disaster. It’s often used to refer to something as being evil or being displeasing in someone’s sight. And there’s also in the ESV that phrase exceedingly that’s translated as an adverb in English.

But the Hebrew there is a noun with an adjective. The Hebrew is literally a great evil or a great disaster. It’s the noun form of that same verb, displeased, right before this. The noun refers to either a moral evil, as it’s used above to refer to the Ninevites, or it could be referred to a natural evil or disaster, such as the one God threatened to destroy Nineveh with. To give the sense the Hebrew literally reads, and it was evil to Jonah, a great evil, or, it displeased Jonah it was a great disaster. So either Jonah thought it was morally wrong that God did not destroy Nineveh, or he thought it was a natural disaster, that God didn’t send a natural disaster upon Nineveh.

In light of what follows with Jonah’s anger, it’s probably the former. That he thinks it’s morally wrong, that God showed compassion towards them. He thinks it’s unjust and wrong. One commentator says that, “Yahweh would relent from the evil that Nineveh so richly deserved is a great evil to Jonah.”

Yahweh will remind Jonah of the fact that these Ninevites, they’re still image bearers of God that no one should wish destruction upon, but rather mercy.”

Bret Hastings

Interestingly, everyone is relinquishing evil except Jonah. Having dealt with Nineveh’s evil in the previous chapter, the narrative now turns to Jonah’s evil. Nineveh had already repented. But Jonah, he’s still in need of correction and repentance. It’s over his sinful anger. He is fuming mad. It displeased him exceedingly. But what is the ‘it’ referring to? It displeased Jonah exceedingly. It’s important at this point to note where everyone still is in the story.

It isn’t until verse 5 that Jonah goes out of the city. So Jonah is still here in the city. Possibly this is towards the beginning or the end of the first day of his preaching tour and number. Chapter 3 tells us that he went preaching one day through Nineveh. Basically the whole city repented. Nineveh repents. Even the king and his nobles sent out proclamation calling for national repentance. It’s a genuine repentance.

Jonah sees all the signs of genuine repentance. The humility of the king submitting to the authority of God. Just a representation of all the people’s hearts. They believe that they deserve to die and the men of the city cry out to God for mercy. Verse 10 of chapter 3 tells us that God relented, but Jonah doesn’t know that at this point. He writes that for us later. If Jonah knew this for sure already, he would not be as it tells us in verse 5, “going out east of the city to watch and wait for its destruction.”

Jonah is in the city and he sees people repenting at his preaching and he is so wildly successful, the word spreads like wildfire and everyone is repenting. It would be a day of rejoicing for any preacher to get these results if the preacher didn’t hate everyone’s guts that he was preaching to. He had such a deep seated hatred in his heart for these people. He thought they were life unworthy of life, and he could not stand the fact that they were repenting.

Jonah thought it was a great disaster that they had repented. He thought it was morally wrong that they had been given the gift of repentance and verse 1 tells us it ends with “and he was angry.” He was heated, he was burning up, angry. But why? Because Jonah saw these people as animals who needed to be put down, who are just going to continue to murder and destroy possibly other Israelites, but other men, women and children, other image bearers.

It wouldn’t be right to let them live. And Jonah’s anger? It drives him to prayer. But really, the beginning of his prayer is just a justification of his past obedience and a justification of his anger now. Look at verse 2. “And he prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? This is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you were a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding and steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.’”

Jonah couldn’t stand the fact that Nineveh was repenting because he knew that God was going to be merciful. He knew what God was going to do if they repented. He knew God’s character. He knew Israel’s history, that when people repent, the Lord relents from disaster. So Jonah prays to God and he says I knew this would happen.

That’s why I didn’t want to come in the first place. That’s why I ran the other direction. Because I knew you were a gracious and merciful God, abounding in steadfast love, relenting from disaster. I knew mercy would follow me to these wretched people, and I didn’t want it to. That’s what Jonah prays. What explains this level of hatred. I mean, I think most of us, we don’t look at anyone with this kind of anger and hatred. Well, that’s the question that the Lord is going to deal with as we move through the text.

But Jonah’s theological statement on the attributes of God, and they’re actually a creedal confession found throughout the Scriptures. Turn back to Exodus 34 with me, just briefly. Travis mentioned confessions, how we repeat them. Israel would do the same thing. We find this confession made throughout the Old Testament once the Lord declared it about himself. The people continue to repeat it throughout the Old Testament, but this passage in Exodus 34:6-8, it was a comfort to all Israel throughout their history.

They would recite it to themselves when they did wrong. It was an encouragement to repent. It was a comfort that Yahweh would forgive. These attributes were declared by the Lord himself as he gave self revelation to Moses and to Israel after the golden calf incident. They had traded Yahweh for a golden calf. So this is the God who brought you out of Egypt. The Lord reveals this to Moses. Just pick it up in verse 6.

“The Lord passed before him [that is Moses] and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.’” This caused Moses there in verse 8 to quickly bow his head toward the earth and worship.

So this text that Jonah cites, you can take your, your bibles and go back to Jonah. But what this reveals, this exposes that Jonah knew who God was. Just as Jonah’s song in chapter 2 resembled language that is found all throughout the Psalter. It shows that Jonah knew Scripture, he knew who God was. He knew God’s character. He knew Yahweh was gracious and merciful, slow to anger and relenting from disaster.

And Jonah also knew without him, without Jonah to take the message, Nineveh was without hope, and Jonah wanted to see these wicked Assyrians destroyed. But Jonah he was obedient to then, after being swallowed by a fish and God commissioning him again, he was obedient to declare this message to the Ninevites, that they deserve to die for their sins. But he was not obedient to be compassionate like his God. Though Jonah knew God’s character, he had yet to become like the Lord and his grace and mercy.

Instead of rejoicing at the salvation of others, he saw them as unworthy of mercy. He is angry. Jonah is angry, and he thinks it is a great disaster, that the Lord has relented from destroying Nineveh, and he laments that he was right. I knew you were gonna to do this. He laments that he was right. Jonah knew who God was, but he didn’t think Nineveh was worthy of receiving anything from God. He saw them as brute beasts who needed to be put down. And he knew Yahweh was a merciful God who wouldn’t see it the same way he did.

As we continue to go through this text, I just want to stop at certain points and make some applications for us regarding anger. Let’s just frame it as, your anger is unrighteous if, or, you might be a Jonah if. Kind of like you might be a redneck if, you know those old, that old comedy routine. Your anger is unrighteous if. What we find from this, and this is fairly obvious. But your anger is unrighteous if you are angry that God hasn’t punished someone you think needs to be punished.

And we can particularly be tempted to do this as we watch the news, as we see what is perpetrated across our country on other men, women, and children. The sexual revolution that’s going through our country. We are tempted to, because of the political situation and both sides on the political aisle vilifying the other side. We can be tempted to do the same thing, to dehumanize the other side and be angry that God hasn’t punished our enemies as they should be. That’s what Jonah’s doing here. He’s saying, God, it is wrong that you haven’t destroyed them yet.

But your anger is unrighteous if you are angry that God hasn’t punished someone you think needs to be punished.”

Bret Hastings

That is, I mean, we, we see how obviously wicked Jonah’s anger is here, and we need to see the, the, our own anger. When we tend to think that way and are tempted to think that way, we need to see how wicked it is. It’s the same as what Jonah is expressing here. In our heart of hearts, when we do that, we are preferring judgement upon those people versus mercy. We’d rather see them judge definitely. The two political sides of our country would rather see the other one destroyed for their ideology, and we can get sucked into the same kind of thinking.

We have to guard ourselves against that. I don’t think any of us would express this verbally. I think as soon as we thought something like Jonah that we would immediately see the wickedness and the pride in that and repent of it. But I do think we are tempted to do that in our world. So we have to be on guard. Our anger is unrighteous. If we are angry that someone else hasn’t been punished, that we think needs to be punished.

But we move on to subpoint B, Jonah’s request. Look at verse 3, his request to the Lord. “Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah is clearly blinded by his anger. He asks the Lord to take his life now, in the present moment, right now. He can’t live another moment. It’s emphatic now. And then it goes on to “take please.” It’s an imperative in the Hebrew, and when the imperative in the Hebrew is used from a superior or an inferior to a superior person, it’s used as a dire request. It’s used throughout the Psalms when the Psalmist cries out. Help me.

It’s an, it’s not a command, but it’s an urgent request, and normally it’s used to call out to God to save him. The Psalmist save me from a dire situation, but here Jonah sees his dire situation that he needs to be saved from is that the Ninevites have been spared. Jonah sees the greater threat to his happiness is God’s goodness toward other people, and the text is dripping with irony.

As Jonah has received so much mercy from the Lord, how can he be so angry when someone else receives that same mercy, it’s dripping with irony? And the story’s written that way. So we see the absurdity of Jonah’s thinking. But Jonah, he justifies his request for Yahweh to take his life by saying it is better for me to die than to live.

In the Hebrew this is a verbalist clause. It’s just actually a value statement, a value judgment from Jonah. Statement of fact, Jonah says when it comes to what is good, my death outweighs my life on the comparative scale. When it comes to what is good, death much, much higher on the scale. My death is good, my life not so good. And Jonah makes an absolutely absurd value judgment. We know death was a result of the curse, never good. But Jonah, he now sees death as a good thing and life as a bad thing.

It’s another indication that Jonah’s thinking is all backwards. His values have all been inverted. He isn’t thinking clear in his anger. So you might be a Jonah if or your anger is unrighteous if it starts to produce death in you instead of life. If you begin to think your solution, the solution to your problem, is death. Your anger is unrighteous, or we could even put it this way. To be more specific, your anger is unrighteous if it is producing death in you. Even death as in a bitter attitude that brings metaphorical death to your relationships. The way you speak to people.

If you read the news a lot, you read about and hear about perversion, taking root and gaining ground across the country, the state, you’re rightly angry that darkness is being perpetrated on others, but then the result is you growing dark because you’re fixated on those things. You’re irritated about that, and your irritation starts to spill over onto other people like a toxin, and your anger is producing death. You need to repent. Put your mind back on the gospel. That the Lord has promised, that his gospel will go forth and dispel the darkness and the advance of these dark ideologies is limited, and in the end, Christ prevails. That’s what we need to remind ourselves of.

Not let anger produce death in us, but life, the life giving fruit of the gospel. So we’ve seen Jonah’s request. Now we see that the Lord is going to counsel Jonah’s angry heart, and it is quite instructive for us. But subpoint C, Yahweh’s response to Jonah’s request. Yahweh’s response. Now, Jonah has just said that Yahweh’s mercy and goodness towards Nineveh was bad. That’s the value judgment he made, that God should have destroyed Nineveh for their wickedness. Jonah wanted justice, not mercy for Nineveh.

Yet, we see Jonah’s wicked and unrighteous anger and God’s response here to Jonah’s prayer. It could have been to end him. That’s what his sins deserve. I mean, calling what God did bad, saying that saving Nineveh was bad and that death would be good. This was wicked on the part of Jonah. He deserved to be put to death right then and there. God is so gracious to Jonah. He’s so merciful, even yet all throughout this chapter, the goodness of God continues to pervade everything.

We see how the Lord deals with Jonah. We see how patient and kind God is shepherding Jonah through his unrighteous and, quite frankly, irrational anger. But as we read this, notice what the Lord doesn’t do. He doesn’t come to Jonah and say, “Now you listen here, Jonah, I have shown you so much mercy.” No, he doesn’t do that. He asks him a simple question. Look at verse 4. “Do you do well to be angry?” In the Hebrew, this is a very difficult phrase to interpret.

There’s only three words, really. There’s a finite verb and an infinite verb, and the only other word is a second person pronoun, you. And the thing I don’t like about the ESV is that it actually translates and inverts the infinitive and the infinitive verbs. I prefer the translation of the question this way. Is it good that you are angry? Because it also forces Jonah to think about his value judgment on life and death as good, God’s mercy as good.

God is pointing his finger at Jonah and making him think about what is actually good. And this verbal construction is absolutely genius because it’s God speaking. We expect that. But this particular construction in the Hebrew is used in an impassioned question to show doubt or the improbability of an affirmative answer. So God is challenging Jonah. He’s challenging his thinking on what is good, and he is framing the question in such a way that indicates the affirmative answer is improbable.

Jonah gets the hint from God. As God asks him this question, God challenges his logic, his value statement. Jonah is confronted with the discrepancy in his logic. He has declared what is good, that goodness is Yahweh being merciful and gracious and slow to anger. He gave thanks in chapter 2 for this reality in his own life. He knows God is good and does good to his creatures. And yet Jonah thinks this goodness towards Nineveh is bad because it was given to certain people he hates.

Jonah is confronted here with the reality that he cannot call God’s mercy good one moment, and bad the next. Jonah is confronted with the fact that his anger is not justified. His anger is not good. But does he repent? No. He actually just walks away. Like chapter 1 when he fled, he just walks out of the city. But before we move on to point two, your anger is unrighteous if you won’t even listen to the kindest and gentlest of questions that challenge your thinking.

Your anger is unrighteous if you won’t even listen to the kindest and gentlest of questions challenging your thinking. And I think we can take a play from the Lord’s playbook here when confronting those in anger. Even our fellow brothers and sisters here, ask them this exact question. Is it good that you are angry? Is your anger producing good, good in you, good in others? And let their own hearts convict them. That’s what the Lord did here.

And oh, you might be a Jonah if you get angry when someone asks you that question. We’ve seen Jonah’s anger, the Lord’s compassion towards Jonah as he tried to gently correct his thinking, asking him that question. Is it good for you to be angry? However, as no surprise to us, Jonah is stubborn. He persists in his anger, so the Lord continues to be gentle and shepherd him through it. And that brings us to point to Jonah’s anger and Yahweh’s object lesson.

Look at just the beginning of verse 5. After the Lord asked him this question. Then Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city. We see here that the Lord continues to show long-suffering towards Jonah. If you are a parent and you have ever been in the middle of disciplining your kid, and they just tried to get up and walk away, you’re going to appreciate the Lord’s patience here. That is what Jonah did.

The Lord is trying to correct him and instruct him, and he just gets up, turns his back, and walks away. God doesn’t strike him dead again as he deserves, even though Jonah just walks away and ignores the question. But this is even an insult to any earthly authority, much less God himself. So we should see the fact that Jonah makes it out of the city, a furtherance of the long-suffering of the Lord. And as we get into this point, I’ve broken this up into three subpoints as well.

And first we see Jonah’s patient indignation. Let’s read verse 5 again. “Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.” Remember, it’s likely the first day that Jonah was preaching through Nineveh. He sees them repent, he becomes angry and he leaves the city. And the fact that Jonah went east may indicate that he was again trying to flee from the presence of the Lord.

In the Old Testament a lot of times people going east is away from the presence of the Lord like Genesis when Adam and Eve were sent out of the garden to the east. Jonah is still again trying to get away from God. He doesn’t want any more questions from God. He wants to remain in his anger. He doesn’t want to hear any more from God. But God isn’t going to let his prophet go. He’s not going to let his son continue to walk in disobedience.

But Jonah goes out east of the city. He makes for himself a little hut, probably just made up of sticks that he could find fashioning some kind of makeshift pergola. Probably a very shabby structure, but there were some sticks stacked on top of each other. In order to provide some cover, maybe he could find some leaves somewhere. But if he did find something with leaves on it, put it on top, it would only be a matter of time before they withered in the 100 degree weather.

So he’s sitting under his makeshift pergola there, with the sun still beating down, coming through the cracks. Not a great deterrent to the sun, but better than nothing. And he’s sitting, waiting to see what would become of the city. Jonah is hoping against hope that Nineveh will still be destroyed by God. He knows Nineveh has repented, and he knows God’s merciful character. That’s why he’s so angry. But he’s hoping against hope that the Lord won’t be as merciful as Jonah thinks he will be. Again Jonah hopes that he will be wrong.

He’s hoping against hope that Nineveh will be destroyed. And if this is just day one, or even if it’s day three of his preaching tour, he still has 37 more days to wait. Remember, he gave him 40 days. He’s patient in his indignation. He’s willing to sit there for weeks, hoping just to see Nineveh destroyed. And the point of application, your anger is unrighteous.

If you just sit around waiting for judgment to fall on others for their sin, you’re just waiting, hoping that the Lord is not merciful to them, hoping that the bad things happen to these people. So you’re vindicated in your anger. Instead, we ought to pray that the Lord be merciful, be patient, give us time to take the gospel to these people. And again, I don’t think any of us would verbalize anything like this.

And if we did think something this clearly, I think we would repent of it. But if we are just cold and indifferent and ignoring the lost people in the world, is it really any different than just waiting for judgement to come? We know judgement is coming. Maybe we’re not active in our anger and thinking these things, but by our actions we’re really not interested in mercy coming to other people. But the Lord doesn’t give up on Jonah, and he doesn’t just ask him another question right away. Instead, he gives Jonah an object lesson.

 Subpoint B, Yahweh’s patient kindness. In this object lesson, Yahweh continues to be patiently kind towards Jonah. Look at verse 6. “Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.” That word appointed. It’s the same word used to refer to the Lord appointing a fish to save Jonah from drowning in the bottom of the sea.

And now the Lord appoints a plant to grow up over Jonah to save him from his discomfort. Now again, that word discomfort, that same word used prolifically in this section to refer to evil or disaster, And I think it’s a bit of play on words. But the Lord indicates what he is doing here. He is trying to deliver Jonah from his evil anger. He’s trying to deliver him from the evil of his heart.

Jonah’s temporary discomfort is not Yahweh’s primary concern. It does result in the temporary relief for Jonah, but that isn’t really God’s concern. God’s concern is that Jonah be delivered from his evil anger. To deliver is an infinitive of purpose, the plant like the fish, the purpose of it is to deliver Jonah. But first, the plant grew up over Jonah.

Now, I’m sure you are all very, very concerned about what kind of plant this is, are you not? Some people have been in the past. It’s a bit of a joke, but it was either a gourd, that is a vine plant that would grow up on the structure that Jonah had made, or it was a castor oil plant that was very large and spanned up to 40 feet. Now, we don’t want to be like some in the past who are very adamant about which one of these plants it was. People took it way too seriously in the past.

For instance, when Jerome changed the traditional rendering of this word from a gourd to identify it with a castor oil plant, a riot broke out east of the city of Carthage, and it caused a bitter disagreement between Jerome and Augustine. And so your anger might be unrighteous if you are mad at somebody else because they take a different position on these things. The type of plant is relatively unimportant, but I think there is some exegetical significance to it.

I think it is the castor oil plant that would have supported itself provided a large excessive shade for Jonah for one primary reason, and that is that the Lord made it clear that Jonah didn’t, he didn’t do anything to labor for this plant or to make it grow. And if it was a vine, it would have had to climb Jonah’s little structure that he built in order to cover him.

The vine couldn’t have grown without anything there. And so I think it was the castor oil plant, because God was very emphatic Jonah didn’t do anything for this plant. And if it was a vine, I think it would have lent Jonah to think he did. But the castor oil plant being much larger, it would have been an abundant mercy to Jonah, providing a much larger shaded area to make it even cooler around him. So that’s the position I take that it was the large castor oil plant, but obviously not a hill to die on.

What is clear is the excessive kindness of the Lord, and this kindness from the Lord made Jonah rejoice. Look at the end of verse 6, “Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.” This phrase that mirrors verse 1 of chapter 4, where he was exceedingly angry Jonah rejoiced over the plant, a great joy, and it mirrors the great disaster he thought in verse 1.

This is significant because, as one commentator puts it, “by this means [that is the plant] the mercy of God on in a plant.” The author emphasizes that divine mercy provoked two radically different reactions in Jonah. When mercy was extended to Jonah’s enemies, divine mercy was displeasing to him. But when Jonah himself was the beneficiary of such mercy, he was overjoyed. What we should see at this point is the Lord building his argument to expose Jonah’s inconsistencies to soften his heart.

But the Lord is in the midst of building this argument right here, and the Lord is getting ready to drop the hammer on him at the end of the chapter. It should essentially make Jonah think that the Lord is asking the question, how can my mercy invoke anger and joy in you at the same time? You can’t have it both ways, but that’s what we’re going to get to at the end. For now, Jonah is as happy as he could be. He is rejoicing in the shade that the Lord has made for him. And maybe Jonah is even thinking that God is favoring him and vindicating his anger against Nineveh.

Maybe he’s rejoicing and thinking that the Lord has made a comfortable place for him to sit and watch the destruction of the city in a few weeks. But Jonah would very quickly find out that his rejoicing was in the wrong thing. And this object lesson, like many parables that Jesus taught, that takes an unexpected turn.

Look at verse 7, “But when the dawn came up the next day, got appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. And when the sun arose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’”

That word for attacked in verse 7, and beat down in verse 8. It’s the same word in the Hebrew has a militaristic connotation to it, but Jonah quickly realizes that his hopes that Yahweh was going to destroy Nineveh, well, they were evaporating into thin air. Instead of Yahweh attacking Nineveh and destroying Nineveh, the Lord sent a worm to attack Jonah’s plant that he had grown so quickly to love.

And then the Lord attacked Jonah by sending a piercing wind, a hot east wind carrying sand to attack Jonah’s head. And again from rejoicing to being angry enough to die. And this again exposes the hypocrisy of Jonah. Jonah wanted justice and judgement to come on Nineveh instead of mercy. And so God withheld mercy from Jonah and sent just a little bit of the judgement that Jonah deserved.

So Jonah is sitting there thinking, wait a minute. Not justice for me, justice for them, mercy for me, judgement for them. Jonah’s anger here is ugly. He is more concerned about his comfort, his shade, than he is about fellow human beings. Their eternal end is destruction and fire. And Jonah’s more concerned about the heat on his head. So your anger, might be unrighteous anger if you are more concerned with your personal temporal comfort than even your own sin. We can go about life being justifying hatred towards other people, fuming mad when we don’t get what we want or are made uncomfortable in any way that’s not righteous.

That’s acting like Jonah here. Let’s be angry about sin, particularly our own sin, not other people’s sin. Instead about God making us uncomfortable to try to point out our sin. But Yahweh attacked Jonah instead of Nineveh. Why? Because Nineveh had repented, and Jonah still needed to be delivered from his evil anger, just as the Ninevites had been delivered. And the Lord exposes Jonah’s hypocrisy through a couple more questions. And that brings us to our final subpoint, Yahweh’s patient questions. He already issued one patient question to Jonah, but here he offers a couple more to get to the same point, but a couple more questions.

The first question comes in verse 9 with an almost comical response, like a petulant child who refuses to listen to reason. Look at verse 9, “But God said to Jonah, ‘Do you do well to be angry for the plant?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I do, do well to be angry, angry enough to die.’” The Lord again returns to Jonah’s value judgment on what is good. It’s an identical repetition of the first question, except, he adds, tacks on the end there about the plant.

In the first question, Yahweh was asking Jonah if it was good for him to be angry, and in particular it was a question about whether or not it was good that God was merciful to Nineveh. Is it good that you be angry about my mercy coming to Nineveh? God was asking him in a question indicating that he could not answer in the affirmative. It could not be affirmed that it was right for Jonah to be angry over God showing Nineveh mercy.

Of course, it wasn’t good for him to be angry that God showed mercy, but here God does the opposite and judges Jonah’s wicked heart by killing the plant that made him so happy. And Jonah was equally displeased and angry, angry enough to die. So God asks him the same question. Is it good that you’re angry over my judgment in killing the plant? Jonah’s angry about God’s mercy in the first question, and he is angry about God’s judgment in the second question.

It reveals the inconsistency in Jonah, the hypocrisy that he is one moment angry about God’s mercy and then the next moment angry that God has withheld mercy from him. But Jonah’s still blinded by his anger for the Ninevites. He refused to see how God could show these animals, these Assyrians, mercy after what they had done, the violence that they perpetrated against men, women and children, how they continue to torture and kill.

He’s so blinded by his hatred that he continues to justify his anger and basically says, I don’t want to live in a world where Nineveh receives mercy. His hatred had taken such deep root in his heart, he wanted nothing more than to rejoice over their destruction. But the Lord in his infinite wisdom, he wasn’t done yet. Jonah hadn’t heard the end of the Lord’s argument and object lesson.

In Jonah’s mind, God’s mercy towards him and his mercy towards Nineveh was like comparing apples to oranges. Jonah didn’t think he was anything like the Ninevites, so he was justifying his anger towards Nineveh because he didn’t see them as human. And the Lord’s final question exposes this, and it hits Jonah like a ton of bricks. Look at verses 10 and 11.

“And the Lord said, you pity the plant for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle.”

Now this point that exposes Jonah’s true problem, that he doesn’t see them as human, it’s not as obvious in the English. The implication is there. It’s there when God points to the plant that Jonah did not labor for or make, contrasting it with the 120,000 people of Nineveh that God did make.

One commentator notes God’s primary argument is creational. If you are moved to pity over the destruction of a vine you did not create, should I have pity over the destruction of a people and animals I did create. Should be, and it is an obvious answer. And this point is implied in the English, but in the Hebrew, in verse 11 this is made explicit. Verse 11 says, “And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons?” But that word translated as persons, that covers over what’s actually there in the Hebrew. The Hebrew is the singular noun for a man, which in the Hebrew is the word Adam or Adam.

This plural 120,000 people, but singular, same kind of construction we used back in chapter 3 to emphasize that all the men of Nineveh, each to a man individual repented. Here, it’s kind of the same construction. It’s a massive city of people, a mass of 120,000 people, but each man is of Adam. But what is the significance of invoking Adam here? Well, it would remind Jonah that the people of Nineveh that he had come to think of as beasts needing to be put down.

In reality it was a city of 120,000 image bearers. God’s question is brilliant. It strikes at the heart of Jonah’s issue and it really puts the image bearing face of God on every Ninevite in that city. And asks Jonah, in that context, should I not have pity on them? 120,000 of my image bearers. This foundational reality, this creational argument, fell like a boulder to crush the heart of Jonah and his anger.

The answer to the question of the goodness of God’s mercy coming to Nineveh? Well, it changed when Jonah began to see the Ninevites as fellow human beings, when he realized they were really no different than him. He had received so much mercy. What made him different than them? Nothing wasn’t about their wicked deeds versus how good Jonah had been, or how wicked Jonah’s deeds had been is that they were both image bearers and he could no longer be angry about God’s mercy towards them. And if he was going to be angry about God’s mercy towards them, then he had to be just as angry about God’s mercy towards him. Because contrary to how Jonah was thinking, they weren’t any different.

But moreover, God says, should I not penny, pity these 120,000 image bears who are so pitiful that they can’t even tell the difference between their right hand and their left hand, nor between themselves and animals. They’re even more pitiful. And this question, it’s a mic drop from the Lord. It ends right there. Jonah’s heart is struck, crushed. Jonah, it is implied, because we have the book of Jonah, that he repented right then and there.

He begins to see the Ninevites as fellow image bearers. He sees how severely they have marred the image of God and man with their violence that they had become so darkened in their understanding that they couldn’t make basic moral or physical distinctions. Jonah began to pity them. He was reminded in his anger that while their deeds were wicked, they were really no different than him. They were still image bearers. And as God’s creation, God was just to have mercy on whom he would have mercy. And there is no questioning that.

It was no more right or wrong for God to be merciful to Jonah than it was right or wrong for God to be merciful to Nineveh. And Jonah came to see that. All the Lord’s questions exposed the inconsistency in Jonah’s logic. He saw his anger for what it was and repented. Now for our instruction, we want to set this in the same context we started in. It’s much easier to hate people when we see them just as a wicked mass of humanity than when we look at them as image bearers.

I mean, I’ve heard people do this just with Californians. Speak ill of them as, you know, the land of fruits and nuts. They joke about an earthquake just slumping, the whole thing off in the ocean. But when you think of California not as a mass that promotes LGBTQ ideology and antichrist ideologies, when you think that within that one state there are 40 million individuals who bear the image of God, 40 million mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, just like you.

You think of that mass of humanity on its way to hell, where they will spend eternity and conscious torment. It’s heartbreaking. Beloved, we have to guard ourselves against this same thing, just dehumanizing in our country as there’s such a mass of people doing what the media does, dehumanizing the other side. We have to guard against that because it will grow within us a hatred like Jonah. Instead of being, doing that, being tempted towards that, and even becoming angry. We need to see them as image bearers in need of divine mercy.

These poor souls are so darkened in their thinking they can’t tell up from down, right from left. But beloved, they are enslaved to their sin. Satan has them under his delusions. We must pity them. Don’t run the other way when you see them because they make you uncomfortable. Run to them with the key of the gospel, the only thing that can open their minds to the truth, to let light into their minds.

And pray that the Lord would be kind enough, like he did with the depraved Ninevites, kind enough, to open their eyes, to give them faith, to believe. And beloved, the book of Jonah ends with a question because it serves the purpose of making each of us answer this question for ourselves. That forces us to confront prejudices in our heart. Should God not pity image bearers he has created and be merciful to them?

Should he have mercy on you? If he should have mercy on you, why not another fellow image bearer? What makes you any more deserving of God’s mercy than someone else? Our enemies, those who hate us and revile us, for Christ’s sake. And if God is to pity such men, how will they find mercy unless they believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ? And how will they believe unless they hear of him? And how will they hear unless someone is sent.

Beloved, we’ve been sent by Christ. If they are to be pitied, only we can take the gospel to them. There is no other hope. Therefore, let us do unto others as we would want them to do unto us, and be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful. Let’s pray.

Father, we can all be tempted to hatred in this form, though not to this extreme, probably manifesting itself in us more in indifference and standing back, standing aloof rather than actively taking your mercy to those in need. But we pray that we see that without us, those people stay in their darkened state. Help us to have your heart for the lost as you had for Nineveh. Help us to see your mercy and grace. Help us to see how undeserving we are and that as we have received such undeserved mercy, help us to want to see others set free from sin and receive that same mercy. Massage your mercy and grace and your goodness into our hearts through this text. Lord, that we might repent of any tendencies toward anger, toward the lost, for whatever reason and just see them as fellow image bearers who will spend eternity in hell if they don’t receive the gospel and repent. We pray you continue to work these things into our hearts, Lord. Amen.