Journeying With Jonah
Mr. Mike Hamel of Denver, Colorado, shares with us further insights from this his fourth and concluding study on Jonah, God’s prodigal prophet.
God’s Sulking Prophet
In this our final study in the book of Jonah, let’s briefly review the ground we have covered. In chapter 1 we found Jonah in a ship and later in a storm. In chapter 2, Jonah was in the tummy of a great sea monster. We found him in Ninevah in chapter 3, and now in chapter 4 we find him in a stew. He’s upset because of God’s mercy to Ninevah.
God asked three questions of His disgruntled prophet here in chapter 4. They are found in verses 4, 9 and 11. The first question Jonah didn’t answer. The second question brought a heated outburst from the sunburned prophet. The third question, at the end of the book, goes beyond the book in principle and addresses itself to mankind. And in it lies the moral of Jonah’s entire account.
The “it” of verse 1 refers back to the pardoning of Ninevah. Either the forty days had elapsed without incident or the Lord revealed to Jonah that Ninevah had received a stay of execution. Jonah was angered by what he interpreted as injustice. He wanted Ninevah destroyed, not only because this wicked city so richly deserved judgment (if you doubt this, just study a little ancient history and you’ll discover how unspeakably vile and malevolent Assyria was), but because Assyria was Israel’s chief enemy. If Ninevah was spared, Israel would suffer.
And that’s exactly what happened. Not long after the reign of Jeroboam II, Assyria started devastating the northern regions of Israel. Eventually, she swept the entire northern kingdom into captivity. Hundreds of thousands of God’s covenant people suffered and died at the hands of the Assyrians. Jonah knew his current events well enough to foresee this, and that’s why his heart cried out for the destruction of Ninevah. He wanted justice, and justice hangs the murderer, even though he repents.
Now the Lord had done the very thing Jonah feared most. He extended the sceptre of grace to Ninevah instead of the rod of judgment. If the wicked city was pardoned, Israel was doomed! What else was there for Jonah but death?
When God asked him if he had good reason to be angry, Jonah didn’t answer. He just built himself a shelter not far from the city and sat down to see if perhaps the Ninevites would falter in their repentance.
In verses 5-11 we read of the object lesson the Lord prepared to resolve the conflict going on inside His prophet. A plant was appointed to grow up over Jonah to shade him from the heat, which can climb to 120 degrees F. in the shade in that country. It was probably a castor oil plant, and if this was the case, we can see a touch of humor in this. Castor oil is used medically as a purgative or, in other words, a laxative. Jonah was about to get a large dose of some unpleasant tasting medicine that was nonetheless good for him. God wanted to purge the anger from his heart.
The plant grew miraculously fast, and just when it provided the maximum amount of comfort, the Lord appointed a worm to destroy it. The God of the sea monster (ch. 2) is also the God of the worm. All things, great and small, come from His hand and work together for good to those who are His children.
Jonah’s physical discomfort heightened his despair until he ached with all his soul for death. Now God was ready to make His point. Jonah had compassion on a plant; something he hadn’t labored for and something he hadn’t caused to grow. It was the child of a moment —born in a day and destroyed in a day. As a result, God’s sulking prophet was grieved at the plant’s fate and at his own loss of comfort.
In like manner, couldn’t God have compassion on Ninevah, an ancient city teeming with eternal souls, each made in the image of God? They were marred by sin to be sure, but they were still His by right of creation. Couldn’t He show mercy, if only for the sake of 120,000 innocent children who played in the city’s streets?
There was a day of grace before God sent the flood upon the ancient world (Gen. 6). Ninevah would have her day of grace also. God wasn’t perverting justice, as Jonah thought. Rather, as the Judge, God not only passes sentence, He also determines when the sentence is to be carried out. Ninevah would be punished for her atrocities. This is the burden of the book of Nahum, the sequel to Jonah, written over 150 years later. But first she would enjoy a day of grace. Grace before judgment doesn’t violate God’s character. On the contrary, it demonstrates it, for “He is patient … not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
As His creatures, we must not stumble at God’s grace to the sinner. We must not call into question His sovereign rule over His world, as Jonah did in his heart. God has the right to deal with men according to His infinite wisdom without submitting His designs to human reason for approval.
When we have difficulties with apparent moral incongruities in life, we must find the answers to them in the character of God, as I believe Jonah eventually did. This is evidenced by the fact that he later wrote this book. Who God is provides heart-comfort when we are unable to understand what God does.
“The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He” (Deut. 32:4, NASB).