Jonah 4 (NIV)
But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
We are probably all aware of the prayer that Jonah prayed in Chapter 2 when he was in the belly of the fish, but as we see in Chapter 4, Jonah prayed again. He prayed to the God who has previously heard and answered his prayer. He prayed to the God who had the power to answer his prayers.
The first prayer, he cried out to God in humility, emptying himself, justifying God and accusing himself, praying that God would let him live. But here in Chapter 4 we see a very different type of prayer. This time we see that Jonah is full of pride, he is full of himself. He accuses God and justifies himself. He prays to die, saying, “Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Jonah was once again sinning. His first sin was active disobedience, here he is sinning in passive disobedience. Once again, we see God teaching Jonah a lesson.
In our reading today, Jonah is motivated through fear of losing face. Once again, he felt humiliated, but in a different way from before.
Jonah knew that God was powerful, he had seen and experienced God’s power before. He tells God, “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” Jonah had experienced God’s power to forgive.
So, what is happening now? Jonah wants forgiveness of his sins, but he also tries to justify his actions. I think many of us can relate to that. We feel justified for the way we act, or the way we respond, and the words we use in our response. When someone offends us, do we snap back and lose our temper, telling ourselves that the other person was responsible for the way we reacted. Do we blame them, rather than blaming ourselves for our reactions?
We cannot come to God and ask for his forgiveness if we are not truly sorry, and if we do not recognise our part in our sin. Whilst we think that our reactions and words are justified, if we are not acting as God would want us to act and speak in a way God does not want us to speak, he will admonish us.
This can be painful. This can hurt. Maybe we do not want to lose face by apologising to someone. Maybe we are so caught up in our own anger that we justify our behaviour. But God who knows us and loves us will not let us get away with it, just like he did not let Jonah get away with it.
Maybe our defiant reaction is not to other people, maybe it is to God himself, just like Jonah! Jonah though that if God could freely forgive others so easily, maybe he was not needed to go to the people of Nineveh. Jonah thought God could forgive Nineveh without the need for him going there in the first place. It was what Jonah thought about the way God worked, that led to his sinning.
So, what can this chapter teach us. It certainly teaches us how pointless and futile disobedience is, especially where God is concerned. But it also teaches us how powerful God is. That God has power over nature. God showed his power through providing the leafy plant which gave Jonah shade, he also had the power to cause the plant to whither because of the worm eating it. He had the power to send a scorching east wind, and the power to make the sun scorching hot.
As well as this reading showing us God’s power, it also shows us that God is a God of grace; he gives to us things that we do not deserve. He is slow to anger, and he is merciful. God does not limit his grace, mercy, and power to those who believe in him, he extends it to all who call upon his name.
Lord of life and power, through the mighty resurrection of
your Son, you have overcome the old order of sin and
death and have made all things new in him. May we, being
dead to sin and alive to you in Jesus Christ, reign with him
in glory, who with you and the Holy Spirit is alive, one
God, now and for ever. Amen
(North East Hub)