“Jonah” series: (post #5)
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. (Jonah 4:1, N.K.J.V.)
Have you walked with the Lord long enough and closely enough to learn that He can really tick you off sometimes? You say, “Oh, I’m far too spiritual to ever get mad at God.” Well, I doubt that you are more spiritual than David, and he got mad at God.
When David was attempting to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, he had the Ark loaded onto a cart pulled by oxen. At one point in the journey, the oxen stumbled and the Ark was in danger of falling off the cart. A man named Uzzah, who was one of the two men driving the cart, instinctively reached back and grabbed hold of the Ark to steady it. But as soon as his hand touched the Ark, God struck him dead because no one was allowed to ever physically touch the Ark. Standing there over his dead friend, David became angry with God for killing Uzzah and named the site “Perez Uzzah,” which means “Outburst Against Uzzah” (2 Samuel 6:1-8, 1 Chronicles 13:1-11, N.K.J.V.). Admittedly, David attempting to move the Ark by way of a cart rather than allowing the Koahtites, one of Israel’s Levitical groups, to move it by way of poles was disobedience to God’s revealed word (Numbers 3:30-31; 4:15; 7:9). Still, though, the anger David felt toward God was real.
This brings us to Jonah, another man of God who reached a point where he didn’t like the way God was running the universe. Once the citizens of Nineveh repented of their sins and entered into a time of fasting and mourning, God changed His mind about laying waste to that city. That royally ticked off Jonah. The New King James Version of our text verse says that God sparing that city “displeased Jonah exceedingly.” The Holman Christian Standard translation gets even more graphic by saying that Jonah “became furious.”
What I find fascinating about Jonah is that his anger toward God actually prompted him to pray! Have you ever been so mad at someone that you just couldn’t wait for them to get within earshot of you? That was how Jonah felt about God at that moment. As Jonah 4:2 says:
So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. (N.K.J.V.)
How mad was Jonah at God? In the next verse, verse 3, he asks God to take his life because he’d rather die than live. And let’s not forget that Jonah was actually praying this! And how did God answer Jonah’s request to kill him? In verse 4, God asks him, “Is it right for you to be angry?” We needn’t bother waiting breathlessly for Jonah’s response, though. If there was any more to the prayer, the Bible doesn’t record it for us. The way the passage reads, rather than answer God’s question, Jonah opted to end the prayer.
Next, Jonah left the inner part of Nineveh and made his way to the east side of the city (4:5). There, he built himself a crude shelter and sat down under it for shade. But why did he chose to even hang around the city at all? The verse says that he wanted to see what would become of the city. I take that to mean that he was still hoping that the Ninevites’ repentance wouldn’t last long and that God would then get them.
Rather than just let Jonah sit there and stew, God enacted a plan. First, He prepared a fast-growing plant to spring up overnight and provide Jonah with shade. Jonah, in turn, was very appreciative of the plant (4:6). Second, at dawn the next day God got weird by sending a worm that started eating away at the plant (4:7). The worm ate and ate until finally it had damaged the plant enough to kill it and thus ruin Jonah’s shade. Third, at the same time God sent the worm as an eating machine, He also sent a strong east wind to blow in Jonah’s face. Boy, God wasn’t exactly coddling the stewing Jonah, was He?
The end result of the destroyed plant, the strong wind, and the hot sun was Jonah becoming faint because of the heat. Actually, he got mad at the plant for dying and once again longed for death himself (4:8). At that point, God spoke to him again by way of a question (4:9). God asked him, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” I suppose God was looking for a “No” answer from Jonah, but what He got instead was, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!” We can hear in Jonah’s words that at that moment in his life he was as surly as a sore-tailed cat.
In God’s eyes, however, class was still in session. So, we get the closing two verses of the book:
But the Lord said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left — and much livestock? (4:10-11, N.K.J.V.)
Here’s a bit of Bible trivia for you: Jonah and Nahum are the only two Biblical books that end with a question. Jonah ends with God asking the prophet, “Shouldn’t I pity Nineveh, a city in which there are 120,000 children too small to know their right hand from their left, and all kinds of innocent livestock that will be killed if I destroy the city?” Okay, Jonah, now is the time for you to answer by saying, “Yes, I understand, God. My attitude toward Nineveh has been wrong all along. Forgive me of my sinful hatred of these people, and thank you for sending me that plant as an object lesson.” Significantly, though, we read no such verse. Maybe Jonah did get over his anger and come to agreement with God’s point of view. Then again, maybe he didn’t.
What makes the issue even more intriguing is the fact that conservative commentators believe that it was Jonah himself who wrote the book that bears his name. While skeptics disagree with this assessment by pointing out that the book doesn’t actually say that Jonah wrote it and that it refers to him in the third person, conservative commentators note that many of the books from the Old Testament prophets have similar openings and that the firsthand accounts of Jonah’s incredible experiences read like an autobiography. So, assuming that Jonah did write the book, why did he leave the world hanging in regards to the book’s ending? I mean, obviously he knew how he responded to God’s question.
My answer to this question is two-fold. First, we must understand the book’s ending in the light of 2 Timothy 3:16, which tells us that all scripture is given by inspiration of God. That means that God inspired Jonah to leave the ending just as it is. Second, we must understand that the ending works exactly as God intended it. By that I mean that it places the ball squarely in the court of the individual who is mad at God. As such, the individual is responsible for making the next move. Any further dialogue with God, even if the individual is still angry with God, will allow God to continue the process of restoring the individual to a better spiritual state. No further dialogue, on the other hand, will leave the individual to sit and stew in his or her anger and grow even more bitter toward God.
Here’s hoping that if you ever get mad at God you will at least keep the conversation going with Him so that He can help you work through your anger. God can surely handle whatever heat you throw at Him, but the question is, can you commit yourself to the process of allowing Him to work in you to bring you around to His way of thinking? Unfortunately, the sad truth is that some people would rather hold on to their anger rather than work toward abating it. I don’t know if Jonah was such a person, but I can’t wait to meet him in heaven and find out. No doubt he’s a guy who will definitely have some fascinating stories to tell.