Have You Any Right To Be Angry
Key Verse 4:11
“But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?’”
Here’s all that we have thought about so far in the story of Jonah: God calls Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and deliver to its people a message of judgment and destruction. But instead of obeying God, Jonah runs away from the Lord and takes a ship going in the opposite direction. Then God sends a terrifying storm that threatens to sink the ship. When the crew inquire as to the origin of this storm, Jonah is discovered to be the reason for it. They throw him overboard, and a huge fish swallows him up. Jonah cries out to God in prayer for mercy from within the fish and vows to obey God. The Lord hears his prayer and the fish spits him out on dry land three days later. Now Jonah does what God wanted him to do, goes to Nineveh and delivers the message of God’s judgment to these people. Remarkably, and with unprecedented response, the whole city and its people, all 120,000 of them humble themselves, repent for their wicked sins and call out for God’s mercy. And God hears them and spares the city from destruction. The story of Jonah should end right here, because Jonah, who was reluctant at first, experienced a change of mind and fulfilled his mission. And there’s also a happy ending to the story. The people he preached to repented and experienced God’s saving grace. It should be the end of story but it’s not.
Jonah should now be on his way back to his homeland, and to the people he loved and missed. His job is done. But he lingers around. That’s what we find him doing— lingering around. But although Jonah was done with his mission, it seems that God wasn’t done with Jonah yet. That’s the beauty of our God. He’s not only the God of second chances, he’s also the God who not done with us until he’s done with us. The fourth and final chapter to this magnificent book is all about Jonah— and how God dealt with this difficult man.
The chapter begins with these words: “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee 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, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’” (1-3). Jonah seems to be saying: [“This is exactly what I thought you’d do, Lord, when I was back home and you first told me to come here. That’s why I ran away from you. I knew you are a gracious God, and so merciful, compassionate and slow to get angry, and you’re full of loving kindness. I knew how easily you could cancel your plans to destroy these people. But I’d rather die than to see them saved.’”] Jonah wasn’t just displeased— we’re told that he was ‘greatly’ displeased. He wasn’t happy that God had averted his judgment from them. He wasn’t happy that God wasn’t going to destroy these Ninevites anymore. Now here’s the trouble most people have with Jonah. No one seems to understand why Jonah is acting this way. Why wasn’t he happy that God had mercy on these terribly wicked people— who had actually repented at his preaching and had turned to God in an unprecedented way? Why is Jonah acting this way?
But it’s really not that hard to understand him. Jonah knew that within 50 years, these very people would devastate and conquer and exile Israel. Jonah could almost visualize the destruction of his people by these very people he had helped. It would be better that God destroy these people now rather than let them live and later come back and rape his people. What God had asked Jonah to do was very difficult for any moral ore religious man to do or to bear. But in history it’s what God wants of his people— what he has always wanted of his people. God has always extended love and mercy to all people, even to his own Israelites. And God has always required that his people understand this and imitate him. It’s why he called Israel in the first place. He called them that they might shed the light of God’s mercy on others, even on the most merciless of people like the Ninevites. It’s the character of our God, which Jonah deeply understood. From his prayer in verse 2 we understand that Jonah fully understood God’s gracious character. But still he was unwilling to accept what God was doing for those Jonah so passionately hated.
Why do we find it so strange that Jonah would rather see these Ninevites dead rather tan to rejoice at their salvation? We know how hard it is what God usually asks of us as well. It’s what God always asks of his people. Was it easier for Hosea when God asked of him to go show love to his wayward wife who cheated on him many times, and to bring her back home? We should understand how difficult it is to do that! Look into our own hearts and see how many times we ourselves have done what Jonah did, felt what Jonah felt, acted as Jonah acted. How often have we refused to forgive others their sins— especially sins committed against us? How often have we been reluctant to show kindness to someone who has hurt us, or was even thinking of hurting us— even if they were a fellow Christian? How hard it is for us to forgive someone who hurts us once, let alone someone who hurts us over and over and we know will continue to hurt us— even as we extend forgiveness and mercy towards them. Jonah knew God and his compassion and mercy firsthand— just as some of us do— yet, in our hearts there are prejudices and hostilities that we refuse to let go off in spite of the knowledge of what God would have us do— to forgive to show mercy to those God puts in our way.
Forgiveness and mercy are the hardest things for us human beings to practice— at times towards those we love— so how much more towards those we dislike or those whom we are indifferent towards. That is the whole trouble with Jonah. He simply could not forgive these people the wrong they had done. He simply could not let go of the hard feelings he harbored towards these wicked people. Even when they repented and turned their hearts to God, he refused to extend mercy to them and to embrace them as God’s lost children who had found their way back to God. That was his blind spot! He couldn’t see the full range of the grace of God— that God’s grace extends to all people. He couldn’t see nor share what’s on God’s heart. He didn’t understand God’s broken heart for people lost in sin. That was Jonah’s blind spot.
God had always had a heart for the world. This is the reason God raised the nation of Israel as a godly nation. That’s why God established the church. His purpose is that the nation of Israel shine with God’s love and grace to the whole world, until the whole world knows the mercy and compassion of God— his heart desire that his lost children turn from their ways and return to him. The Old Testament is a testimony to the grace and mercy of God. But Jonah’s behavior reflected the pride of his people— thinking that they was special— and the rest of the world was worthless to God. Nothing was further from the truth. Jonah and his people were specially chosen by grace to reflect God’s glory to the world— to show the world that God loves all men, and would save all if they would only turn from their sins and turn their hearts to God in faith. So also is the church! The church is chosen by grace to reflect God’s glory— to show the world that God’s love is stronger than any person’s sin— that God chose the church to shine the love of Christ on all people.
What God did through Jonah was remarkable. The man preached and the whole city repented and turned to God. This should have been a revelation to Jonah of what’s on God’s heart— of what God wants of him and his people. It should have been the banner raised over all the world— that God’s mercy extends to all people and would see them turn to him by faith. Jonah could have seen the sign of his own life and works as the will of God for all people of all nations— and he could have broken out of his own “blind spot” and taken the message to every nation on earth. Jonah could have also influenced his fellow prophets to see and to share in God’s heart for the world and do the same. But like an immature child, he threw a fit. He got angry and sulked. And God had to tend to him and explain to him the ABCs of God’s grace and God’s purpose.
When Jesus came, the situation among God’s people was not much different. They hated the Romans because at the time the Romans were the aggressors who put Israel to the sword. They expected the Messiah to obliterate the Romans and to establish Israel as God’s kingdom and the Messiah’s headquarters to crush the sinful world. And there were many Jonah’s among Jesus’ own disciples as well— as there are many Jonahs today in the churches. But Jesus tried to reason with them as God reasoned with Jonah so that they might understand God’s world mission vision and purpose. And Jesus did so in his teachings and especially in his parables. Jesus described Jonah’s situation perfectly when he told us the parable of the prodigal son. A father had two sons. They were two brothers who grew up in the same house. The younger one took his inheritance and went and spent all of it on wild living. The older son stayed home and continued to serve his father’s house. One day when the younger son’s money was all spent, he had a revelation that he should have never left his father’s house. Somehow he mustered up the guts to come back broken and humbled. He repented and made his way to his father’s arms. The father was so happy to see him return. He threw a party for him and was celebrating. But here’s the irony. The older son was angry and could not share in his father’s joy. The father tried to reason with him, but he wouldn’t listen. The father said: “My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15:31-32) Jonah was like the older son who could not rejoice at his younger brother’s return home. He couldn’t forgive him even when his brother repented. But that’s the heart of God— his great purpose to seek out his lost children and bring them back. Did I say that that’s also the purpose of the church!
The Ninevites were God’s lost children. God tried to help Jonah understand that. In verse 4 he tells him: “Have you any right to be angry?” In other words, God wanted him to consider whether his anger was justified. If Jonah would only reflect on God’s grace on himself or to others, he would come to understand that his anger was not justified. “Have you any right to be angry?” Of course not! Jonah had disobeyed God when God called him to go to Nineveh. He had done what no other prophet had ever done. But God forgave him. When Jonah cried out from the belly of the fish, God heard his prayer. God saved him when God should have just let him perish for his rebellion. No, Jonah had no right to be angry. God asks the same question of us in order to lead us to a deeper understanding of his heart and mind and mostly of his grace.
There’s another parable that Jesus tells— a beautiful parable that defines God’s grace so us all perfectly. Jesus tells of an owner of a vineyard who needed workers to work the field. And he gathered workers in the morning, and dropped them off at the field to work. Then at all hours of the day, the owner kept hiring workers until the last hour of work in the day. When the time came to pay them, he started paying those who came last. Those who had come at the crack of dawn to work thought they would get more money but when their turn came, they were paid the same, and they were angry. Here’s the rest of the story. “When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ (Matthew 20:11-15) Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my money? That’s what God seemed to be saying to Jonah when he asked him: “Have you any right to be angry?” God has the right to do what he wants with his grace. He would shed it on the Ninevites, and Jonah should be happy about it, not complain.
But when God counseled Jonah, Jonah wouldn’t listen. Read verse 5. “Jonah went 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.” Jonah was stubborn enough to go somewhere and sit down and wait to see what would happen to the city. We don’t know exactly why he waited to see what would happen to the city. Did he imagine that God would change his mind about destroying the city? Or did he not trust the Ninevites to keep their commitment to a new life in God’s grace and mercy, so that God would have to carry out his judgment on them. We are not sure, but we are sure Jonah didn’t like them and still hoped that God would destroy them. It is amazing how generous and kind God had been with this man. God is sovereign and his decisions are final. And Jonah is just a man who should not be questioning God’s decisions nor complaining about what God is doing. Instead Jonah had a responsibility to meditate on what God is doing and to learn God’s heart and grace more deeply. But he wasn’t. Yet, God did not abandon Jonah but was patient with him Old Testament the end and tried to help him.
Look at verses 6-9. ”Then the Lord God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine 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, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” “I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.” God tried to counsel Jonah another time. He provided a vine for his comfort and protection against the blazing sun. Jonah was very happy about that. He was happy for God’s love and protection. But when the plant died and Jonah was exposed and became faint, he again was very angry and wanted to die. I am not sure why Jonah became attached so much to the plant. I read somewhere that Jonah may have gotten attached to that plant as much as people get attached to their pets. But I am not sure we can actually explain his anger simply at the loss of his favorite pet plant. But he was angry once again.
God had an unseen message for Jonah to discover in providing him the plant for him and then in taking it away from him. I believe that God works in each man’s life according to God’s great wisdom, very lovingly and very personally. In other words, the second time God asked him: “Do you have the right to be angry about the vine?” God wanted Jonah again to reflect on his attitude. In providing the plant for Jonah’s protection, and later in taking it away, Jonah may have reflected on God’s personal love for him, as well as God’s personal discipline in Jonah’s life. But Jonah seems to have been too angry to consider God’s message through the vine. I wonder how often God speaks to us in the same way— each day— sometimes several times a day— through the small and big events of life— that are small messages of God’s hand at work and his loving protection in our lives— so that we too might get over the complaining in our hearts and our spiritual blind spots— and see what God wants us to see— in order to grow spiritually into the man or woman God wants us to be— and the church God would have us be. I am sure that if we reflect through prayer on all the good and bad that happens throughout our day— in our lives— we can find God’s hidden messages that would lead us to God’s grace and a change of heart on our part. But we are too emotional and blinded at times in our situations to see God working to finish the work he is doing in our lives. God would have us grow until we can fully understand his purpose in all things. And his purpose is simple. God is a Father who wants all his people to return home— the good, the bad and the ugly. And he has chosen us to be that voice of love and mercy— as well as God’s voice of judgment unto repentance. So before we get anxious or frustrated at anything— or instead of persisting in our stubbornness— I believe we should reflect on his grace, and see the bigger picture.
Now God counsels Jonah once again in order to win him over to God’s point of view. And this is the glory of “free will”. God never forces us to his view point. He counsels until we are convinced that God is right and we’re not! And in the words that God uses to counsel Jonah, we find for ourselves some eternal truth for our lives as Christians and as a church.
What was God’s final counsel to him? Read verses 10-11. “But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?’” This is the voice of the loving God who is deeply concerned about the lives of all people— especially those who are now sitting under God’s judgment without knowing that his judgment is imminent. It should not surprise Jonah that God was concerned about the lives of these wicked Ninevites. God explains to Jonah that these people are not innocent but ignorant of what they are doing. They only need be given the gospel that they might have a chance at repenting and turning their hearts to God. God is also deeply concerned about this world, and the people around us. We have 20,000 Triton students whom God is concerned about. He did not call us because we deserve his grace, but to share his grace with them and with all whom God puts in our lives. God is a loving Father eager to rescue his lost children form condemnation. For this reason he calls us, and the church, that we serve his purpose. To do that, we must grow out of our blind spots. We must see the big picture of what God is doing, humble ourselves and submit out lives to God to use as he sees fit. May God speak to us as tenderly as he did to Jonah. May God continue the gracious work he has begun in each of us and bring it to completion. Amen.
The book of Jonah ends abruptly with these words. And there is no mention of Jonah, whether he returned home or remained in Nineveh. Legend says that Jonah’s tomb is right there in the ancient grounds of Nineveh, for he was a great prophet and servant of God to the eyes of the Assyrians. If his tomb is indeed there, I would like to believe that Jonah listened to God, repented of his narrow understanding of God’s grace, and remained there to teach them the Bible and to help them grow closer to God. That would surely be a beautiful ending to Jonah’s life and works.