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A Study of Jonah 4:1-11

Lesson 5 – A Lesson on Compassion

1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.

1. (verse 1) Why would Jonah be displeased and angry? Have you ever been upset when God was merciful to people that you didn’t think deserved it?

Jonah was not happy. He was obedient to God, but he still wasn’t over his bad attitude toward the Ninevites. He was still harboring resentment in his heart toward them. But how many of us want to see bad things happen to someone at work or a relative or a neighbor? We know we should have Christian compassion toward them, but if anything bad does happen to them, we secretly rejoice. It seems we need to learn the same lesson Jonah is about to learn.

Jamison-Fausset-Brown comments, "Jonah's resistance of God's merciful purpose toward Nineveh was, therefore, altogether mistaken. How sad the contrast between God's feeling, on the repentance of Nineveh toward Him, and Jonah's feeling on the repentance of God toward Nineveh! Strange in one who was himself a monument of mercy on his repentance! We all, like him, need the lesson taught in the parable of the unforgiving, though forgiven, debtor."

2 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.

2. (verse 2) What does this tell us about Jonah’s disobedience? What does this verse tell us about God?

Jonah admits his disobedience was a result of his prejudice against the Ninevites. He was unwilling to obey God because he really did not want to see God show compassion to the Ninevites. He knew deep down in his heart that God was a loving and merciful God. He understood that God would not be sending him to the city if it were not the divine purpose for the people to repent. He understood God’s character very well. There may be people that we think are unworthy or undeserving of God’s mercy. We may picture them as unrepentant sinners or wicked beyond hope. But God’s compassion reaches even to those for whom even Christians have given up. There is no person too wicked nor anyone so far gone that God cannot reach down to them in mercy. It is not our job to only share the gospel message with those whom we think meet a certain standard of goodness or acceptability. It is our job to share our faith with all – even the undeserving and disobedient.

Pusey remarks, "And now by sending him as a preacher of repentance, [God] implied that He would do the same to the enemies of his country. God confirms this by the whole sequel. Thenceforth then Israel knew, that to the heathen also God was intensely, infinitely full of gracious and yearning love...."

3 Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."

3. (verse 3) Why do you think Jonah wants to die this time? What does this tell us about Jonah’s attitude?

Poor Jonah. He simply cannot face the fact that God might do things in a way of which he doesn’t approve. He would rather die than face God’s compassion toward Israel’s enemies. We sometimes like to place God in a theological box of our own making. We seem to think that God will only act a certain way in specific situations. But as soon as we make a box for God, you can count on God showing us how he is much bigger than any constraints we might like to put on him.

4 But the Lord replied, "Have you any right to be angry?"

4. (verse 4) Has God ever asked you this question? How did you respond? When do we have a right to be angry?

God asks Jonah an important question – have you any right to be angry? Do we ever have a right to be angry about what God is doing? Who are we to determine what’s best for God to do? My life has been a long faith journey. When I was young my theological box was a lot smaller than it is now. But over the years I have seen how God works in people’s lives – some who I thought were unworthy, others who I thought were theologically wrong. And yet God in his compassion touched lives in a marvelous way. I am still amazed at how some people can have some wrong notions about God and yet still be blessed by him. I realize that we all see things through a glass darkly now, as Paul said. We are all struggling to understand the immensity of God. But thankfully God in his mercy has compassion on even those who may not seem worthy. His compassion is extended even to us who are sometimes blind and prejudiced and angry with others, as Jonah was.

Pusey points out, "What the Lord says to Jonah, he says to all, who in their office of the cure of souls are angry. They must, as to this same anger, be recalled into themselves, to regard the cause or object of their anger, and weigh warily and attentively whether they do well to be angry."

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.

5. (verse 5) Why do you think Jonah waited to see what would happen to the city? Why do you think he went outside of the city?

In spite of what God has told Jonah, it seems Jonah still holds out hope that God would destroy the city. I see no other explanation for this verse. Jonah removed himself from the city and waited to see what would happen. He certainly did not want to be in the city if God’s judgement came. How many Christians are looking for God’s judgement on others, not understanding God’s mercy? At least Jonah was obedient and shared God’s message with the people. Have we done that much? It is easy to condemn others for their actions, but perhaps God is calling you to go to another Nineveh – a place where transgressors seem to have the upper hand, a place where people mock and make fun of God, a place where sinful practices are the norm. Maybe if they would hear God’s message, they too would repent in sackcloth. Let us be willing to share our faith wherever God may send us.

6 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.

6. (verse 6) Why did God cause the vine (KJV - "gourd") to grow? What has God done for you to help you through a difficult time?

In the midst of Jonah’s self-pity God sent a vine to grow over him and shade him. Even when we are miserable because of bad attitudes of our own making, God will send us help to get through a difficult time. God not only sent the vine to comfort Jonah but also to use it as an object lesson for him to learn about forgiveness and compassion.

7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered.

8 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."

7. (verses 7-8) Who caused all these calamities to happen to Jonah? Why would God do this? Relate how you learned from calamities that God has sent your way.

Notice that all these calamities came from God. He sent the worm which withered the vine. He sent the scorching east wind and he caused the sun to blaze on Jonah’s head. God wanted to teach Jonah an important lesson. It was time for Jonah to stop feeling sorry for himself and start thinking of others. In my mind, nothing is worse than Christians who are feeling sorry for themselves. By focusing on their own problems and their own imagined misery, they cannot relate to others and be able to help them. It is remarkable that God was able to use Jonah to help the Ninevites at all. But imagine how much more effective Jonah’s help would have been if he were willing to continue with the Ninevites instructing them in the ways of God. Perhaps he did later, but first he had to learn an important lesson.

Jamison-Fausset-Brown wrote, "So it takes but little to make our creature-comforts wither. It should silence discontent, to remember that when our gourd is gone our God is not gone."

9 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."

8. (verse 9) Do you think Jonah has a problem with anger? Do you easily get angry over things that you have no control? Why do you think we do this?

Once again God asks Jonah if he has a right to be angry. How often do we feel justified in our anger just as Jonah did? And yet he was wrong. And if we stop and think about it, most of the time we are angry, we are also wrong. We have no right to be angry with circumstances. What is happening is what God has appointed to happen in our lives. So when we are angry, we are really saying that we don’t think God is doing a very good job with our life!

10 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.

11 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?"

9. (verses 10-11) What lesson was God trying to teach Jonah? For which people or group of people does God want you to learn compassion?

So now the lesson hits home. Jonah was concerned about the vine which was merely a plant. He was angry and upset that the plant had died. But how much more important were the people of Nineveh than a vine? Jonah had been consumed with concern for the life of a plant when he should have been concerned for the lives of the people of Nineveh.

What is it that you are concerned for? Is it a raise or a new car or an important television program or a new vine in the back yard? It is not wrong to care for these things. But what is wrong is when we care for the small things in the comfort of our home and we don’t care that there are people who are facing God’s judgement. We need to be like Jonah and share the message. But we also need to learn the lesson that finally, I believe, Jonah learned – to have a heart of compassion toward others, even those whom we consider to be our enemies!

Adam Clarke writes, "This last expostulation of God, it is to be hoped, produced its proper effect on the mind of this irritable prophet; and that he was fully convinced that in this, as in all other cases, God had done all things well."

Footnotes:

This study on Jonah 4:1-11 1998 by David Humpal. All rights reserved.

All scriptures unless otherwise noted are from the New International Version 1971, Zondervan Bible Publishers

Question are based on both the New International Version and the King James Version

Jamison-Fausset-Brown Commentary, electronic version 1996, Biblesoft

Pusey: The Minor Prophets, A Commentary, vol. I, pg. 422, Baker Book House

Pusey: The Minor Prophets, A Commentary, vol. I, pg. 423, Baker Book House

Jamison-Fausset-Brown Commentary, electronic version 1996, Biblesoft

Adam Clarke’s Commentary, electronic version 1996, Biblesoft

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