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Mar 6 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

March 5, 2017 – Jonah 4:9-11

The Unfinished Conversation

Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city. So the LORD God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant. But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered. When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.”
Then God said to Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.” Jonah 4:5-9

Intro: This morning we come to end of our journey with Jonah

But I am warning you in advance, with God every ending is a new beginning
– please notice when we revisit some key words–e.g., great, know, compassion, perish
• God’s will for Nineveh has been achieved and now he goes to work on Jonah
◦ which has been the actual message of the story from the start
– Jonah has stood out from all other characters in every respect
• everyone else in the story is Gentile
◦ everyone else has been responsive to God
◦ everyone else has demonstrated a true fear of God
• Jonah alone was unresponsive to God (even rebellious)
◦ Jonah alone feared God in word only (cf. Jonah 1:9)

God resumes his conversation with Jonah

Here in verse 9 it is “God” (Elohim) who speaks to Jonah — the generic reference to the deity
– the Creator who is God of both the people of Israel and Gentiles

In Romans 3, Paul asks, . . . is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also . . . (Ro. 3:29). It may be an eye-opener to read the verse again, substituting “Christians” for “Jews” and “non-Christians” for “Gentiles.”

Do you have good reason to be angry . . . ? — this is the same questionGod asked before
◦ but now the subject is specified; namely, the withered plant
◦ hopefully Jonah will be able to show more objectivity toward the plant than Nineveh
• God is coaxing him out of hyper-emotional state
◦ he wants Jonah to focus awareness on his anger, as if looking at it from the outside
◦ being conscious of what we are feeling is a move toward rational thinking
– Jonah’s answer was affirmative and intensely passionate

Leslie Allen says that the Hebrew construction of Jonah’s reply “partly has the force of an expletive” and Phillip Cary translates it, “Damned right I’m angry!”

• Jonah’s vexations had been piling up and now he snaps
◦ why does he choose death? Why not say instead, “Here, God, is my resignation. I quit!”?
• because he had already tried to flee God’s jurisdiction and found it was impossible
◦ so the only option that remained was death

Then the LORD said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished over night. Jonah 4:10

God (Yahweh) begins to present his argument

First, we can see that there are missing pieces in God’s argument
(I have included a handout to illustrate how the argument would look with the blanks filled in–see footnote below)
– the effect of leaving out one side of the comparison forces us to stop and think
• for Jonah, it meant he had to fill in the blanks
• and to successfully do this requires a calmer mind
– God’s logic here is not that of Greek philosophers
• rather, it reasons from the lesser to the greater — “How much more?”
• this form of logic is typical of the Old Testament’s wisdom literature
◦ it is also considered a rabbinic form of argument
◦ we see examples of it in the teaching of both Jesus and Paul

Secondly, God is incredibly generous with Jonah
– not like the moms and dads whose response to their child is, “Because I said so!”
• God takes the time to patiently explain his concerns to Jonah
◦ consistent with that patient, loving tone is the fact that it is “Yahweh” (LORD) who speaks these words
◦ the relation between them is crucial to Jonah’s change of heart
You had compassion on the plant
• another one of Jonah’s emotion is brought to the surface
• the heart of their contention has been God’s compassion (see v. 2)

What drew compassion from Jonah? A plant
– Jonah had not put any work into it, he had no personal investment in it
• God appointed it for him and Jonah had taken ownership of it
• now he was sad to see it go — Jonah cared about the plant
◦ even if his only reason for caring was what it did for him
overnight . . . overnight – the plant was a transient blessing; a passing luxury
perished – exactly the fate that threatened human lives (sailors and Ninevites)
◦ now it became the real fate of the plant
• what drew Jonah’s pity for the plant, God had prevented from happening to humans

Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals? Jonah 4:11

The sensible conclusion to God’s argument

Should I not have compassion on Nineveh . . .?
– the story ends where it began, with Nineveh, the great city
• God’s question could be stated in this way:
“If your compassion justifies your anger, should not My compassion justify my mercy?”
• God emphasizes his conclusion by stressing
◦ how many human (and animal) lives were at stake
◦ and how lost those humans were, like children who had not learned right from left
– just two days ago my grandson Calum asked me, “Is this my right hand?”
• I grew up hearing about an “age of accountability”
◦ prior to the cut-off age, children were not held responsible for their sins (cf. De. 1:39)
• there may be a link between their hands here and in chapter 3

. . . and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands  (v. 8)

◦ possibly an implication that they knew of no other way than violence

All along in the story, Gentiles have been in the dark
– sailors cast lots to know who was responsible for the calamity (1:7)
• Nineveh’s king sent out the command to fast, etc., because Who knows, God may turn and relent (3:9)
• the whole time, Jonah knew (1:12 & 4:2) and was supposed to share what he knew

Conc: What Jonah is to the Old Testament, Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son is to the New Testament

I can’t help but think the Lord had Jonah in mind when he told it
– Jesus had been sharply criticized for receiving sinners and eating with them (Lk. 15:2)
• what he wanted was for them to share his compassion for sinners
◦ and his joy in their coming home to the Father

Suppose that:
The father symbolizes God
The prodigal son symbolizes the sinners
The older brother symbolizes the Lord’s critics
◦ he believed his father should treat his lawless, slacker brother with strict justice
◦ when his prodigal brother returned and instead of beating him, his father threw a party to celebrate his return, he summoned a servant to come outside and tell him what was going on. He then learned that his brother came home, and had killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.
Jonah is the older brother and he too was opposed to God’s mercy
Listen to the older brother and see how much he sounds like Jonah

But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him (Lk. 15:28)

How like Jonah, sitting on the outskirts of Nineveh stewing in his anger over God’s mercy. And when God comes to plead with him, he does not want to hear it and does not honor God with so much as a responce (Jonah 4:3-5)

– it is so strange and unbearably sad that God would have to do this
• to argue with his people his right to have compassion on Nineveh
◦ to be in the position where he must plead with his people to love lost brothers and sisters
◦ in another one of Jesus’ parables, he tells of a fair and just land owner (who is also gracious)
◦ he had to confront laborers who grumbled at him for paying others who worked only one hour the same wage that he payed them for working ten

Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous? (Mt. 20:15)

• that is exactly the problem
◦ the sense of entitlement that is assumed by the self-righteousness and the chosen
◦ they imagine a deserved status far above that of run-of-the-mill sinners

Many of us Christians began our journey with God as the prodigal
– but over time we became the older son
• now our fellow Christians are forced to argue their right to love
◦ gays and lesbians, Buddhists and Hindus, bikers and gangsters
• in fact, it’s easier to convince them their hatred of others is justified
◦ how much distance is there from the older son and Cain, who murdered his brother?

Say to them, “‘As I live,’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live.’” (Eze. 33:11)

– we need to be clear on this, God is now wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Pe. 3:9)
• and he does not wish for us to be willing to let others perish
– this week I read the story in Luke’s gospel of the lawyer who asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life (Lk. 10:25-37)
• Jesus showed him that he already knew the answer, revealed in the two greatest commandments

But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

• he did not challenge the first part about loving God
◦ but he made it seem like there was a problem with the second greatest commandment
◦ I found myself wondering if he wanted eternal life without having to love anyone

Unfortunately, based on my experience I must agree Peter Craigie who wrote, “The wrath of Jonah is thus an all-too-common phenomenon. . . . he wanted to restrict the compassion of God to himself and his own kind. And in his jealousy, . . . he betrayed the fact that he had never really understood the love of God in the first place. And the Church, no less than in ancient Israel, there is a perpetual tendency to try to confine God’s love.”

The first Christians were surprised to find that the door of salvation swung open to outsiders

So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life (Acts 11:18, NIV)

– this came home to me a few days ago
• I had the impression he wanted me to pray for a husband and wife
◦ they had engaged in some evil mischief against a child of mine and Barb and myself
◦ I sat with that impression, at the same time thinking about Jonah
• soon this thought came to me,  “God’s mercy really does extend to them”

Jonah’s story ends with a question — which means it really doesn’t end
– even if the question is rhetorical, Jonah owes God a response

In my imagination, I see Jonah’s face change with as enlightenment comes to him. “Yes, Lord,” I can hear him say, “I get it now. I understand. Of course You love them, You made them even as You made me and my people.” And then what does Jonah do? I imagine him returning to Israel and spreading the word of God’s love for all people, explaining that the reason Yahweh had revealed himself to his chosen people is so they could reveal him to the world. Or maybe Jonah runs back to Nineveh and begins to preach, “I must tell you more, especially now that you have repented. God’s name is Yahweh and he wants you to know him and walk in his ways.” Then he tells them about sacrifices and vows and psalms of praise and thanksgiving. Maybe he stays there and for the rest of his life is a missionary to the Assyrians. Perhaps a hundred years later, they are sending missionaries to Israel, urging the nation to turn back to their God.

• I imagine that, but none of it happened
– we have been left hanging,
• the question echoing through the ages, but receiving no answers
◦ like Jesus’ parable, we are not told if the father prevailed over his older son
◦ if he went into the house or if he stayed outside wallowing in resentment

If we could ask Jesus, “What happened next?”
I am pretty sure he would answer, “Yes, tell me, what happens next”
Then he tells us the story is open-ended
which means that we are writing that last chapter, even now
So I have to ask myself, what will my transformation look like? Whom will I love?

Why did God go to all this trouble–with the fish, the plant, the worm and the wind?
Provoking Jonah, coaxing him, drawing awareness to his emotions?
Why? Because he loved Jonah, truly and intensely
He wanted Jonah to know his love and be filled with it
And this is the story of each of our lives
The story of all the trouble God goes to
in order to see through his eyes
and feel with his heart


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  1. Bill Livingston / Mar 13 2017

    I believe that God wants us to love those that He loves; to have compassion on those that he has compassion on. I think He wanted that for Jonah. I think his message to Jonah in 4:11 was cryptic as was Jonah’s to Nineveh, but was loaded with meaning. I am moved with the tenderness I feel in God’s words. These poor people don’t even know their right hand from their left hand. Or, they don’t know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (as You do, Jonah). Or, they are like sheep without a shepherd, Jonah. And, will you be their shepherd, Jonah? In my version of chapter 5, Jonah is moved by God’s love for these people and stays in Nineveh, dying to self, accepting them as a people grafted on to the vine. He shepherds them!

  2. Chuck Smith, Jr. / Mar 14 2017

    I like your version, Bill. And the way you have expressed it also causes me to be moved with the tenderness God shows his servant.

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