Jonah 4

Sermon preached on February 20, 2005 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

In early 1884 a young Teddy Roosevelt was, to use his own words, '
full of life and happiness'. (Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, p. 231) His political career was going well. His was happily married and his wife, Alice, who was just 22, was expecting their first child. His fifty year old, widowed, mother, to whom he was devoted, was living with him and his wife in New York City. On Wednesday, February 13, his wife gave birth to a baby and Assemblymen from the House were seen flocking around him, shaking his hand and congratulating him.

But in one day his world would fall apart. That Valentine's Day was a tragic one for Roosevelt. Both his mother and wife fell ill. On hearing the news, Roosevelt rushed back from Albany and on arriving home found both his mother and wife were dying. His lovely Alice was on the third floor and his mother, Mittie a floor below. Edmund Morris writes,

"The two women had become very close in recent years; now they were engaged in a grotesque race for death." (p. 229)

His mother Mittie died at three o'clock in the morning. His wife Alice 11 hours later at 2 in the afternoon. In his diary that day, Roosevelt drew a large cross and wrote underneath it, (p. 230)

"The light has gone out of my life."

Edmund Morris tells us that his loss was so great that it 'threatened to destroy him'. (p. 231)

It's hard for us to imagine such a loss, such a tragedy.

Are Christians exempt from such sorrow? Some would have you believe so. They will tell you that God wants you to be healthy, wealthy and successful, free from trouble and sorrow. Although those things may be the blessings that God gives some of His people, they are not the norm for all of God's people. (See 1 Peter)

On October 11, 1531
Anna Zwingli , wife of the Swiss Reformer, Ulrich Zwingli, received devastating news. Her husband, who was a pastor, had accompanied soldiers from his flock into battle. He himself did not take up weapons, but went with the soldiers to comfort and strengthen them. Shortly after the battle began, he stooped down to console a dying soldier and he himself was struck down and died shortly thereafter.

Anna received news that he
husband had been killed. But it was much worse than that. Her son was also killed in that battle. Her brother also died in the battle that day. So did her son-in-law and her brother-in-law. Besides those loses in her family, many of her closest friends also perished in the battle that day. (From Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 8, p. 186) How horrible it must have been for her.

Christians often face great and horrible disappointments. God sometimes does things that we would not plan. Sometimes His ways are sometimes grievously disappointing. Consider him here. When he saw that God did not destroy Nineveh he said, said,

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

Jonah was angry and wanted God to take his life.

He was so disappointed in what God was doing. It was a bitter grief to him. A little later, when the vine died, Jonah again expressed his wish to die. He said, (verse 8)

"It would be better for me to die
than to live."

What about you? Are you disappointed with what God has done around you? Are things not working out the way that you like? Even worse than that, are things working out so bad that you're angry and wish God would take your life?

If you're not in such a situation now, it could be that in the future you may find yourself there. We have many instances in Scripture that show us that even the greatest saints are not immune from such disappointments.

Consider the prophet Elijah.

After his great victory over the prophets of Baal, Elijah was afraid of wicked Queen Jezebel because she threatened to kill him. She sent a message to him,

"May the gods deal with me,
be it ever so severely,
if by this time tomorrow
I do not make your life
like that of one of them."

So Elijah became afraid and ran for his life. He went a day's journey into the desert, sat down under a broom tree and, (1 Kings 19:4)

"prayed that he might die.
'I have had enough, LORD',
he said.
'Take my life;
I am no better than my ancestors.'"

His work seemed to be in vain. He thought he was the only one who was devoted to God. He thought that he was alone in his devotion to God. He was fearful and discouraged. He thought his work was over.

Righteous Job also felt great disappointment.

He was so devastated by what had happened to him. He lost his possessions. He lost his children. He lost health. His wife urged him to curse God and die. His friends, who came to comfort him, added to his torment and they accused him of being a great sinner. Job longed for death. His words are recorded in Job 6:8f,

"Oh, that I might have my request,
that God would grant what I hope for,
that God would be willing to crush me,
to let loose his hand and cut me off!"

He rued the day of his birth. (Chapter 3) How disappointed he was in God's providences. How dark they were. They threatened to overwhelm him.

Even Moses knew such disappointment.

Moses, too, felt the pain of crushing disappointment in how God was working things out—even death seemed preferable. We see this In Numbers 11. The Israelites started wailing and complaining because they only had manna to eat. They said, (verse 4f)

"If only we had meat to eat!
We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—
also the cucumbers, melons, leeks,
onions and garlic.
But now we have lost our appetite;
we never see anything but this manna!"

Then we read that the Lord became angry with the people. Moses didn't like the whole situation. He said to God, (verse 11f)

"Why have you brought this trouble on your servant?
What have I done to displease you
that you put the burden of all these people on me?
Did I conceive all these people?
Did I give them birth?
Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms,
as a nurse carries an infant,
to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers?
Where can I get meat for all these people?
They keep wailing to me,
'Give us meat to eat!'
I cannot carry all these people by myself;
the burden is too heavy for me.
If this is how you are going to treat me,
put me to death right now
if I have found favor in your eyes—
and do not let me face my own ruin."

Jonah, Job, Moses and Elijah. All of them experienced such disappointment in God's providences that they preferred death to life. Such are the disappointments that Christians can face. God's providences can be bewildering and disappointing.

I hope that none of you ever experience such disappointment. But if you do, if you ever find yourself in such a situation—you should know how to react. Jonah's request and God's response contain great lessons for us. This morning I want to look at three of those lessons.

First, it's clear from Jonah's request that

life and death are in God's hands and that's where they should be left.

Jonah asked God for death. He did not take things into his own hands. He said,

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

He asked God to take his life. He recognized that God had authority over life and death. It was the same with Job, Moses and Elijah. They all wished for death. It seemed so attractive to them. Yet they would not take matters into their own hands. They all knew that it would have been a great sin for them to take their own lives.

In some societies suicide has been viewed as an honorable thing. You've all heard of hari-kari. Japanese Samurai were bodyguards who had the responsibility of keeping their lord alive and in power. If a samurai failed in his duty, shame and dishonor would come upon him. But he could atone for his failure by committing hari kari. He would take a sword and disembowel himself. They were taught that it was the honorable thing to do.

Today in our society, among some groups, suicide is held in high esteem. Among some teen groups, suicide is the 'in' thing.

But we must hold to the teaching of God's Word. Life and death are in God's hands and that is where we should leave them.

I don't remember if I told you about my brother's reaction when his
palliative care doctor told him to stop eating and drinking. He was in the last stages of life and to make his time more comfortable, his doctor suggested that he stop eating and drinking. I admire my brother's reaction. He said,

"You want me to commit suicide?"

Now I'm not sure it would have been suicide to follow the doctors advice. But what I liked and admired was that he had such a respect for life being in God's hands that he resisted that advice, even though he was very near death.

The second lesson we learn from our text is that

you should never be angry with God or with what He does.

It's all right to be disappointed with what God does. We're not Stoics. When God takes away a loved one, we have sorrow and disappointment. There's nothing wrong with that. The Psalms are filled with expressions of disappointment. The people who wrote them rightly carried such feelings to God and poured out their hearts to Him. They were disappointed, but their hope was still in Him. They looked to Him, the source of all goodness—for deliverance, for comfort, for strength.

But to be angry with God. That's another thing. God said to Jonah, (verse 4)

"Have you any right to be angry?"

A simple question. Yet it says so much. It was a rhetorical question. The answer was, "No." Jonah was angry at what God was doing. But he shouldn't have been. He had no right to be angry.

I know some Christians think it's all right to be angry with God. But I don't see any Scriptural justification for it. Indeed,
God is perfect. His ways are perfect. He is light. In Him is no darkness at all. (Psalm 50:2, Deuteronomy 32:4, Psalm 18:30). How could you ever be justified in being angry with Him? He does not treat you as your sins deserve or repay you according to your iniquities. You should never be angry with God.

God's reply to Jonah here
reminds me of His reply to Job. You'll remember that Job had lots of questions that he wanted to ask God about his sufferings, about all the disasters that came upon him. He put it this way in Job 23:3f,

"If only I knew where to find him;
if only I could go to his dwelling!
I would state my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would find out what he would answer me,
and consider what he would say."

But when God did answer Job—what did He say? In Job 38 we read,

"Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm.
He said:
'Who is this that darkens my counsel
with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions?
Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?
Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
when I fixed limits for it and set its doors
and bars in place,
when I said,
'This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt'?
Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place,
that it might take the earth by the edges
and shake the wicked out of it?'"

God did not answer any of Job's questions. Rather He showed Job that He was not qualified to judge God's ways.

What we must understand is that our understanding is limited, flawed and inadequate. God's ways are much higher than our ways. As God said in
Isaiah 55:8-9,

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways.
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts."

We are not in a position to judge God's ways. John Calvin says this in relation to our judging God's ways.

"for there is nothing more fallacious than our own balances. When therefore we weigh facts, deeds and thoughts, by our own judgment, we deceived ourselves."

Job learned this lesson well. He replied to God with these words, (Job 42)

"[You asked,]
'Who is this that obscures my counsel
without knowledge?
' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
[You said,]
'Listen now,
and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.'
My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes."

What if something happened to us that we didn't like? What if something happened to our church? What if God chose to bless another church, one we didn't like, more than us? Would you be angry with God?

Jonah wanted God to be merciful to the people of Israel and to no one else if it was going to hurt Israel. There was a selfishness, or a national self-centeredness to Jonah. He was wrong. His vision was much to limited.

If you're ever disappointed with life, with God's ways—
don't be angry with God. Be angry with your sin. Be angry with sin in general. Be angry with Satan and the forces of evil. Be angry with other people's sin.

But don't be angry with God. Bless Him. Praise Him. Extol Him. Lift His name high. Who is like Him? The Father loved the world and sent His only begotten son, that whoever believes on Him should not perish but have eternal life. Jesus, the King of Glory, who created all things for His own glory, stooped to take our nature upon Himself. He died for sinners. Jesus sent the Spirit to apply this salvation to His people. He seeks us out when we are dead in trespasses and sins and gives us life. Jesus is preparing a place for us. (John 14:2) He promises that our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us a glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:17) He is going to make us perfect. Whatever happens to us is for our good, as we read in
Romans 8:28,

"And we know that in all things
God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose."

In all things! This is true even of difficult and horrible things—such as pain. C.S. Lewis has written about pain,

"Pain is God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world; the blows of His chisel, which hurt us so much, make us perfect."

The third lesson we see from our text is that

God's mercy is astonishing, perplexing and way beyond human mercy.

God's mercy is astounding, perplexing. After preaching for 40 days Jonah went outside the city to see what would happen. It seems that he still had hopes that Nineveh would be destroyed. God's mercy was much greater than Jonah's mercy.

Jonah knew a little about God's mercy. His theology of it was correct. In verse 2 he said,

"you are a gracious and compassionate God,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
a God who relents from sending calamity."

Jonah knew that in his head. He knew the theory. Te knew it in practice as well. He had experienced it in being spared from death in the sea and in the fish's belly.

Yet God's mercy went way beyond Jonah's. God was merciful and compassionate to a people that Jonah didn't think He should be merciful to.

People today criticize God because of all the suffering in the world. Some use it as an excuse not to believe in God. But that's ridiculous. It's like in the comic strip Peanuts where Charley Brown said,

"I love humanity. It's people I can't stand."

God's mercy is on a much higher level than human mercy—than the mercy of any human being. Jesus implied that quite clearly in Matthew 7:11 when He said,

"If you, then,
though you are evil,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your Father in heaven
give good gifts to those who ask him!"

God's mercy is on a much higher level—so much so that it's perplexing to us. It certainly astonished and perplexed Jonah.

Does it astonish you? If it doesn't, then you're not understanding it correctly. For example, awhile ago I saw an interview with the infamous
Son of Sam murderer. He claims to be a Christian and in the interview I couldn't detect anything that would lead me to believe that his profession wasn't genuine. That disturbed me. Him a Christian? The pain and suffering that he caused. The lives that he snuffed out. Him a Christian? How do you feel about meeting him in heaven?

God's ways are way above our ways. That's not how we would do it. It's way beyond our mercy.

Or how do you react to Jesus' story about the landower who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard? (Matthew 20) He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. At nine o'clock he saw others standing in the marketplace with nothing to do. So he hired them as well, telling them that he would pay them whatever was right. This was repeated at noon and at three in the afternoon and five in the afternoon. He hired them all. Then at the end of the day he had them all paid—and the ones who were hired last were paid first. They received a denarius. The others, who had worked longer, expected to receive more, but all of them received a denarius. They grumbled against the landowner. But the landowner said he was not being unfair to them, that he gave them what they had agreed to. Jesus concluded with the words, (Matthew 20:16)

"So the last will be first,
and the first will be last."

That's not how we would do it. It's way beyond our mercy.

David knew that God's mercy was greater that man's mercy. Remember he was given three choices by Gad the prophet for his sin of numbering the people. God said, (1 Chronicles 21:11f)

"Take your choice:
three years of famine,
three months of being swept away
before your enemies,
with their swords overtaking you,
or three days of the sword of the LORD—
days of plague in the land,
with the angel of the LORD
ravaging every part of Israel.
Now then, decide how I should answer
the one who sent me."

David replied,

"I am in deep distress.
Let me fall into the hands of the LORD,
for his mercy is very great;
but do not let me fall into the hands of men."

We then read,

"So the LORD sent a plague on Israel,
and seventy thousand men of Israel fell dead.
And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem.
But as the angel was doing so,
the LORD saw it and was grieved
because of the calamity
and said to the angel who was destroying the people,
Withdraw your hand.'"

The three days weren't even up. Yet God stopped the angel. We read,

"The angel of the LORD was then standing
at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.
David looked up and saw the angel of the LORD
standing between heaven and earth,
with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem.
Then David and the elders,
clothed in sackcloth,
fell facedown.
David said to God,
'Was it not I who ordered
the fighting men to be counted?
I am the one who has sinned and done wrong.
These are but sheep.
What have they done?
O LORD my God,
let your hand fall upon me and my family,
but do not let this plague remain on your people.'"

We look at that and we wonder about David's choice. God's mercy is great? Greater than that of men? But seventy thousand men of Israel fell? How can that be great mercy?

If someone asked me that I would say— "Keep reading". The angel of the LORD ordered Gad to tell David to go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. Araunah and his four sons saw the angel and hid themselves. David went up and bought the site of the threshing floor and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. He called on the Lord and the LORD answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering. Then the LORD spoke to the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath.

The threshing floor. A place where the wheat was threshed. Where was it? It was on Mount Moriah—the very place
where Abraham was told to offer Isaac, the child of promise. But there the Lord provided a substitute. The threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. Where was it? It was the site where God told Solomon to build the temple. It was Jerusalem—the site where Jesus would come to die for sinners. The angel of vengeance was stopped. It was all pointing to Jesus, to His work.

Oh, the wrath that our sins deserve! How horrible they are! The angel of vengeance is over the earth, ready to wreck havoc on sinners who have offended God. But no. Jesus died for sinners. He died in Jerusalem. There is good news. There is mercy. There is hope for sinners—hope in Jesus Christ. Go to Him for salvation.