1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
It’s such a simple question. God is addressing His sulking prophet, Jonah, and rhetorically asking him, “Do you do well to be angry?” Why was Jonah angry? Let’s look at what happens in chapter 3, to see if we can grasp what it was that had Jonah angry enough to forfeit his very life.
1 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth.4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
Notice the wording here… it doesn’t say they believed Jonah… the people of Nineveh believed God. Jonah was preaching the Word of the Lord.
Jonah 3 | The People of Nineveh Repent
6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
God relented… He did not bring about disaster upon them because of their repentance by faith. Why do I say faith? Because they believed the Word of God spoken through the prophet Jonah. The people of Nineveh believed God, by faith, and turned from (repented) their evil way, and God forgave them and relented. And that is what displeased Jonah exceedingly, and made him angry.
Do you do well to be angry?
Jonah strongly reminds God, of why he ran in the first place. Jonah wasn’t afraid of Nineveh, and he had no doubt of God’s ability to destroy Nineveh. Jonah knew full-well it was God who caused the storm to attack the boat and he knew that God was responsible for the fish… but he also knew of God’s Mercy and Grace. He knew that if Nineveh believed the Word of God and repented, that God would show mercy. He knew it… and He didn’t want Nineveh spared. Nineveh was guilty… her walls were painted with graphic murals of her king’s torturous treatment of captives. Justice demanded Nineveh’s destruction. Jonah demanded justice. He was so angry that God relented, that Jonah decided he’d rather die than live with the knowledge that Nineveh had repented at his preaching and been forgiven.
Jonah 4:5-11 (ESV)
5 Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. 6 Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind,and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 10 And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
What right does Jonah have to be angry at God for sparing a repentant Nineveh? None. Jonah doesn’t have the right. He is in no way entitled to this anger. He is angry at God for His mercy and grace to the people of Nineveh. And that same God shows him mercy and grace in this rebuke. Nineveh’s faith wanes and she is later destroyed by God (Book of Nahum)… but for now, God extends grace and delays justice.
Matthew 12:38-42 (ESV) | The Sign of Jonah
38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.
God is still extending Grace and Mercy… this time coming to perform an act of mercy far greater than was witnessed by Jonah. Jesus came to bear the full brunt of God’s wrath on the cross… in our place. The Pharisees lacked faith, and Jesus told them they would be condemned by the men of Nineveh who repented.
We, too, struggle with forgiveness, don’t we? We insist on earning our forgiveness… paying penance, “making things right”. Is it not because we fail to understand the gravity of our sin, of our wrong, of our guilt? Surely this is the case, because we who long for forgiveness for ourselves seem awfully keen to withhold forgiveness from others. Sure, we’ll forgive, but Justice must be served! We are entitled to closure… to satisfaction that justice has been served and that the wrongs have been made right… right?
Matthew 18:21-35 (ESV) | The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him,“I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
For a laborer, a talent was about a year’s wages. 10,000 year’s wages was forgiven him. A denarius was about a day’s wage… He couldn’t see fit to forgive the debt of 100 day’s wages in light of having been forgiven 10,000 years worth of debt.
Dear Christian… do you do well to be angry? Is there any sin your brother, sister, or neighbor can commit against you that compares to eternity? Do you think you have the right to insist on justice over forgiveness on behalf of another?
Matthew 6:7-15 (ESV)
7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them,for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
The world speaks with confidence of things it doesn’t understand. The world demands Justice while it rejects the God of creation. We who are called in Jesus’ Name, out of the darkness and into the Light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we know better than to demand Justice over Mercy and Grace. At least, we should. You see, Justice comes from the One who also extends Mercy. Jonah wasn’t seeking really seeking Justice to be poured out on Nineveh… he wanted vengeance.
Do you do well to be angry?
In Christ Jesus,