June 17, 2010 David Balzer

Jonah 4: Man Spat out by Fish Spits Dummy

chariotsWe love movies with happy endings. The hero wins the DAY. Or the sporting contest. Or the race. Or the boy finally gets the girl. Or justice prevails.

In fact, it’s almost taken for granted that when Hollywood makes a movie, it’s going to finish with a happy ending.

So I reckon if Hollywood ever get around to making “Jonah the Movie”, it will stop at the end of Ch 3.

Because THAT’S a happy ending, isn’t it? Jonah arrives in Nineveh, after a series of adventures. The suspense builds. What will the people do?

They repent and pray to God.

The suspense STILL builds. But what will God do? Will he destroy them, or not?

And then the climax. God forgives them. The whole city. And he DIDN’T do what he’d threatened.

It’s the big finale. The epic end. Imagine the camera panning away from the city, with everyone cheering, and laughing. Hugging each other!

And the final credits roll.

(pause) But that’s NOT the way the story goes. It DOESN’T finish with chapter 3. Because that’s not the point of the story.

The major point of the story is NOT that Nineveh is saved. As wonderful as that is. It’s NOT a story about the saving of Nineveh.

(Perhaps if the book had ended at Ch 3, we might have been able to argue that.)

But the book of Jonah is about GOD. Who he is. What motivates him. And how Jonah fits in to his plans. Or DOESN’T fit in – which is perhaps more accurate.

Because the chapter starts with Jonah unhappy. That’s actually a bit of an understatement. In v1, he’s GREATLY displeased, and ANGRY. It’s literally, “Jonah was angry with great anger, and he was incensed!”

Everyone ELSE is cheering. But not Jonah. You’d think he’d be pretty PLEASED with the result. After all, 120,000 people saved. It’s not bad for one day’s work. The most successful missionary ever! But instead he’s angry.

Angry that God’s been COMPASSIONATE AND GRACIOUS. Jonah even says that’s why he ran away IN THE FIRST PLACE.

The funny thing is/ Jonah didn’t seem to mind that God was compassionate and gracious when he was sucking in lungs full of water (drowning) on the bottom of the sea! He quite LIKED the fact that God was gracious THEN.

What did he say back there in Ch 2? “You listened to my cry. You brought my life up from the pit. Salvation comes from the Lord.”

But here in Ch 4, he’s NOT so pleased with God’s compassion. In fact, he’s SO angry here, he says he wants to DIE.

And THAT’s funny too. Because when he was drowning in the storm, he suddenly decided that he didn’t WANT to die. And so he prayed that God would be … GRACIOUS to him.

And yet here, he’s SO angry that God’s compassionate that he wants to DIE. What a short memory he’s got!

So WHY does he get so angry at God’s COMPASSION? Have a closer look at exactly what it is that he says. V2.

(Jonah 4:2 NIV)  “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.

At the very least, he’s saying that it’s all been a waste of his time. He’s angry because he could have been doing something else. God was going to forgive them from the very beginning – because THAT’S WHAT HE’S LIKE.

Another reason he might have been angry was because of the harm it would do his reputation as a prophet. He’d SAID God would destroy Nineveh. And then it didn’t HAPPEN. And now Jonah’s got a black mark against his name. What good is a prophet if his prophecies don’t come true?

But I think there’s a third reason Jonah’s so angry. And it fits the big themes of the book. Look back at v2. What he says there about God is an exact quote from Exodus 34. Where God gives his people, Israel, the Ten Commandments. And he promises to BE THEIR GOD.

And as God passes in front of Moses on Mt Sinai. This is what he says about himself. About how he will act TOWARDS HIS PEOPLE ISRAEL. It’s from Exodus 34

(Exo 34:5-7 NIV)  Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. {6} And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, THE COMPASSIONATE AND GRACIOUS GOD, SLOW TO ANGER, ABOUNDING IN LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS, {7} maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

You see what Jonah’s saying? “This is the way you act towards ISRAEL. You made a covenant WITH THEM. And then you tell me to go off to Nineveh, with a message that THEY need to turn to you.

And I know what YOU’RE like. You’ll go ahead and FORGIVE them. And then I’ll have to SHARE you. And I’m not sure I want to DO that.

It’s ISRAEL you’re supposed to be compassionate and forgiving and slow to anger to. No-one else.”

Jonah does a runner (runs away) not just because he doesn’t want to look foolish. But because his message cuts to the very heart of who he thinks Israel is. Privileged and SPECIAL. A nation who’ve got God all to themselves.

Like an only child who starts to misbehave when a new baby arrives in the family. Suddenly he’s no longer the centre of mum and dad’s attention.

And he starts to muck up. Tries to get that attention back. “Hang on a minute, I’M the one who’s supposed to get the hugs, and the games, and the time. “Who do you think you are?” And suddenly a new baby sister isn’t such a special idea after all!

And that’s the way Jonah’s behaving.

In fact, you could say that Jonah is the very OPPOSITE to God. Even in what Jonah HIMSELF says about God. Have a look at it for a minute.

God is gracious, but Jonah’s UNGRACIOUS. Unwilling to put himself out even a little bit for anyone else.

God is COMPASSIONATE, but Jonah LACKS compassion. He fails to see helpless, ignorant masses. All he can see are strange, and dangerous enemies.

God is SLOW to anger. But Jonah is QUICK to get angry. When things don’t go HIS way, he flies off the handle.

And finally God ABOUNDS in love, but Jonah’s UNLOVING. He’s more concerned that his prophecy is FULFILLED than that people are SAVED.

In the story of Jonah the painful contrast is there. God – with a heart for the lost. Jonah – with NO concern for the lost.

And it’s a PAINFUL contrast, because as we LAUGH at Jonah. At his hypocrisy, and narrow-mindedness. At his childishness and selfishness. We find we’re laughing in the mirror. Because we recognise the very same attitudes in ourselves.

Now I want you to imagine that those two represent either end of a scale – God on one end and Jonah on the other. The scale is a measure of a person’s concern for the lost – for those who don’t know God. God’s a “ten”. And Jonah’s a “zero”.

What would you SCORE yourself out of 10? What sort of concern do YOU have for the lost?

(pause) We’d like to think that Jonah’s attitude doesn’t exist these days – but let me tell you about something that happened not so long ago. Back in 1796 the Church of Scotland – that’s us Presbyterians – was considering starting a Foreign Mission Program. They wanted to establish a program to take the message of Jesus to those who hadn’t heard. One minister opposed this move. Listen to what he said. He said this : “To spread abroad the knowledge of the gospel among barbarous and heathen nations seems to me highly preposterous.”

That sort of talk obviously sits right on the JONAH end of our scale.

But what about YOU? Where do you fit on the scale? What sort of concern do YOU have for the lost?

1. How do your PRAYERS reflect that? Do you regularly and fervently PRAY for your friends and family who are lost? How long do you keep it up for?

A number of years ago I heard Dudley Ford speak at Men’s Convention, describing how a friend of his finally became a Christian after 50 years! For 50 years Dudley had been talking to him and praying for him. And in God’s time, Dudley was able to lead this guy to Christ. What perseverance that must have taken. What faith. And prayerfulness and patience.

2. What sort of TIME are you putting into cultivating relationships with non-Christians? Do you see that as VALUABLE time? Or WASTED time – time better spent doing something more IMPORTANT?

3. How does your GIVING reflect that concern? Are you giving generously to GOSPEL ministry? Gifts which will enable people to spend their time telling people the most important news they can ever hear. That Jesus died for their sins, and that God offers us a free friendship. Does your GIVING reflect your concern for the lost?

(pause) So there’s Jonah. Angry with God. And God, quite rightly, asks him whether he has any RIGHT to be angry. V4.

But Jonah doesn’t answer. Perhaps he goes off to sulk. He heads outside the city. Sets up his little sunshade. And sits down to wait.

You see, the forty days isn’t up yet. And even though he knows that God’s turned from his anger. He’s still hoping that perhaps he’ll have second thoughts. Or that the people’s repentance won’t last the forty days. And Nineveh will be destroyed anyway.

And if it does, Jonah got a front row seat to the whole spectacle. Close enough to see all the action.

But notice how he stays far enough away to stay safe? He obviously doesn’t want to die TOO badly!

And so God decides to teach him a lesson. In v6 he provides A VINE. And it grows up over Jonah’s sunshade and makes a lovely cool covering.

And rather than being very ANGRY, now Jonah’s very HAPPY.

But it’s only step ONE of God’s plan. As well as providing a VINE, in v 7, next day he provides a WORM and a SCORCHING east wind.

And while the worm’s nibbling through the stem, the wind’s dehydrating the plant. And just in time for the burning midday sun, the vine withers away.

And Jonah’s happiness and comfort becomes DISCOMFORT and DEPRESSION. The end of v8. “It would be better for me to DIE than to live!” AGAIN. What a drama queen!

And once again the question comes from God. V9. “I’ve already asked if you’ve any right to be angry about Nineveh. But what about the VINE? Do you have a right to be ANGRY about THE VINE?”

And, this time, Jonah replies. He couldn’t care less about the CITY. But the VINE – now that’s a different story.

“I do. I’m perfectly justified. I’m angry enough to DIE. How terrible that the vine died! I really miss that vine! What a waste!”

And now God’s got him hooked. And so he reels him in. The whole episode with the vine has been to teach Jonah a lesson. To help him to see things God’s way. Look at v10.

(Jonah 4:10-11 NIV)  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?”

And God’s point is clear. You, from completely SELFISH reasons, were concerned that THIS VINE died. Even though it’s only been there for a day or two.

How do you think I feel about NINEVEH? Over 120,000 people! HOW MUCH MORE should I be concerned for that great city?

And the really beautiful detail comes from how he describes them. They can’t tell “their RIGHT hand from their LEFT”. That’s most probably a reference to God’s law. He’s saying, “Israel’s got SO MANY PRIVILEGES. Prophets, the law, kings, judges. The writings. All the guides to teach them what’s right and wrong. All the privileges that come from being in a COVENANT with God. All the signposts showing them which direction to go.

But what have NINEVEH got? NONE of that!

(pause) What about YOU? How much privilege do YOU have?

1. You’re AUSTRALIAN. Free to study the Bible, and worship God, and meet with other Christians. Even to have Scripture in Public Schools. These are privileges many of our Christian brothers and sisters in other countries can only DREAM about. What have you DONE with that privilege?

2. And you’re EDUCATED. That gives you such an advantage when it comes to learning about our faith. What have you DONE with that?

How much Church history do you know? What is the Presbyterian denomination about? What do you know about theology? Are you clear how the church explains the nature of Jesus. Fully God and fully man. Or the Holy Spirit? Or justification? Or how the Scriptures were written? Or how we came to have the Canon of the Bible as we know it today? Or how Christianity compares to the CULTS – like Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses?

And how do you use your education to help others? Those who can’t read, or speak English, or struggle to fill in tax returns, or have never learned parenting skills. Or communication skills. Or how to access various government departments. Or who need help studying.

How much have you used YOUR EDUCATION as a tool? What have you done with that privilege?

3. Third, and you’re WEALTHY. How do you use your MONEY? But not just cash. Homes and cars and books and technology and tools. All RESOURCES we can use for the kingdom. What have you DONE with that privilege?

4. And many of you have Christian PARENTS. You’ve had a great heritage in the faith. Watched their example closely. Learned how to live as a Christian over decades. How to persevere. How to face trials, and sorrows. THAT’S a privilege. How are you passing that on to YOUR children, and the people here at church? What have you done with that privilege?

5. And our denomination has a great FOCUS ON THE BIBLE. Explaining God’s message CLEARLY. Not clouding it with man’s opinions, or razzle dazzle, or focussing on emotion, or performance. We’ve got such a head-start on the road to Christian maturity.

What have we DONE with that privilege? Are we squandering it? Taking it for granted? Sitting on our backsides, getting more and more settled, more and more comfortable. Learning more and more information.

But not becoming any more like Christ. Not spreading the light and salt of God’s forgiveness to those around us. What have we DONE with that privilege?

(pause) And it was the same with Israel. All that PRIVILEGE that Israel had. But Nineveh had NONE of that! No law. No warnings. No guidance. No prophets. They’re as helpless as children who don’t know their right hand from their left.

Sure, they’re wicked. Sure – they deserve to be wiped out. But that’s no easy decision. It’s not one that God makes EASILY. As Jonah selfishly mourned over the vine that died, how much more does God mourn over the destruction of the wicked?

Ezek 33:11 puts it like this

(Ezek 33:11 NIV)  As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways!

Surely, says God, they deserve a CHANCE! After all the chances Israel’s had, surely Nineveh deserves ONE SIGNPOST. One offer to choose the right or the left.

And he hasn’t changed. He STILL takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. It’s how he feels about YOU.

And he’s gone to no less trouble to send YOU that same message. A warning. A signpost. Not a prophet from Israel via a whale. But he’s sent his OWN Son from heaven to earth. An even GREATER rescue mission. This is how John describes it in John 3.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

And THAT’S what God sent Jonah to do. To sound the warning. To offer them the choice of TWO WAYS TO LIVE. Belief or unbelief. Life or death. Salvation or condemnation. And the people HEARD it. And chose LIFE. And so God rejoices that he doesn’t have to destroy the wicked.

Just as he’ll rejoice when ONE OF YOU heed the warning.

(Ezek 33:11 NIV)  As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways!

And THAT’S the point of the book of Jonah. And it only comes when we have Ch 4.

(pause) And God’s nature is still the same. Because the book of Jonah finishes with that question ringing in the air. “Shouldn’t I be concerned for that great city?” “Shouldn’t I be concerned for that great city?”

(pause) And the question on God’s lips is left hanging. Jonah never gets the chance to answer it. And so, God’s question becomes OUR question. “Shouldn’t I be concerned for that great city?” “Shouldn’t I be concerned for that great city?”

And the task of Jonah becomes OUR task.

Millions of people out there in Sydney, who don’t know their right hand from their left. God says “Shouldn’t I be concerned for THIS great city?”

(pause) What about YOU? How concerned are you? And what are you going to DO about it?

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