Jonah’s Anger [Chapter 4]

A Happy Story With A Sad Ending

This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?” Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see what would happen to the city. And the Lord God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant. But God also arranged for a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant so that it withered away. And as the sun grew hot, God arranged for a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. “Death is certainly better than living like this!” he exclaimed. Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?” “Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!” 10 Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. 11 But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

To understand Jonah 4, you have to go back to the last verse in chapter 3–“When God saw that they had put a stop to their evil ways, He had mercy upon them and did not carry out the destruction He had threatened. Jonah is unhappy because God’s showed mercy on the Assyrians. This is very unusual: an Evangelist upset because there was 120,000 decisions. Here we have the greatest revival in human history and Jonah is pouting instead of praising. Most preachers would get snap shots of the repentant Ninevites and feature them in the new brochure. Some would have slide shows galore. they would be so excited with these numbers that you would not be able to shut them up. But not Jonah the A-hole. No, he is mad as an old wet hen; he is hotter than a blue blaze. He is so upset that he can eat nails or chew tacks. He is so mad that he can spit fire and save all his matches.

I have divided Chapter four into three parts: the Pity, the Plant and the Problem


When people get angry like Jonah, they do foolish things. Jonah begins to complain: [1] First, he complains that God is merciful in nature. I think Jonah sees mercy as a weakness. “I knew it all along” Jonah said, “I knew you would show mercy”. The irony of Jonah’s life is that there is nothing that he needs more than mercy. Where would Jonah be without God’s mercy. He either be at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea or rotting in the stomach of a fish. When he was in deep, deep trouble, he had no problem with God being merciful  and sparing his life but now that God has spared Nineveh, he is upset. Everyone needs mercy and Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” If we don’t show mercy, we will not receive mercy. Because we have all sinned, none of us can afford not to be merciful. [2] Jonah complains about life itself, he said, “Lord, I had rather be dead than alive because nothing I predicted is going to happen. Jonah was upset that God had used him. Instead of rejoicing over what God has done, Jonah is resenting what God has done. In chapter 4 he prays twice for death, for the LORD to take his life. He didn’t really want to die. Why did he pray in the stomach of the fish if he wanted to die. The Assyrians are armed to the teeth: if he really wants to die, I am sure they would lend him a dagger or a sword. He doesn’t want to die, he is blowing smoke. He is having an old fashion pity-party. He is feeling sorry for himself because he did not get what he wanted. God’s will was done instead of his and he is upset.

So Jonah is complaining when he should be celebrating. He is resenting when he should have been rejoicing. He is pouting when he should have been praising. He is doing the very opposite of what he should be doing. Let me say three things about complaining…

[1] Complaining is primarily against the LORD. Perhaps you are thinking, “I complain but I do not complain against the LORD.” Are you sure? I think most complaining is against the LORD. I am reading a book on John of the Cross. One of John’s goals was to accept everything that happened to him as the will of God and to never complain. A couple of women in a Bible Study group came to me with a challenge. I think that I probably said something that ticked them off, maybe it was about gossip or minding your own business and they decided to retaliate. They said, “Starting tomorrow [Monday] we challenge you to listen to everything you say and note anything that is negative or in any way a complaint.” I thought, “Old girls, you are on and we are not going to win this challenge.” Before the week had gotten started good, I had caught myself complaining so many times that I had forgotten all about the two busy bodies. I could not believe how much I complained. In the recent drought, I was not good company. I tried so hard not to think of rain or complain about the lack thereof but I know that I fell off the wagon more than once. I don’t think complaining is a good thing and when you give it proper thought, it is generally against God.

[2] Complaining is always unpleasant to man. No one likes a complainer. I loath going out to eat with a complainer. Years ago my wife conspired with some friends and they hornsnoggled me into going out to eat with a “Noted” complainer. Sure as shooting, her steak was not right and she had the waitress take it back. When they brought it back, it still wasn’t right and so back to kitchen with the steak. Meanwhile, I have consumed my food which does not take me long and I am ready to go by the time she gets started. But it doesn’t end there: now I have to sit and listen to her complain as she basically dines alone. When we got home, I told my wife: if you ever do me that way again, I will be ugly. I do not want to go out with a complainer. Generally speaking, people don’t like complainers. Maybe you are like I am and you think…”I never complain”…try listening to yourself. You may be surprised.

[3] Complaining is a subtle form of diversion. We complain in order to avoid the real issues. Bob Pitman tells the story of a revival meeting that he was doing and all week the preacher complained about his Sunday School director. Everything was the SS Director’s fault. The attendance, offering, baptisms, mission giving, everything was the SS Director’s fault. Finally Bob got irritated and said, “If the man is that sorry, why in the world don’t you fire him and get someone else.” The preacher looked at him with some sorrow in his face and said, “As sorry as he is, he is the best I’ve got.” When someone is complaining about their preacher or their Sunday School teacher, it is a given that they are covering their own sin. People complain to divert the attention away from them and on to someone else. A mule that is kicking aint pulling. Complainers are not contributors. I know you have heard the story about the man who got upset when he opened a closet door at church and seen an entire box of brooms. There must have been two dozen. He had a fit and before it was over, he had complained to every staff member, every deacon and anyone else who would listen. “What in the world are we doing, buying so many brooms. Don’t these people know that money doesn’t grow on trees”…He unloaded on everyone. A month or two later, the pastor is having lunch with the church treasurer and he tells him about the man’s rage over a closet full of brooms that cost less than a $100. The treasurer just grinned and said, “How would you like if every thing you have given to the church in the last five years was tied up in a closet full of brooms?” Complainers do not contribute. They don’t have time, they are too busy complaining. Jonah is complaining that God is not right but really Jonah is the one who is not right, amen!


The plant illustrates God’s goodness and Grace which overshadows our stupidity and ignorance. Jonah is just not right in the head. If I go to Saudi Arabia and preach a meeting, just as soon as the meeting is over, I am catching the first flight to the States. I am not hanging around, hanging out, or even hanging in–I am headed home. But Jonah decides to hang around on the wrong side of town. For Pete’s sake Jonah, at least go back to the West side so you will be closer to home. Hey folks, Jonah was one strange dude.

Again God has mercy on this ignorant sap and allows a vine to grow over the little shelter that Jonah erected. The vine give Jonah wonderful shade from the scorching sun. Jonah rejoices in the vine. He is tickled pink about the vine. I bet he wrote a song or poem about the vine but then the LORD sent a worm who destroyed the plant and Jonah lost his shade. So Jonah goes into another rage about the worm killing his plant. The sun and the wind began to do their work and before it is over Jonah is begging for death and this time he may be sincere.

The LORD said, “It is right for you to be angry because the plant died?” “Yes” said Jonah, “I am so angry I could die.” The LORD said, “You keep this attitude up and I just may take you up on your last request”. Just kidding, the LORD didn’t say that, He could have said that but what He really said was, “So you are sorry about the plant dying but it didn’t bother you that 120,000 humans were going to die had they not repented.” [JEV] The plant was a picture of grace. Jonah didn’t do anything to deserve the plant nor its shelter. We don’t want to miss or ignore God’s grace. Jonah is so obsessed with the destruction of his enemy that he totally ignores God’s mercy and goodness to himself. If we get some grasp of God’s goodness toward us, it should sweeten our attitude toward others. Personally, I don’t see how anyone can be happy without some grasp or understanding of God’s grace.


The problem is simple: We are never to confuse the worth of a soul with things here on earth. I love plants. I love flowers and I love trees. Hey, I love to garden. I like to plant things and see things grow but there is no way that I can be more concerned about plants than people. You may think that this is an insignificant point but I am telling you that we often puts more stress on the value of things than we do people. It is OK to be a plant lover or animal lover but our priority is people.

Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe says that we have things inverted. God wants us to use things and love people but we have a tendency to use people and love things. In truth: if you can put a price something than it is worth nothing. My truck cost $20,000 and is would probably resale for $15,000 but it is not worth anything. If I wreck the truck, I can get another truck. It is simply metal and plastic on rubber tires. It may have some temporal value but it has no eternal value. We all know people who love their vehicle more than they love their neighbor and that is not right.

God created everything but His delight is in man. God loves people; so much so that He has made us immortal. We are going to live beyond this life. We live in a mixed up and depraved world. Michael Vick gets sent to prison for killing dogs and Rich Pitino gets a hero’s welcome for paying for his girl friends abortion. Folks, there is something wrong with that picture and if you can’t see it, I can’t help you. I don’t like it when people treat people like dogs and dogs like people. I do understand getting attached to a pet and I see nothing wrong with having pets but we must never exalt the worth of a pet or plant over soul.


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