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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
 www.edmontonimmanuel.ca
 
Title:Jonah’s Unrighteous Anger at the Lord’s Great Mercy
Text:Jonah 4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Mercy
 
Preached:2010-11-21
Added:2011-02-21
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Sing: Psalm 7: 1, 4

Sing: Psalm 145: 2, 3

Sing: Psalm 51: 6

Sing: Psalm 30: 1, 7

Sing: Psalm 86: 4, 6

 

Read: Jonah 4

Text: Jonah 4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
        
We have come to the final chapter of the book of Jonah. It is actually surprising that this last chapter has been added. For actually the story ended at the end of the last chapter. At that point it appears that the Lord God accomplished what he had set out to accomplish. Jonah finally did what he was told to do from the start, and the desired result was obtained.
 
For you remember that the story of Jonah began with the request of the Lord that Jonah go to the city of Nineveh and preach against it, for their wickedness had come up before him. God wanted them to repent from their sins. And that is exactly what happened in the end.
 
It took a while. The Lord first had to send a wind, and then to appoint a fish to swallow Jonah up to have him deposited on the shores close to the city of Nineveh. But finally Jonah does make his appearance in Nineveh. And lo and behold the people repent en masse. That is exactly what the Lord wanted to happen. And so now we have mission accomplished. End of story, right? 
 
No. There is still another chapter. And why is that? Well, brothers and sisters, this book is not in the first place about the repentance of Nineveh, but about the rebellious and stubborn character of God’s own covenant people. This is a last warning to them to repent from their sins. Many prophets have come and gone telling that nation to repent. But Israel refused to listen. The repentance of Nineveh is an example to God’s own covenant people. Nineveh repented in sackcloth and ashes. Israel must do the same if she wants to stay the judgement of God.
 
But the same thing applies to Jonah, who represents the nation of Israel. For the stubbornness of Israel can be seen especially in the incredibly obstinate behaviour of Jonah. For here you have a prophet of the Lord who has just been deposited on the shores of Nineveh by the Lord God himself, and who just saw the miraculous repentance of a multitude of heathen people, and who, in spite of all that, still has the audacity to find fault with the Lord God for sparing their lives.
 
Nineveh may have repented, but the prophet of the Lord has not. The problem with Jonah is a greater obstacle than an entire city full of a people prone to violence and pagan practices.
 
In chapter 4 of the book of Jonah we find a very angry man. Why is he now so angry? What is his problem? Jonah’s problem is that he does not want to understand the all-embracing mercy of the Lord his God. O sure, Jonah says that he knows all about the mercy of God. For he prays, after the repentance of Nineveh, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was 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.”
 
Jonah says that he knows all about God’s mercy. That is why he did not want to go to Nineveh in the first place. But that is exactly where the problem lies. The reality is that he does not really know about the great mercy of God. And that is because he does not want to submit himself to it. Why not? Let us consider that as we listen to the preaching of God’s Word as summarized under the following theme: 
Jonah’s Unrighteous Anger at the Lord’s Great Mercy
1. Jonah’s anger
2. God’s mercy
 
After Jonah had brought his message to the Ninevites he went outside of the city and awaited the outcome. The people had forty days to come to repentance. But before those forty days were up, Jonah left Nineveh. He did not want to be destroyed along with the rest of the people. Once he realized that the people repented en masse, and for that reason God would not execute his sentence, Jonah became angry, very angry. And he expresses his anger in prayer.
 
Once again this is not a good prayer. It is not the kind of prayer you would expect from a child of the Lord. It is a prayer full of bitterness. Jonah still does not want to accept that the Lord has spared the Ninevites.
 
No doubt all of us wonder, Why does Jonah have such difficulty with that? How is it possible that this man is still angry? If this happened to me, I think I would act much differently. I would rejoice about the fact that thousands upon thousands of people repented from their sins, and turned to the Lord their God. What’s Jonah’s problem? 
 
Well, brothers and sisters, before we get on our high horses, let us consider the kind of person Jonah is, and the position he is in. 
 
For what is the case here? It is clear that Jonah hates the Assyrian people. And if you know a little bit about their history, then it is easy to see why. The Assyrians were a very cruel people. They were feared and dreaded, not only by Israel, but by all the other nations as well. At the time of this prophesy Assyria is still quite weak. It takes yet another 50 years before the fall of the Northern Kingdom at the hands of the Assyrians. Nevertheless, the Assyrians are making their presence felt all over the world of that day. They would make the occasional forays into foreign territories and do severe damage before getting out again.
 
I read somewhere that the Assyrians moved as a mob in a very disorderly manner; like a plague of locusts. They would capture, kill and torture anyone who crossed their path. One method they employed was to take a man into the sandy desert, bury him completely in the sand except for his head, and then put a thong through his tongue and leave him there to die as the hot sun would beat down on his head. And that is one of the nicer things they did. To speak of some of the other tortures would be too gruesome. The people were so afraid of them that cases have been recorded where an entire town would commit suicide rather than fall into the clutches of these cruel people.
 
Now, it is very well possible that Jonah had personal experience of the cruelty of the Assyrians; that they had come down to his home town, tortured and killed all the men, and raped and captured the women. These things may have happened to his own family. We do not, of course, have any direct evidence of this. But knowing the times in which he lived, and the things we know about the culture and the movement of the peoples of those days, it is very well possible.
 
And so it is easy to understand why Jonah is so angry with this nation and why he does not want anything good to happen to them. It is no wonder that he headed for Tarshish, rather than Nineveh. He hated those people with a passion. 
 
But Jonah also knew the Lord his God. He knew that with God there is forgiveness for every sin under the sun. There is not a sin so great that the Lord will not forgive it. Jonah knew that about God. But there is one thing he could not do: he could not bring himself to forgive. The hatred and the bitterness in his heart was just too great. 
 
Does that sound familiar, brothers and sisters? For that also happens in our lives. It also happens to us that something occurs in our life, that some horrible sin is perpetrated against us, and we have a real hard time with it. Someone has done something against us which, in our way of thinking, is unforgivable.
 
O sure, we know that the Lord will forgive. We have been told that many a time. And we believe that. But to know and to believe, that is one thing, but to put it all into practice is quite another. We see the Lord’s forgiveness as one thing, and ours as another. As far as we are concerned, what the Lord does in forgiving someone his sins is ultimately his business.
 
For we think, He is God. He is able to do that. He is wiser and stronger than I am. He isn’t hurt in the way that I am hurt by this or that person. I am not God. As far as I’m concerned there are certain things which are unforgettable, and unforgivable. I am not going to forgive that person who has done this or that against me. I can’t stand him and I am going to stay out his way as much as I can. I don’t want to be reminded of that situation, and I’m going to push that person and what he has done out my mind. I am going to have as little contact as possible with him. Let the Lord deal with him. I can’t.
 
That is how our minds often work, and that is also the way it was with Jonah. He had no trouble believing in the Lord. He did all that God required of him to the best of his ability. If he lived in this day and age, no doubt we would say about Jonah, “He is a good member of the church. He shows that he loves the Lord and his people. He is a faithful minister of the Word.”  
 
That is the image his fellow believers would have of him, especially before he took off for Tarshish. Jonah did not think like a heathen, and he did not live like a heathen. He is a believer, except, he has this thing about the Assyrians. He hates them. There was one thing to which Jonah could not bring himself, and that is to forgive the Assyrians their atrocities.
 
Jonah thought, “If the Lord wants to forgive them and save them, that’s his business. I do not want to be involved.” The very thought that this people would find favour with God, is so repugnant to Jonah, that he says to the Lord that he would rather be dead. Jonah is terribly distraught. He cannot imagine that the Lord did what he just did. He thought God was on his side; that he would understand how he felt. 
 
And here we see the kind of people that we are. Jonah is just like us, you and me. He fooled himself into thinking that his cause was the Lord’s cause, not the other way around, that the Lord’s cause ought to be his cause. And so he confirmed himself in his anger. He had taught himself to think that there was a good reason for his anger. He became so involved in his office of prophet that he forgot that he was doing the Lord’s work, not his own. He was completely convinced of the rightness of his cause.
 
Jonah believed that he was justified in feeling the way that he did. So he began to identify his own feelings with the Lord’s feelings. For that reason the Lord is still not finished with Jonah. Jonah still needed to be taught a lesson. The Lord is much busier bringing one covenant child to repentance, than with a whole city full of heathens. And as we will see, there is a good reason for that. But before we deal with that, let’s see what happens. 
 
Jonah built himself a little booth, a shelter outside of the city to provide him with some shade. It was only a make-shift structure, and did not really offer him the protection that he needed. And so, while Jonah is sitting there outside the city of Nineveh, the Lord appoints a vine to come up to be a shade over his head, and to save him from his discomfort. That vine was probably a castor oil plant, which can reach a height of approximately 10 feet. It looked something like a palm tree with large leaves. 
 
Now, the same God who appointed the fish also appointed this plant to grow. It was nothing short of a miracle that this happened. We know that this is true, even though scientifically it may not be possible for a plant to reach such heights overnight to offer shade.
 
While Jonah is sitting there nursing his wounds the Lord appoints that plant to bring about a change of heart in Jonah. But Jonah only realizes that later on. For Jonah believed that God’s favour was shown to him for one reason, while God himself has something quite different in mind. The Lord wants to teach him another lesson. Jonah said to himself when he woke up one morning, This is more like it! Now I know that God is with me. He is showing his favour to me, as well he should. God finally realizes that my feelings are hurt, and now he gives me this plant in order to show me that his favour rests on me.
 
We may wonder about the ways of the Lord, the way in which he once again deals with Jonah to point him into the right direction. For what does the Lord do? He appoints a plant to make Jonah more comfortable. The Lord is with him. He shows him his favour. He first pampers him.
 
Brothers and sisters, the Lord also does that at times to us. There are times in our lives when we can really see that God is with us. He brings us into very comfortable circumstances. Look at how good we have it today. He also gives us shelter from the sun and the wind and the cold. We all enjoy very comfortable lodgings. And, by and large, we have good jobs and fine families.
 
There may also be other indications in our lives. Perhaps these are some of your happiest times. You are on top of the world and believe that things are well with you and with your relationship with the Lord. You have finally come to a point in your life where you are quite comfortable.
 
Well, you may certainly rejoice if that is the case with you. But don’t depend on it. Don’t think that just because now everything seems to be fine that therefore everything is all right with you. For as soon as you think that everything is completely under control, then you are getting too comfortable. For then the ground of your assurance is your own subjective situation in life, and how you yourself feel about it.
 
And do you know what will happen then? Then the Lord will send you a worm. He brings you down to earth. That is what he did to Jonah. After a while Jonah got quite comfortable there under that plant. He saw it as a sign that God was with him. And indeed God was. But not because he made him comfortable there under that tree. The Lord was with him because he did not give up on him. He wanted to teach him something else. And he knows how to bring you close to him. He knows when to make you comfortable and when to make you squirm. He knows how long we can take the comfortable situation we are in before we think that we no longer need him.
 
Jonah’s problem all along was that he was too comfortable. He was too comfortable with the fact that he belonged to the true church. He was too comfortable with the fact that the nation of Israel was doing as well as it was. For remember what we learned in the first sermon of this series on the book of Jonah. Jonah was a prophet during the time of Jereboam II. It was a time of prosperity and security. Israel had never had it so good. And the rich people smiled, and said, See God is with us; what can happen to us? God’s favour is shining on us.” Therefore in the mean time they lived as if there was no tomorrow. There was great immorality in the land. The rich oppressed the poor, and they drank and they ate and they partied.
 
But there comes a time when the Lord puts a stop to it all. That is also what he did with respect to the plant of Jonah. For after one day of comfort under the shade of the tree, the Lord appointed a worm which attacked the plant so that it withered. The sun rose, and God appointed a sultry east wind, and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah so that he was faint.
 
2. But therein we see especially the mercy of the Lord. And that brings us to the second point. The Lord is merciful to Jonah and to the nation of Israel. For the message which Jonah had to learn, he also had to send back to his own people. They too had to learn of his experience.
 
How can that worm be a sign of God’s mercy, you may ask? Well, Jonah still had to learn a final lesson. In the first place he had to learn that God is the One who created all things. He is the One who created the plant, and he is the One who put man on the earth. Therefore he can do with his creation whatever he wants, for he is the almighty creator.
 
Jonah didn’t like it that God showed mercy to the Ninevites. He was downright angry about it. So the Lord says, “You have a problem, Jonah. You want to hang on to your anger, your resentment, your hatred? You think that they are undeserving of mercy? I have news for you: so are you, and so are the rest of the people of Israel. They have nothing whatsoever to offer to me. And yet I show mercy to you, as I also do to the rest of them.” 
 
That is the message which he gives, not only to Jonah, but to all of his covenant children. We too will hang on to our resentments and hurts that others have perpetrated against us. We boil inside when we think of the things that other people have done against us.
 
But what does the Lord say? He says, Forgive one another, no one excluded. You may not harbour hatred in your heart. For remember, I sent you My Son, to die for your sins. That was a terribly hard thing for My Son to do. You cannot even begin to imagine how hard that was for him. He, who was with the Father full of glory, and majesty, came down to this filthy world full of sin and misery, and emptied himself of the glory he had with the Father. He who had no sin allowed himself to be reviled and ridiculed and abused. And rather than harbouring resentment against mankind, he did something quite the opposite. He took all their sins, and heaped them upon himself, and allowed himself to be murdered on the cross.
 
That, brothers and sisters, is the great mercy which your God has shown to you and me. And that is why the Lord Jesus Christ also taught us to pray, not only for our own forgiveness, but also for others, that we will forgive those who have sinned against us.
 
And how can we not forgive others their sins, even if what they did was reprehensible? As far as the Lord is concerned, there is no sin so great which cannot be forgiven. Well, that is also the way it ought to be for us. We can and we must forgive others.
 
Remember that I said that the Lord God has a harder time with a covenant child than he does with a whole city full of heathens? Do you know why that is? Well, once an unbeliever comes to faith, he does so because he realizes how terribly sinful he is. Once confronted with sins, he knows that he has nothing to offer God. He strips himself naked, so to speak, and throws himself at the mercy of God. He knows what he was like before he came to faith.
 
But a covenant child does not always have such a sense of his own sin. He thinks that he is not like the heathen, that he is not in such a great need for redemption. That is why it took such a long time for Jonah to come to his senses. He thought that he was different from the Assyrians. But God does not make any distinction. For the whole world belongs to him, even the animals. The whole world needs to be redeemed.
 
It is interesting to note that the Lord also shows his mercy to the animals. In chapter 3 the Lord includes all the animals in his decree to repent, and says that even the animals have to go in mourning. And then in this last chapter he indicates that he had compassion not only on the people, but also on the cattle. We think sometimes that we can treat animals with contempt, and mistreat them. But that is not what the Lord God says. He also deals kindly with the animals. He loves all his creatures. And all his creatures are dependent on him.
 
Thus there is one more thing that the Lord wants Jonah and all of us to learn. He says to Jonah, You have to learn to depend on me alone. For I am the only ground of your salvation! There is no one and nothing else on whom you may depend. Go back to the people of Israel with that message, and write it down in a book, so that all my people may also learn from it. Maybe they will still repent.                                    
 
And so, brothers and sisters, let me ask you a question. Have you also learned from this message that Jonah had to learn? Are you still hanging on to hatred for others? For example, are there some people in this building whom you can’t stand? Have they said or done things, which in your way of thinking is almost unforgivable? Would you be happier if they didn’t even belong to this church?
 
Or are there others, perhaps, who in the past have wronged you, and you cannot bring yourself to forgive them? A parent, an uncle, a grandfather, a former boss, a teacher? Then remember the message of Jonah, and turn to forgive. Rejoice that the Lord wants not only to save you, but also others.
 
Paul says in Romans 12, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”
 
If only we all could take these words to heart, completely. There are many reasons for people to be depressed, suicidal even. And there are some things which, humanly speaking, are beyond our control. But there is one reason for depression which we can do something about, and that is the depression caused by repressed anger and resentment. If we all could learn to give over our hurts to the Lord our God, then we would be much happier persons, and there would be much less need for counselling.
 
The same thing is true about our earthly comforts. When they are threatened some people become depressed about that as well. They’re afraid because they lost their earthly possessions. And so, let me ask you: What are you going to do when the Lord sends a worm and your plant withers, when your comforts are taken away, when adversity strikes? Are you going to be like Jonah and fall to pieces?

Jonah was so distraught that he wanted to die. When his plant was taken away he once again became suicidal. The Lord took away his shade. The plant had become his comfort station. He had become attached to it. He cared more for that plant than he did for the people of Nineveh.
 
People who are full of resentment are like that. They have a hard time relating to other people. They’d rather talk to their plants, and they treat their pet dog like one of the family. But when it comes to people, they avoid them, they don’t like them, they have been hurt too many times. Or others get attached to material things. But people? Never mind. Leave me alone. Let God deal with all those difficult people. 
 
Beloved, it is a good thing that God does not leave us alone. He did not do that to Jonah, and he does not do that to you. Jonah, it appears, finally learned his lesson. For he wrote it all down. Therefore he had to reflect on what happened.
 
But the vast majority of the Israelites did not learn their lesson, even though the Lord Jesus told them to learn from the prophet Jonah, and from the city of Nineveh that repented. They rejected the Lord God as the ground for their salvation. But let the same not be said of us.
 
Jonah was a stubborn man. Jonah had to learn that God’s mercy also extends to all kinds of sins and to all kinds of people. What about you, do you also have to learn the hard way? What does it take for you, brother or sister, to learn about God’s great mercy and care? Amen.
        
 I gratefully acknowledge R.T. Kendall’s excellent insights in his book Jonah in the preparation of this and the other sermons in my series of sermons on the prophesy of Jonah.



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: www.edmontonimmanuel.ca

(c) Copyright 2010, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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