Jonah Gets Angry
1Jonah was really upset and angry. 2 So he prayed:
Our Lord, I knew from the very beginning that you wouldn't destroy Nineveh. That's why I left my own country and headed for Spain. You are a kind and merciful God, and you are very patient. You always show love, and you don't like to punish anyone.
3 Now let me die! I'd be better off dead.
4The Lord replied, “What right do you have to be angry?”
5Jonah then left through the east gate of the city and made a shelter to protect himself from the sun. He sat under the shelter, waiting to see what would happen to Nineveh.
6The Lord made a vine grow up to shade Jonah's head and protect him from the sun. Jonah was very happy to have the vine, 7but early the next morning the Lord sent a worm to chew on the vine, and the vine dried up. 8During the day the Lord sent a scorching wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah's head, making him feel faint. Jonah was ready to die, and he shouted, “I wish I were dead!”
9But the Lord asked, “Jonah, do you have the right to be angry about the vine?”
“Yes, I do,” he answered, “and I'm angry enough to die.”
10But the Lord said:
You are concerned about a vine that you did not plant or take care of, a vine that grew up in one night and died the next. 11In that city of Nineveh there are more than 120,000 people who cannot tell right from wrong, and many cattle are also there. Don't you think I should be concerned about that big city?
The word “angry” occurs 6 times in this last chapter. Anger signals that something is wrong but it fails to tell us whether the wrong is outside of us or inside of us. Usually we assume that the wrong is outside us; it’s our spouse or our kids, or this lousy weather or perhaps we even blame God. That is exactly what Jonah did. But when we track anger carefully, we often find it can be traced to a wrong within us: wrong information, inadequate understanding or an underdeveloped heart.
I don’t know that we can pinpoint the exact reasons for Jonah’s anger but we can speculate to some degree. As Jonah spouts out his prayer of anger in verses 2 and 3 the word “I”, “my”, or “me” occurs 6 times (in the NIV). Jonah is all consumed with Jonah. He had predicted the destruction of Nineveh, and it didn’t happen. His competence as a prophet was now in question, and he blamed God.
Perhaps he felt that God had made him out to look like a fool or a liar. After all, we read in verse 3:9 that the King of Nineveh says, “God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” Who told the king that God was so fierce and angry? I suspect it was likely Jonah; perhaps he was a little over zealous, maybe engaging in a bit of self-projection as he characterized God. And now that God has determined not to act in fierce anger but rather in compassion and kindness, it makes Jonah look foolish. It also makes him look like the loser. The king of this foreign land, who is a stranger to the God of Israel, ends up knowing more about the nature God than the prophet of Israel.
And so Jonah does what any self-respecting male caught in the type of situation where they look incompetent, ignorant and like a loser, would do – he pouts; hoping that somehow his pouting behaviour will change God’s mind. The drama on Jonah’s part is quite extreme, “Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
God questions Jonah’s anger and asks him. “Is it right for you to be angry?” But Jonah doesn’t answer. He ignores God and stomps off to a place east of the city to build a shelter and see if God changes his mind.
So God uses an ambitious worm to eat Jonah’s shade so that once more he is angry. God isn’t creating Jonah’s anger, He is exposing it. Jonah is stuck in anger because anger is stuck in him and God wants to expose it so that it can be removed.
Have you ever found yourself getting angry over and over again? Perhaps God is exposing your anger, anger that is stuck in you because he wants to remove it also. The first step is to acknowledge your anger and stop blaming it on others.
Father, I recognize that my anger seldom brings about the righteous fruit that your Spirit is at work in me developing. Please bring your peace and love to reign in my heart and keep me from blaming my sinful reactions on others. I ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.