The Miserable Missionary

Brad Horton

body of water under sky

“But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry” (Jonah 4:1). What displeased Jonah? “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10). I have to be honest, I am still stumped at the reaction of Jonah.

The facts are, Jonah didn’t want them to repent. He wanted judgment, and we cannot escape this truth. Not only did this displease Jonah, “he became angry” (Jonah 4:1). Angry that the people of Nineveh repented or angry that God granted it? His prayer tells us where his heart was, “Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish” (Jonah 4:2a). We now have his admittance to why he left. He knew God would be gracious. “For I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:2b). 

Jonah didn’t want to preach the message from God. He knew God would be merciful, kind, and gracious. He knew God was abundant in mercy. He knew all the attributes of God. As a Christian today we know these attributes as well. We look at our own lives and see the abundance of mercy, lovingkindness, slow to anger, and compassion God has shown on us. But we are, at times, no different than Jonah. Forgetting His mercy on us and wanting judgment instead of grace to befall our enemies. 

Jonah was so displeased at God’s mercy to them, he simply wanted to die rather than live. Not exactly a missionary’s vision. I do not have a concrete answer as to Jonah’s attitude. He’s been reduced from certain death and now seems ungrateful that God has saved a nation. 

What is beyond my grasp in human terms is God’s continued compassion on Jonah. He asked him, “Do you have good reason to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4). It appears that was a question that Jonah couldn’t answer. Jonah simply left the conversation, as he did before, and “went out from the city and sat east of it” (Jonah 4:5). 

We know this isn’t the first time he fled. When God told him to go in chapter one, he left as well. This is a good time to bring up the uncomfortable truths we come face to face with. What do we do? Flee? Avoid answering? Simply ignore what God has said in His Word?

Jonah fled to camp out to see what would become of the city: “There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city” (Jonah 4:5). Maybe God would destroy the city and give them what they deserve? In Jonah 4:6–7, God appointed both a shade of relief and a worm. Even in Jonah’s pouty attitude, God is merciful and provided shade. Ever been there—a little ungrateful, and yet God was still gracious?

God also appointed a worm, “But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered” (Jonah 4:7). God is sovereign in both the grace and the trial. He has made them both. God ordained a hot east wind to make Jonah sweat a little. In this last question, God asked Jonah if he had good reason to be angry at the plant? (Jonah 4:9). His response was quick and short, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death” (Jonah 4:9). But why? What was his good reason? Was his knowledge of God the reason, because he knew God was merciful? Is that what has made Jonah angry? Angry because the plant didn’t do as he wished, just as God didn’t do as he wished? 

I don’t know the answer, and the book just ends. I read it over and over again hoping I will find the sequel. But I have found the ending is good enough, God closes with a mammoth statement of grace. He told Jonah in verse 10, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight.” In other words, you did nothing. 

How much more valuable are 120,000 people than a plant? You have more compassion for a plant than for souls that would be judged and sentenced to hell. God lays the rhetorical question, “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh?” (Jonah 4:11). The depth of their depravity was they didn’t know the difference between the right and left hand. Is God’s grace and mercy that has been shown to you available for the other vile and wicked? Yes or no? Do you wish for certain enemies to perish? I’ll just end it there, like the book of Jonah ends. 

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