From Misunderstanding to Understanding (4) 2.0

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1But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 

2And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 

3Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 

4And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?” 

5Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.

6Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 

7But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 

8When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 

9But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 

10And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 

11And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4 ESV) 

Have you ever been angry with someone? “Definitely!” would be your answer! 

Ladies, if your husband or boyfriend don’t bring you flowers anymore, would you be angry? “Definitely” would be your answer! Most people like to be pampered. If others stop pleasing us, it’s natural that we would be angry with them.

Have you ever been angry with God? Many people, including Christians, they simply don’t want to share their deepest feelings with others. As a Christian, as a pastor, I have been angry with God on numerous occasions. I was angry with God for the following reasons: first, I didn’t like the treatment that I received from Him; second, I thought He was unfair. As I reflected on my anger, I have to admit that I have misunderstood God’s character and good intentions. One thing is that God is God and He doesn’t have to please me. Moreover, He has His unique plans for me and others.   

1) Misunderstand God’s Grace (Jonah 4:1)

Jonah’s Anger with God

1But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. (Jonah 4:1 ESV) In the Hebrew language, Jonah is described as burning with anger or inflamed with anger.

Runaway Children

Some children run away from home. Out of the many reasons that they run away from home, being angry with their parents is one of the causes. 

Runaway Believers

At times Christians could be childish or immature. Our anger toward God would drive us away from Him. Some believers stop doing devotion. Some even run away from church. In some extreme cases, believers might renounce their faith. Can I ask you a question? Are you angry with God now? 

Jonah’s Conflicting Knowledge and Feelings

10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. (Jonah 3:10 ESV) God’s character is gracious; therefore, it is natural for Him to be gracious to all human beings. When the Ninevites turned from their evil way, God forgave them. Strangely, Jonah wasn’t pleased with God’s gracious decision. As you can see, Jonah’s knowledge about God doesn’t match with his feelings towards God. From Jonah’s action, we know that he misunderstands God’s grace.

Christian Education

Bible knowledge and doctrines are important. Without proper understanding of our Christian faith, we are doomed to fail in our walk with Christ. However, one of the threats to Christianity is the lack of experiential knowledge. When people ask us questions about Christianity, we might be able to provide them the Sunday School answers, but it doesn’t mean we have the experiences to support it.  

Our Struggles

As Christians, we often have conflicting knowledge and feelings. We can all yell at the top of our lungs, “God is good all the time.” But, do we really feel that way?   

Jonah’s Imperfect Knowledge

Jonah’s knowledge about God is imperfect because he doesn’t understand that nobody in the world deserves God’s grace, including himself.

Lack of Depth

In western world, many people call themselves Christians. The problem is that many believers are lacked of spiritual depth. At a Christian conference, a pastor openly admitted in saying, “Look, I may be a pastor, but I’m an inch deep. My life is filled with incessant activity and little prayer.” I admire his honesty. One thing we can be sure of is that non-stop ministry doesn’t enhance the spiritual depth of Christians. 

One inch thick

There is a common saying in North America, although some believers don’t agree with it. The saying states that Christianity in America is 3,000 miles wide and one inch deep. Jonah has some proper understandings of God but there is room for him to grow in knowing God.

Jonah Rationalised His Disobedience

Jonah dared to voice out his feelings to God. In a way, Jonah rationalised his disobedience or sin. In simple terms, Jonah didn’t like Yahweh’s plan for Nineveh. God has already demonstrated His grace by saving the lives of the heathen sailors, apparently Jonah didn’t get the message of His grace.

Movie Plot

Here is a movie plot about the rationalization of sin. A famous and well-respected doctor is having an affair with an air hostess. If he doesn’t end his marriage, she threatens him to expose their secret to his wife. The doctor consults a religious leader for advice. The religious leader urges him to confess to his wife and to God, but the doctor doesn’t want to take the risk. Eventually, he talks to his gangster brother. The advice that his brother gives is to hire a hitman to kill the mistress. After the mistress is dead, his wife never discovers the affair. A burglar is falsely convicted of murdering his mistress. His marriage and business thrive. Finally, the doctor knows how to rationalise his sin.

Rationalising Our sins

Many people try to rationalise their sins. Some even say, “I don’t want to sin, but God didn’t stop me from doing so.”

God’s Anger

According to Jonah 1:2, God was so angry with the Ninevites that He wanted to punish them for their evil deeds. If you read through this book, you would easily find out that Jonah was angry with the evil Ninevites as well. Although God is angry with the Ninevites, the difference is that He is still gracious and compassionate to them. When the Ninevites repented, God was more than willing to give them a second chance (Jonah 3:20).

Jonah’s Anger

If you refer to the context (Jonah 3:20; 4;1), it isn’t hard to find that Jonah doesn’t agree with God’s judgment. He isn’t pleased that God pardons the Ninevites. He is so angry with Yahweh that he thinks it is reasonable for him to die (Jonah 4:3). He simply doesn’t want to see God’s pardoning mercy in the Ninevites. God knows Jonah is angry, so He responds by asking him a question: “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4 NIV 2011)

Max Lucado

What is the characteristic of human anger? Max Lucado wisely said, “Human anger is typically self-driven and prone to explosions of temper and violent deeds.”

Beware of Human Anger

Many people end up in prison because of anger. Anger causes us to do something that we would regret later. Out of anger, we might lash out at others. Out of fury, we might hurt others by our unkind words. Out of resentment, we might do something that is disrespect to God.

Aristotle

The famous philosopher Aristotle says, “Anybody can become angry—that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”

God’s Gracious Provision

 “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4 NIV 2011)  By asking this question, Yahweh makes Jonah to reflect on his recent experience. It is God who sends the big fish to deliver Jonah from death. God is gracious to Jonah by saving him, so there is nothing wrong of being gracious to the Ninevites. In the later chapter (Jonah 4:5-11), under the hot and sunny weather, God graciously provides a leafy plant to give Jonah shelter. But when the plant dies, Jonah is so angry that he wants to die. And for a second time, God wants Jonah to reflect on His gracious provision. If God is God, He has the right of being merciful to the rebellious prophet, and He can be gracious to the Ninevites as well. The sad reality is that Jonah accuses God of being gracious to the Ninevites.

Present Situation

We misunderstand God from time to time. When we are in the midst of troubles, what is the best way to react to our present situation? One of best ways is to reflect on God’s past provisions for us.

Past Provisions

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson says, “By recalling God’s past provision, we can reassure ourselves that what He has done in the past, He will do again in the future.” Human beings are so forgetful. We forget things so easily, especially God’s grace. If Christ came to rescue you in the past, He will certainly come to help you now.

2) Misunderstand God’s Mercy (Jonah 4:2)

Meaning of God’s Mercy

And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. (Jonah 4:2 ESV) In his prayer, Jonah addresses Yahweh as “merciful”. This word can be translated as “loving” or “merciful.” It can be used to describe the loving compassion of a mother to her child.  As parents, when our child is in pain, we will put our arms around him or her. It is an action of mercy.

The Two Possibilities of “Overthrown”

Jonah went to Nineveh to pronounce the message: At the end of forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4 NET) Concerning the word “overthrown”, it has two possibilities: “destruction” (raʿah) or “repentance” (šub). As Yahweh is merciful, He doesn’t want to see the destruction of Nineveh. But Jonah thinks otherwise, he is dying to see the destruction of the Ninevites.

The Death of Mrs Lewis

When the wife of C.S. Lewis died, the famous Christian scholar called God a “Cosmic Sadist.” Can you imagine this comment came from this world renown believer? 

Misunderstanding

In the midst of suffering and pain, we misunderstand God’s goodness and mercy.

3) Misunderstand God’s Patience (Jonah 4:2)

Jonah’s Prayer

In his prayer, Jonah addresses God as the One who is “slow in anger” (Jonah 4:2 ESV). Does he really meant what he said? Jonah doesn’t want to see God’s patience but wishes to see God’s immediate anger pouring out on the Ninevites. It is quite obvious that Jonah doesn’t comprehend God’s character too well.

Slow in Anger

By speaking of God as “slow to anger”, it speaks of God’s patience and longsuffering. In this book, Nineveh was the obvious recipient of Yahweh’s patience and longsuffering.

Social Injustices

The world is full of injustices and we want to see positive changes. We pray hard for it. Some even have become activists fighting for these social injustices. By all means, we should do something about it, but we should do it peacefully and prayerfully.

God’s Patience

In the midst of social injustices, we might ask a question: “Why doesn’t God do something?” My response is that be patient. God does things in His own way and according to His timetable.

4) Misunderstand God’s Steadfast Love (Jonah 4:2)

Steadfast Love

The term “steadfast love” is translated as “faithful love” (HCSB) and “unfailing love” (NLT). The original word is hesed, which represents the covenant love of God. Although this word can be used to describe God’s special love and faithfulness for the Israelites, the Gentiles used it to convey the idea of kindness. Very likely, Jonah was angry with God because he thought Yahweh should only reserve His love for the Israelites.

Jonah Wants to See God’s Wrath (Jonah 4:2)

Jonah was displeased with God because he wanted to see Yahweh’s wrath pouring out on the Ninevites. Jonah thought the Ninevites deserved punishment for their war crimes.

War crimes

Throughout history, there are so many war crimes committed by notorious villains. Naturally, we want to see justice being done.  

Violent Deaths

Many war criminals and tyrants suffered violent deaths. We call it justice being done. Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator, his death was a violent one. Mussolini was shot and hung upside down to jeering crowds in the streets of Milan. Another tyrant’s death was horrifying. Before Muammar Qaddafi died, people tortured him. It is so graphic that I don’t to speak of the details of his death. Like many people around the world, Jonah wants to see God’s wrath pouring out on evil people.

Jonah Couldn’t Change God’s Attributes (Jonah 4:2)

God is just but He is merciful at the same time. He will punish evildoers but He is willing to forgive their sins if they are really repentant. In a simple sentence, Jonah cannot change God’s attributes.

God’s Wrath and Grace

How can we understand God’s anger and grace? By means of the cross, we would have a better understanding of God’s anger and grace. As God is just, He must punish sin. He is angry with the sins of human beings, but at the same time He loves us. As God is gracious, He extends His unfailing love to human beings. Instead of punishing us, God punishes His Son on the cross.

Faithful Love

Many people misunderstand God. Many individuals see God as a cosmic Ruler who is angry all the time, and often likes to find faults in us. Instead of being angry all the time, God is loving that He is extending His unending love to everyone around the world. 

5) Misunderstand the Omniscience of God (Jonah 4:5)

4And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?” 

5Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.

Jonah’s Desire

Jonah was being disrespectful of not answering God’s question. Strangely, Jonah camped at the east side of Nineveh as he waited to see what would happen to the city. Perhaps, he wanted to see if the repentance of the Ninevites was genuine. If the Ninevites didn’t truly repent, he would be more than happy to see God’s wrath pouring out on them.

Jonah’s Misunderstanding of God’s Omniscience

God is all-knowing. He is omniscient. He understands our thoughts and minds. For sure, God wouldn’t misread the minds of the Ninevites. He knew very well that the Ninevites were truly sorry for their evil deeds. Perhaps, Jonah thought God had misjudged the minds of the Ninevites. 

6) Misunderstand God’s Heart (Jonah 4:6-11)

6Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 

7But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 

8When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 

9But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 

10And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 

11And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4 ESV) 

Self-seeking Love

At the end of chapter 4, Jonah wants to die again because the leafy plant dies. By means of the dead plant, God wants to explain an important spiritual truth to Jonah. Although Jonah is not the creator of the plant, he loves it so much. As God is the Creator of all human beings, it would be natural for Him to love the Ninevites and the Israelites. For the Ninevites are once living in spiritual darkness, God is pleased with them as they are willing to turn to Him now. To sum it up with a few words, Jonah has misunderstood God’s heart. 

Open-ended Conclusion

Interestingly, Jonah 4 doesn’t end with any conclusion. As a reader, what’s your conclusion? My conclusion is that we must grow in Bible knowledge and life knowledge so that we won’t misunderstand God but understand Him better in the future.

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