Jonah 4

VALUES: GOD'S AND OUR'S

(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg


Jonah 4 NIV

"But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, "O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? This is why I was so 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. Now O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."

But the Lord replied, "Have you any right to be angry?"

Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, "It would be better for me to die than to live."

But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?"

"I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die."

But the Lord said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died over night. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city."

Brothers and sisters in Christ:

Every one of us has a value system, a system of ideas, opinions, habits, relationships that we hold dear. In contemporary business terms they are called "core values," they govern our behavior, help us make decisions, help us choose where we spend our money, time, energy, emotions. And so those who are in the business of measuring value systems tell us that we can recognize our own values by a number of criteria.

We can measure our values by our Actions (1 John says) - If you say you love God but hate your brother, you lie...

We can measure our values by our Decisions

We can measure our values by our Feelings, by what we think is important.

You will notice in this passage that Jonah exhibits at least two criteria by which he demonstrates his value system; first of all he shows some strong emotions, and secondly, he demonstrates one of his main concerns.

First, notice Jonah's strong emotions. The 1st verse: "But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry..." This was not just a short fleeting emotion, it was a depressive internalized anger at God. Jonah was burning with an anger that made him question wether it is worth living. "Now O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."

One of the challenges of this passage is to figure out exactly what Jonah was so angry about. The anger has to do with the character of God. Jonah preached to the Ninevites that there was hell to pay, and they repented!  The Lord responded to their repentance with compassion.  The Lord changed his mind about overthrowing this city of 120,000. Jonah was angry at God for being compassionate. Jonah says this himself as he fled to Tarshish, he became angry because God is "a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity."

Now to us, this sounds extremely strange!  Jonah got angry at God because God is a loving God. At this point you might wonder why the book of Jonah is even in the bible, his emotions and reactions toward a loving God are positively strange. I would like to survey the congregation this morning.  Who here would even think of being angry at God because he is a loving God?

No one...

Let's be sure of this though. Remember that God's compassion is not just a question of God's character.  The simple truth was that God's character would have a deep impact on Jonah and Israel's life. For Jonah, the love of God meant that he had to go to Nineveh, outside of his own country, his own people, he was sent. For Jonah, and for the nation of Israel, the compassion of God meant that their position of privilege with respect to their relationship with God was meant by God to be shared with others.

Just a couple of notes on this position of privilege that Israel had. Paul refers to it a number of times in Romans 2:17ff.  The Israelites liked to brag about their relationship with God and the law or Torah, and the Patriarchs with their covenants, all had been delivered into their hands. In this world they were God's chosen people - priests of the Almighty God. As we have noted before, in the eyes of a good Israelite at that time, if you were not Jewish, well frankly, you were a nothing. Israel felt they had a position of privilege with God, a position that Israel, as here represented by Jonah, was simply not ready to share with the nations around. The nations around were in their eyes evil and very undeserving of the grace and compassion of God.

If you remember the story of the prodical son this morning, you will remember that in that story there was an elder brother who had served his father for years faithfully, never doing anything rebellious.  He maintained a position of privilege in his father's house. But when the prodical son returned, the older son was not willing to welcome him back because he regarded the prodical son as undeserving of the love of God. The older son was not willing to share his position of privilege and so he became angry at the father.

Jonah, like Israel, valued their private position of privilege with God and they were not about to share it. But the love of God demanded they share that privilege, and so Jonah became angry.

Might you become angry at God because God is a loving God? God's love has consequences. God's love means we may have to go out of our way to tell others of sin and repentance and grace and salvation. God's love means that we have to share our positions of privilege with those who will respond to the gospel. We might have to move over in the church chairs so that new people have a place to sit. We might have to take some of our customs and set them aside so that some new practices may be found among us. What we do with our worship services, our time, our money?  God may insist that we make adjustments here for the one who may come in. For every 99 that sit here, God says move over, make room for one more. (Matthew 16?).

Oh yes, you and I to, may get angry at God because he is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and so willing to relent from calamity. But remember, if you do get angry because the love of god affects your life so much, you are not the first.  Jonah got angry, he was willing to die for this value of privilege with God rather than sharing his position  with the Ninevites.  So to the older brother, so to the pharisees in the New Testament, when they came to understand that Jesus came to tell them that they had no special position of privilege with God. They were even willing to kill to maintain that position that they valued so much.

The second way in this passage that Jonah demonstrates his values is by his concerns. He goes outside the city, and waits to see what God will do. How long he waits, we're not sure, maybe the 37 days, but as the passage goes, he built himself a shelter and to add to that shelter, the Lord caused a vigorous young vine to spring up just to give him some extra shade.  Jonah is absolutely delighted!  At least something in his life is going right. His comfort was increased. He felt secure there waiting for God's judgement to rain down on Niniveh.

But God sent a worm (its interesting in God's plan of things how even worms can be messangers from him) to cut down the vine. The vine withered, the shade was gone, and so was Jonah's comfort. Listen again to Jonah's response...

"When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, "It would be better for me to die than to live."

But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?"

"I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die."

Jonah valued his comfort so much that he was willing to die for it. Again this was a message, not just for Jonah, this book was written to Israel. Israel was comfortable in the security that God gave them, his intimate loving care, their traditions of faith and practice. They valued all this. But they valued this to the point that they devalued others who might impinge upon their comfort. And the consequence was that they focused on their comfort and in practice ignored and disregarded those who were not part of the community. God's love compelled Jonah's discomfort just as it compelled the early churches discomfort immediately after Stephen's stoning when the church of Jerusalem was dispersed by persecution.

How important is your comfort, at church, in life? Is it so important that it concerns you more than lost people, who are all around us every day? If comfort concerns you, you're not the first. Jonah loved his comfort so much he was willing to die because of its loss.

This passage finally is a passage of challenge and contrast because as you will have noticed, it contrasts very clearly what Jonah was concerned about and what God is concerned about. But the Lord said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died over night. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city." All those people, lost people, in that great and wicked city - they mattered to God, much more than a vine, much more than his servants comfort, much more than allowing his servant to hold on to a private position of privilege. Lost people matter to God, they also ought to matter to us if we share in God's values.

Jonah was willing to die rather than share that privilege which he valued. Jonah was willing to die rather than loose his valued shady comfort.

God also has a value the he is/was willing to die for. God values lost people - people who do not know him, who do not know he is gracious and compassion, slow to anger and abounding in love. God loved them so much that he died for them, Jesus died on the cross for them to secure their forgiveness and their reconciliation with God.  He turned those lost people into you and me here today.

Lost people matter to God - we might call it God's core value.  God demonstrated that this core value cuts right to his heart, he not only was willing, he did die for that value. If lost people matter so much to God, is it not right that lost people out to be our highest value also, in our worship, in our decisions, in our expenditures, in our time, in our lives?

Prayer - Lord give us this value so much that we would die for it.


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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