Jonah 3:10-4:1 – Stretch Your Mind, Jonah!
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.Jonah 3:10-4:1
The climax of the book of Jonah is found not in chapter 2, but rather in chapter 4. Not Jonah under the sea, but Jonah under the vine! Not Jonah challenged physically in the stomach of a fish, but Jonah stretched theologically by the mindboggling concept that God forgives Assyrians!
God was wonderfully at work with his recalcitrant prophet, and the remarkable book of Jonah recounts that wonderful work. Of course, it is relatively easy to see God's hand in sending the fish to swallow Jonah. But how about the plant that grew over Jonah's head to give him shade? Or the little worm that gnawed at the root of the vine and destroyed it?
Let's go straight to the heart of the matter: God was teaching Jonah to stretch his mind! There is something here that is much greater than Jonah's burial at sea and his resurrection from the belly of the fish. There is something much, much greater, and it is this: the attitude of God toward Nineveh. He sees that great city in deep need of the preaching of the gospel. Here we approach the core of the book, and here we find the very heart of God.
The greatest miracle is not Jonah in the fish, but God in Nineveh. If we have trouble with such a comparatively small thing as Jonah being in the fish, then we shall have big trouble trying to explain what in the world God could have been doing in Nineveh. If we cannot believe that God spared Jonah, then it will be nigh unto impossible to believe that God spared Nineveh. Yes, the theme of the book of Jonah is God's love for Nineveh – and thus for a sinful world. Stretch your mind, Jonah!
God's Love; Jonah's Anger
The seer did not see God's love for Nineveh. It's hard to believe, but this preacher of the forgiving grace of God actually missed God's love for Nineveh. And even more – he not only missed it, but also was positively angry when God spared the city. He was deeply offended that God would do such a thing. He was in the worst blue funk imaginable!
Jonah knew all about God, but he didn't really know what God was like. He knew about God's ways, but he didn't love them. He had all the information on God that he needed, but that information was not enough for him. His heart was still closed to the God whose heart had opened to him and to Nineveh.
In bitterness Jonah said, “Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah 4:3
It's not easy to understand exactly why Jonah was angry. No doubt he had a very truncated idea of God. He – thought that God really had no business saving Nineveh. He thought that God should not have spared that city. After all, it did not belong to God – it was the capital of the heathen world. Outsiders lived there – Gentiles, the great enemies of God's true people Israel. Nineveh? Really, now!
You see, Jonah had eventually done what God wanted him to do, but God had not done what Jonah wanted. But the truth is that God is not only the God of the Jews, but also the God of the whole earth. God loves Jerusalem, yes, but he also loves Nineveh. This truth Jonah failed to see as he should have.
No doubt Jonah was angry also because his ministry seemed to be ruined. He had predicted the downfall of Nineveh in forty days, and look what happened! Nineveh was still standing. One of the signs of a true prophet is that what he prophesies comes true.
If Jonah could have returned home with the story of the destruction of Nineveh, people would have listened to him. He could have wagged his finger at them and said, “The same thing will happen to you if you do not repent!” What a sermon illustration – it would have sent chills up and down their spines. But now, Nineveh was spared and Jonah felt that his ministry, and even his life, was finished. It was better to die than to keep on preaching sermons! No, Jonah did not really see that God loved Nineveh – that was his main problem.
He didn't want to bring offerings for missions. He didn't want to be a missionary. He didn't want to live. “God, you care about Nineveh? Tell me another one! I can't understand that. I won't understand that.” But to deny that God loves Nineveh is to deny that he is both able and willing to do something about Nineveh's plight. It is to deny that he could, and did, send Jesus to be the Savior of the world! There is the solid proof that God loves Nineveh, and Tokyo, and Toledo.
God's Love Today
You see, God so loved this world. And nothing will ever change or remove that grand fact. The cross of Christ has been firmly planted in this world, and nothing will ever be able to take it away. Our gracious God will call out of every place to which we bring the gospel those whom he has chosen for eternal life. The Bible says that when missionaries were sent out by the early church, “all who were appointed for eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). It had happened centuries before in Nineveh, when God used a reluctant prophet. Now it was happening again in many cities through a more willing Paul of Tarsus and other missionaries.
The world we live in today is basically the same one in which Jonah lived – we have just moved onto the stage at a later date. And the gospel we have today is even richer than the one that Jonah brought to Nineveh. For Christ has risen from the dead and ascended to his Father's right hand. He has been lifted to the highest heaven and has been crowned Lord of lords and King of kings. He is not only above, but “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:21). Our task, therefore, is to point all men to him and command them to repent and believe the gospel.
Stretch your mind, Jonah! The Messiah is not a little king of one little part of this world. He is the one and only King of the whole earth. There are not a hundred dominions around, one of which belongs to Jesus. There is only one dominion, and it is his. Stop thinking your small thoughts about God and his gospel! He loves Nineveh.
A Vine and a Worm
Chapter 4 of Jonah tells us how God used a vine to press this message home to his prophet, making it all so simple for him. When Jonah finished his preaching in Nineveh, he went to the east side of town and sat there, baking under the sun and waiting to see what would happen – and maybe even secretly wishing for Nineveh to blow up! And then God caused a vine to grow up at Jonah's side. This plant grew at a terrific speed, and its large leaves provided the prophet with plenty of shade. Jonah was glad for that plant; it made him feel better, physically.
But then suddenly a worm came. No, the worm didn't come, it was sent. It killed the vine, the leaves dropped, and soon Jonah was back under the hot sun. Again he complained, “It would be better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:8). Then God asked him, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” Jonah replied, “I do… I am angry enough to die” (4:9). How patient God was!
Then the Lord drove the lesson home:
You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 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? Jonah 4:10-11
“Jonah, you love the vine, but I love Nineveh!” The argument is devastating. God lays bare his heart: he overflows with love for Nineveh! He has his vine:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
We must see this. It comes first; it is best.
Our Vine Today
Jesus Christ is God's vine. The Father loved his Son, yet gave him up so that the unworthy branches in this world might live. Stretch your mind and embrace the staggering truth: God loved Nineveh centuries ago, and he loves all the Nineveh’s today! Go, give, and pray on the basis of that firm knowledge.