Overboard : Jonah is angry? At what? (chapter 4)

As we’ve been walking through the book of Jonah this fall, we’ve entered into a story that is compelling, interesting, comical at times, and reads like a parable or a tale.

Some people have a hard time believing that the Jonah story is based in history. It’s the fish’s fault. It’s hard to take in. I know.

Let’s say, for argument sake that it’s just a tale, a parable perhaps. We know of someone who used parables and tales to teach truth. That would be Jesus.

One of my favourites, not because it’s cute or fun, but because it’s a powerful metaphor of forgiveness, is Found in Matthew 18. In a nutshell, the parable is about a man who was forgiven a loan of, let’s say $10,000. He’s ecstatic, and he should be. Any of you ever been forgiven for a loan of that much money? Thought so. So he turns around and buys everyone coffee at the local cafe. NOT. He finds a man who owes him $100, and hounds him for the money, even threatens him. Ridiculous right? Exactly. What’s Jesus trying to say through this tale? Those who are forgiven of much, should not only be thankful, but should pay that forgiveness forward. You probably agree to this in principal, right?

This story riles up strong feelings in me. I have a hard time with someone who’s been shown grace, and then turns around and doesn’t pay it forward. If we posted this kind of story on social media that #hastags would be: #ungrateful #unappreciative #canyoupayitforward #seriously? #howcouldyou #unbelievable (etc.)

Do you know someone like this? Someone who receives, but is so unaware that what they’ve just received was a gift, that it was undeserved, and instead of living out of the gratefulness, they mistreat others or aren’t generous or live in an aura of selfishness?

Imagine an artist who isn’t grateful that their art was showcased in a big museum, a musician who isn’t grateful for playing Massey Hall and then doesn’t appreciate the standing O at the end, a wealthy athlete who, 1) doesn’t give back to the community, and 2) doesn’t appreciate the victories and the people who helped him/her get there.

– – – – – – – –

This is where we find ourselves in the Jonah story. He’s angry that God did something good – and angry that God used him to do it. Unwilling to show grace, even though he’s received it himself. The drama continues!

Recap…

Jonah gets a word from God.
Go to the great city of Nineveh
Jonah says…nope…goes the other way
Boards a ship
A storm brews and erupts on the see
The sailors start to pray
Jonah ducks down to the lower deck…to sleep
The captain wakes him up, asks him to pray
They draw straws
Jonah admits this is his fault
They reluctantly throw Jonah overboard
Enter into the story – big fish
Swallows Jonah, Jonah Prays, Fish spits him out
God calls on Jonah a second time
Jonah obliges this time
Jonah shares his message (only uses 8 words)
At the surface, it wasn’t good news
But Nineveh responded well
They turned around, repented, recognized their wrongs, and took steps towards God
God sees their heart, changes his mind on their judgement, and embraces the Ninevites.

This is where we left things off…good right? Positive? Jonah should be happy, correct?

NOPE. Let’s jump into this 4th and final chapter.

– – – – – – – –

ANGRY ABOUT COMPASSION? (4:1-4)

But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing 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, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Why? After all that happened? Would Jonah be angry?

His ‘prayer’ points to the answer:

  • He wishes he never left the house
  • He predicted this outcome
  • He knew God was gracious and would change his mind and not go through with judgement

(Can we first say that this ‘prayer’ isn’t anything that you’d expect in a prayer. It’s harsh, angry, mean, ungrateful. But maybe the writer is trying to show us that prayer is simply conversation with God, uplifting or honest.)

You ever feel like you wish you didn’t leave the house in the morning? Me too. But normally it’s when something goes bad (i.e. a car accident, you made a huge mistake at work, you lost money somewhere…)

  • I can think of a lot of reasons, but 120,000 people repenting of their sins isn’t one of them.
  • Knowing God would redeem a huge city wouldn’t be one of them.
  • Recognizing your God is gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love, isn’t one of them
    • This verse is from Exodus 34, also found in numbers 9, Ps 86, 103, 145, Joel 2.
    • This verse is a character reference for God. What people know God to be. Funny how Jonah is using it to rant back at God.

Here’s why Jonah is angry, under the surface. Are you ready?

  • He’s prejudice
  • He’s a little racist
  • He’s a Nationalist
  • We can all agree that these should not be qualities of an OT prophet? Right?

Remember: Jonah is not good at his job. And this is why. He doesn’t fully grasp God’s goodness and compassion. He’s gotten too complacent in his faith. He puts nation above faith, border above love, Israel above humanity. (Tim Keller says this becomes idolatry)

IMPORTANT to NOTE: Beware of being a follower of Jesus, who really doesn’t follow Jesus, who forgets what Jesus is all about, who gets comfy and cozy on one side of the fence and forgets that God loves people on the other side just as much. (e.g. Jesus’ Parable)

JONAH RUNS…AGAIN (4:5-9)

Jonah had gone 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 leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant 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, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

Jonah is so mad that he runs…again. This time, he finds a spot outside of the city, watching to see what will happen, probably hoping that Nineveh doesn’t follow through with their posture of repentance.

Some people will always choose misery. Some people will always want to close themselves in. Some people will never see what God sees, and because of that will miss out on so much beauty and life change, in them and in others.
– 3x we read that Jonah would rather die.
– That is some serious reluctance on Jonah’s part

We might never know why someone who was so close to God responds in such an ungodly manner, and our response must be…sadness and grief. Why? The same way God weeps for Nineveh, we must weep for people like Jonah, and then leave it up to God to figure it out. Sometimes Jonah’s aren’t fix-able, not by us.

WHAT ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT (4:10)

But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

Jonah is concerned about a plant. Actually, I think the writer is trying to tell us that Jonah is concerned and distracted by anything & everything…except the things that God is concerned about.

God says, SHOULD I NOT BE CONCERNED FOR NINEVEH?
Because it was a big city? Because it had advanced infrastructure? Because it was evil? Because it was great?

Here’s the main reason: because there were 120,000 people in Nineveh who 1) were created in God’s image, and 2) had no idea that they were.

That is what God cares about. People. People matter to God. Period. All people. Not just church people, not just one nation, not just Christians, not just conservatives or republicans or liberals. They. We. All. Matter.


Every time I drive by this sign, I’m reminded of the Jonah story. I can’t help but think that God is telling me that he cares about the 125,000 people who live in Whitby (630,000 in Durham), and that I should care about them too.

 

A FEW THINGS TO TAKE HOME & THINK ABOUT:

What should you be angry about? What should you have a holy discontent for? What should have you weeping? Are you numb when you should feel pain? Are you angry when you should feel joy?

Are you open to see that God can be involved in every area of our life? Do we see him as provider, director, architect, captain, leader & Lord?

  • There is something interesting about this section that alludes to something we see in the book. We read the words, ‘GOD PROVIDED’
    • a leafy plant
    • a worm
    • a scorching east wind
  • ch 1: a word to Jonah, a wind/storm, then a fish
  • ch 2: a fishy upset stomach
  • ch 3: a second word to Jonah
  • They’re all unique and different and a little strange, but God provides them all for a purpose

Do you love people like God loves you?
Do the things that matter to God, matter to you?

Jonah’s story teaches us about a God…
– who is patient
– who weeps
– who is generous
– who is complex, because he’s both good and just

– – – – – – –

Jonah ends with a question, so next week we end with some wrap up thoughts and some Q&A.

– – – – – – –

small(er) group questions:

Anything in Jonah 4 that gets your attention? What got you thinking? What caused you to go hmmmmm?

What do you make of Jonah’s anger? What are something that we should have a holy discontent for? That we should weep for?

Let’s pause at these words, “you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love,”.

If we truly understand this, how should our lives look different because of it? Why is it always easier to receive grace than it is to show it? Do you see underlying prejudice, racism and nationalism in Jonah?

What do you think it means to love our city the way God loves your city?

OVERBOARD : Jonah 3

For those of you who are up on upcoming movies, you may be anticipating the December release of Star Wars, or perhaps your favourite super hero flick. This is the time of year when big movies are scheduled to be released. That said, I’m sure there’s a movie that slipped through the cracks this fall for many of you – RAMBO 5. Or…you all rushed to the theatres to see this. Rrrrright!

My childhood friend, Danny, is a HUGE fan of Sylvester Stalone. Stalone has two stories to tell…Rambo & Rocky…in various forms and settings. I remember the first time I realized he actually wrote these movies…I was a teenager…it was the credits at the end of Rambo 2…I tried to recap his lines and all I could think of was UH…ERR…OH…ARGH.

Of course, his stories are more than his words…but there are some great lines…the best one coming in Rocky 4. If you can change, and I can change, then we can all change. (CLIP)

That was an important message in 1985. So much tension between the US & Russia at the time. I guess you can say it seems like an important message today too. Oh Rocky, if you’d only come out with another movie to inspire us to live civilly 😉

This gets us to a very important verse in the Jonah story…3:10…where we read that God relented…God changed his mind. (This may bring some of you to say, WHAT? Hmmm?)

With that mind blowing bit of info, lets jump back into our series: OVERBOARD, learning from Jonah’s blunders & God’s grace.

– – – – – – – –

(Where we’ve been so far)
Jonah gets a word from God.
Go to the great city of Nineveh
Jonah says…nope…goes the other way
Boards a ship
A storm brews and erupts on the see
The sailors start to pray (to various gods)
Jonah ducks down to the lower deck…not to pray, but to to sleep
The captain wakes him up, and asks him to pray
The sailors draw straws to see who’s fault this all is
Jonah draws the short one, then admits this is his fault, and suggests they throw in into the raging sea
They reluctantly throw Jonah overboard
Enter into the story – the big fish
The fish swallows Jonah, Jonah Prays, Fish spits him out

And here we are…

So we left things off with a Fish vomiting out Jonah from its belly…gross, but for Jonah, it’s better than not getting out at all.

– – – – – – – –

HERE WE GO AGAIN (3:1-2)

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

The word from God comes a second time…
– It’s not too often where the same word comes to the same prophet for the same people
– this is interesting, because the beginning of ch1 is the same as the beginning of ch3.

When God wants to get a message across, he’ll keep poking and prodding and nudging. He obviously wanted Nineveh to get this message: first and foremost for them, but also for Israel to learn from this moment, and from this story.

JONAH OBEYED. WHAT? (3:1-3a)

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh.

The first two verses are a repeat from chapter 1, but here is where things get different – JONAH actually says yes.

  • He doesn’t run
  • He doesn’t board a ship
  • He doesn’t say no
  • This time he obeys God’s invitation

What’s the invite again? Go into Nineveh and share God’s message.

WHY NINEVEH? (3:3b)

Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it.

  • It’s Large
    • it takes 3 days to walk through
    • there’s 120,000 people in it (chapter 4)
    • it’s the functioning capital of Assyria
      • let’s face it, God cares about people, not buildings, economic success or other claims to fame.
      • when God identifies a great need, it’s always connected to people…his creation…if they’re living right or not, by living right, we mean are they treating other humans with love and respect.
    • It’s a mess
    • Words to describe Nineveh are…
      • evil ways = darko = sexual deviance
      • injustice = hamas = stealing
      • we see these words used in Genesis 6 when God talks to Noah about the evil ways and injustice going on then.
    • Nineveh was the perfect example for Israel to learn from.
      • God wants to use this moment to teach Israel about repentance, about grace, about ‘others’…and we get to learn about it too.


THE MESSAGE (3:4)

“Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”

Not sure if you can figure this out, but it doesn’t sound like good news!!!
– it’s a warning, a judgement
– God is pointing out their blindspots
– Sometimes that’s what we need. If no one ever points out where we’ve gone wrong, how can we get to a place of confession, repentance and new living?

It is definitely what Nineveh needed.

Only 8 words (5 in Hebrew), but it spread so fast. In today’s language we’d say the message went viral.

Forty Days is really interesting & significant

  • 146 times in scripture
  • a symbol of trial, testing, transformation
  • Flood = 40days, Israel in wilderness = 40 years, Moses on Mt Sinai = 40days, Jesus = 40days in wilderness, etc.
  • God’s message for a pagan nation included a method that his people have used or seen in their own story.
  • Note that in scripture, a time of reflection, of testing, of trial, often leads to repentance.

The word ‘overthrown’, can also be read as ‘overturned’ and can be viewed in two ways. Nineveh will be overturned if they don’t repent…or…Nineveh will overturn, will ‘turn-over’, change, repent, if they listen to this warning and respond.

THEY BELIEVED GOD (3:5-9)

The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

They did two things: FAST, and put on SACKCLOTH. Both practices that represent confession of sin, and repentance towards a new way to live.

  • Prophets wore SACKCLOTH to one, associate with the poor, and two, grieve for sin.
  • Nineveh is responding with humility, acknowledging their evil ways, their injustice, and they CRY OUT TO GOD!

The point is that REPENTANCE is the striking message of this chapter. Nineveh is ‘overturned’, they in fact did ‘turn over’.

GOD’s MERCY COMES THROUGH (3:10)

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

Here we are…back to where we started. God sees their response and accepts their confession.

This is one of the few places we see God changing his mind. Not sure how you feel about that, but I think you should feel ok with it.

God’s character never changes, but he can change his mind. And you’re glad he does…

  • If not, then he can’t hurt when you hurt or feel deeply what you are feeling, or be sad when you’re struggling.
  • When we are in pain or have gotten ourselves in trouble, it moves him
  • When we confess and recognize our failures and brokenness, he embraces us
  • Why pray, why ask, if God never changes his mind?

Jonah finally delivers God’s message. We’ll learn next week that he didn’t deliver it with much love or compassion or confidence, but that doesn’t matter, because God’s words, heard by Nineveh, turned their hearts towards him, and that’s what matters here.

TAKE HOME:

Back to Rocky Balboa’s famous line in Rocky 4. If you can change, and I can change, then we can all change.

This chapter in Jonah, is about changing: repentance, turning away from sin, and turning to God.

It’s about how we can change in response to God’s words, and how God changes in response to our confession and repentance.

It’s about God using a big city, a great city, an evil city, to teach Israel, and us, a lesson about grace. If they can change, then anyone can change. If Nineveh can be humbled towards repentance, then anyone can.

NO ONE is too far from God
NO ONE is too broken
NO ONE is too messed up
NO ONE is has made too many ignorant mistakes

It might only take a few words from God, and that lost friend, than terrible boss, that vicious neighbour, they just might ‘turn to grace’ & ‘turn to God’

Even if it takes us a few times to figure it out, will we obey God, go to where he’s calling, say what he’s instructing, be who he’s calling to be?

– – – – – – – – –

small(er) group discussion:

What are some of the things from Jonah 3 that speak to you, peak your interest or make you ask a few questions?

Jonah chapter 3:1-2 shows a repeat of chapter 1:1-2. God speaks a second time, and asks the same thing of Jonah. Can you recall God coming to you a second time with the same message? What do you think about God prodding, poking and nudging us to get our attention or get his purposes across?

Jonah didn’t say too many words in his big announcement to Nineveh. Eight words (five in Hebrew) What does that say about God’s ability to use the few things we have to offer, in order to make a big difference?

In that message, we read the words “40 days”, which signifies in scripture, a time of reflection, thought, confession, humility, learning, etc. How has time away, forced or planned, helped you in your spiritual journey, and/or other discerning seasons of your life?

God uses Nineveh’s response to teach Jonah, Israel, and us, a lesson on repentance. Chapter 3 is about repentance – change – a turn around. No one is too far, too broken, too messed up, too scarred, or too tainted, to receive God’s grace.
– What is beautiful about the word repentance, and it’s idea?
– What brought you, personally, to repentance?
– Why do some of us have a hard time with grace when it involves someone we don’t like?

God changed his mind in this story. Anybody wanna talk about this? Why it’s key in this story, in our lives, and maybe why some people have difficulty with a God who changes his mind? Is there a difference between a God who doesn’t change and a God who changes his mind?