Minor Prophets: The Last Word On Jonah


Jonah is associated with the giant fish, a reluctant prophet of hope to the enemies of his people.

In chapter 4, Jonah’s suffering acts as foil to the nature of God’s compassion.

Jonah was now hunched miserably in his hut, being baked alive in the desert. The beautiful vine God had caused to grow hung withered and crinkled, having been eaten up overnight by a worm God had also sent. Outside, the vine was luxuriant with life, rich and robust. Inside, however, the worm was at work, silently devouring the very pith.

Through the dark of night, unseen and unheard, as Jonah slept peacefully, the balance shifted, and the plant began to die. By morning, there was nothing left but the shriveled remains of what once was.

Last week was the more scholarly approach, this week will be the Bible teacher approach.


Jonah was angry

  • Though he wanted God to be a certain way and do certain things, God was proving otherwise.
  • He felt coerced into accepting a mission he did not want (though he had already agreed to being God’s prophet and had enjoyed success and renown up to this point).
  • God had sent him to be the agent of forgiveness and blessing to his sworn enemies.
  • His theology was not being corroborated by reality.

God could not have had a more reluctant student!

But rather than placate Jonah, or instruct him, or indict him for rebellion and stiff-neckedness, God gave Jonah an experience. His experience involved the enjoyment of creation when it is in harmony. Then God gave Jonah a second experience, the sorrow of destruction.

As must happen, it seems, Jonah hit bottom, the very best place to be though also the most painful. But it was here, in the darkest nadir of his pit, that Jonah would be able to see glimmers of light.

God began to teach Jonah through asking him three important questions:

  1.  Jonah 4:4 “Is it right for you to be angry?” The situation making Jonah miserable was having quite the opposite effect on God.

God was pleased with Nineveh’s repentance! All-wise, all-loving, forgiving God, Who is all-light with no shadow of sin or error.

But Nineveh’s repentance despicable to Jonah, the rebellious, resentful prophet.

Who had the right perspective? 

This must have given Jonah some pause. An obedient servant is responsible only for fulfilling the whole will of the master. It is the master’s right alone to pass judgement on the results.

But the truth was, Jonah was still, deep down, not reconciled to God’s will. Do we not find ourselves in the same place sometimes? We do what we think we should be doing, live the kind of life a Christian should live, but secretly, deep down, you and I can be unhappy, even angry, with God for the way things are turning out.

  1. Jonah 4:9 “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” At first Jonah had been very happy about the vine. Interestingly, the only thing that had made Jonah happy at all in this whole remarkable story was this vine.

Now Jonah was very angry about the vine. Jonah’s anger was turning into bitterness. That is what unforgiveness does to a person. Jonah had access to scriptures that explained this harmful process,

A tranquil mind gives life to the flesh,
    but passion makes the bones rot.

Proverbs 14:30 (NRSV)

Anger was eating Jonah up just like the worm had eaten up the vine. You and I might start out being angry at the big things, but unresolved anger just sits there waiting to be triggered until it comes screaming out over every little thing. And that is exactly how Jonah responded to God’s wise question, “YES, angry enough to DIE!”

  1. Jonah 4:11 “And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

God talked to Jonah about those who were just as undeserving of death as the vine, the babies, the cattle. They would have been swept up into God’s judgement if Nineveh had not repented. But now they could live. Did Jonah’s compassion for the vine (and for himself) not prove to him the righteousness of God’s compassion for all people, for all creatures?

God’s love and concern is for all creation

God’s purpose in discipline has three parts: for repentance, for revival, and for spiritual maturity.

First part: Jonah’s repentance and willingness to obey God’s call to the Ninevites, while inside the great fish of chapter 2.

Second part: Jonah’s release from the giant fish, and his ability to return to his home, replenish supplies, and become fit for the journey to Assyria, a 500 mile trek. In chapter 3, Jonah was able to walk the expanse of Nineveh, preaching and prophesying.

The third part of God’s purpose in discipline was reached in this fourth chapter. The narrator, positioned as Jonah,[1] would never have written such an honest account without having experienced true and lasting spiritual maturity.

The first and last words in this book are God’s.

Jonah’s whole account is written around the key phrase “The word of the Lord…” and is based on God’s quote from Exodus, “You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love.”

God’s word is God’s purpose, and God’s purpose is founded upon love.  

God is sovereign. Nothing can thwart God’s purpose, God’s word never returns to the Lord empty, but always full, having accomplished what the Lord set God’s word out to do.

Almighty God could crush our human will and easily accomplish God’s purposes with our full coerced cooperation. God, the majestic creator of all things seen and unseen, all‑powerful, all‑wise, all‑good, sustaining all things with God’s word, has every right to do whatever God pleases with the universe,

God would be well within God’s rights to force people to do what God has ordained.

But instead, the Lord is determined to perfect God’s good work in God’s beloved ones. God will do whatever it takes to broaden the minds and hearts of God’s people so that you and I who trust and believe in the Lord repent of our wrong thinking and wrong doing.

We put ourselves in the care of God. Then God revives us, makes you and me into new creations who will love God, love God’s word, be conformed to God’s image, and for those reasons will glady cooperate with God’s purposes.


[1] However way you view who that was—Jonah himself, a curator of Jonah’s material centuries later, or an allegory written for the sole purpose of teaching these truths to a bitter and angry people who were under the fire of the Assyrians.

[Paradise | Pixy.org]

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