Reading through the fourth chapter of Jonah we can easily notice a key repeated phrase, “God appointed.” In this chapter we read that God appointed a plant to grow, appointed a worm to a certain time for the specific purpose of eating the plant, and appointed a scorching east wind to blow after the plant was gone. Hopefully this key repeated phrase causes us to recall its first use in this book back in the first chapter when we read, “the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah.”
In the book of Jonah our Lord shows Himself sovereign over the sea and that in the sea. He calls a storm to start and calls that storm to cease. He calls a great fish and instructs that great fish in what to do and when to do it. Our God is sovereign over the earth as He commands a plant to grow from the ground and to grow in such a way to offer shade to a grown man. He is sovereign over the smallest of the creeping things as He instructs a worm to come at a specific time to devour a specific plant. He is sovereign over the wind, and not just the direction it comes from or the direction to which it goes, but the temperature in which it blows. This is our God.
When we stop to really think about it the only thing in all of creation that has the freedom to disobey God is mankind. The sea didn’t have the freedom to say, not today God, I don’t feel rocking the waves at the moment. The fish didn’t get the freedom to say, no God I’m full and really don’t like the taste of man. The plant didn’t argue back with God and say it was only going to grow so high. The worm didn’t have the freedom to say, that sounds good God but dawn is a little early, I’d rather wait until tonight. The wind didn’t have the freedom to come from the west and to be a cool breeze. Jonah, however, did have the freedom to run in the complete opposite direction of where God instructed him to go, but let us not for one minute think that God didn’t have the power and authority to force Him to obey.
Our Lord chooses to allow us the freedom to fail and to fall. He wants our loyalty and obedience because we love Him not because it was forced. He has chosen us and He wants us to choose Him back. He created us in His image and He wants to see us reflect Him. One of the ways that He wants to see us reflect Him is in our lovingkindness and compassion for people, people that He created, people that He created to bear His image.
The Lord loved Jonah and the Lord wanted Jonah to learn to love. Jonah is angry because his gracious, compassionate, slow to anger God, is not going to pour out His wrath on Nineveh, but instead is pouring out His lovingkindness. Jonah wanted to see judgment so he was not happy with the sight of mercy coming down in Nineveh. Jonah needs a lesson in compassion and in righteous anger. So our God appoints a plant, a worm, and a wind to teach him.
“Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city. So the Lord God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant. But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered. When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.” (Jonah 4:5-8)
Jonah was extremely happy about this plant. He was devastated when the plant withered. He was miserable as he went on without the plant. He was angry, so angry that once again he wanted to die. The Lord asks Jonah again if he has good reason to be angry and once again Jonah wholeheartedly believes he does. The Lord then refers to Jonah’s anger over the plant as compassion.
Then the Lord said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” (Jonah 4:10-11)
Jonah’s anger was misplaced. In Genesis chapter four we learn of the very first time that the Lord asks a man about being angry. “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry?” (Genesis 4:6). Cain is upset because the Lord has regard for Abel’s offering, but not his own. In this exchange between the Lord and Cain, the Lord is giving Cain an opportunity to see things through His eyes, but Cain simply won’t and allows his misplaced anger to lead him to murder. Jonah’s anger was leading him to the same thing. He wanted to see the people of Nineveh destroyed. He was committing murder in his heart because he refused to see the people of Nineveh through God’s eyes.
“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” (Matthew 5:21-22)
Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:15)
Jonah not only had misplaced anger, but he had misplaced compassion. Jonah had compassion for a plant and none for the people of Nineveh. Jonah had nothing invested in this plant yet he was angry that it was gone. This plant was simply meeting a personal need of his and so that selfishly made it important to him. He saw value in this plant, but none in the people. Notice God does not condemn Jonah for having compassion for the plant, but His point is that Jonah is not respecting that God would have compassion for the people and Jonah is not realizing that if he has compassion for a simple plant that he invested nothing of himself in, how much more should the Lord have for people and even animals to whom He has given life and breathe.
Proverbs 12:10 says, “A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, but even the compassion of the wicked is cruel.” Jonah’s compassion was cruel. His compassion was misplaced. His heart was not in line with the heart of God. He was self-righteous, not righteous. When Jesus was here in His flesh He spent A LOT of His time teaching this same lesson to the present day Jonah’s.
Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13)
What about you?
What causes anger to rise up in you?
Who changes the countenance of your face?
Do you have good reason to be angry?
Is it possible for you to so lean into the grace, compassion, and everlasting lovingkindness of the LORD your God? The God who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life. The God that so loved you that He forgave you and continues to forgive you over and over again. Is it possible to lean into Him and choose to see through His eyes and love through His heart? To have compassion even for your Ninevite?