All the Minor Prophets revolve around a crisis. The crisis in the book of Jonah is within Jonah’s heart. God called Jonah to be a missionary and Jonah had an anti-missionary heart. That is the crisis of the book. God commanded Jonah to go to Nineveh and proclaim that judgment had been passed and punishment was coming swiftly. Clearly this was a missionary assignment. Jonah was not told to proclaim repentance or be punished; however, the judgment could have come with no warning whatsoever. God obviously wanted the people of Nineveh to know what was coming and Who it was that was sending it. That is an act of missionary mercy on God’s part. Jonah hated Nineveh and thus did not want to go. When he finally succumbed to great pressure from the Lord and went, it was not willingly or cheerfully. Against his will, Jonah eventually went to Nineveh and proclaimed the message. A great repentance occurred. God held off on the punishment. Jonah got angry.
In fact, Jonah was so angry that he prayed asking God to kill him. This prompted the first of three questions from God in chapter four. God asked, “Have you any right to be angry?" (Jonah 4:4 NIV) Jonah did not answer God, but instead left the city and sat down to pout. Of course, Jonah had no right, no good reason, to be angry. There is an anger which is not sinful and there is an anger which is sinful. One is much more plentiful than the other. There are very few instances when man becomes angry and sin does not result. Clearly, Jonah is a terrible hypocrite. God has shown Jonah great, longsuffering, mercy, lovingkindness, and compassion. Yet it is exactly those same mercies from God toward Nineveh that Jonah is angry about. God even responds with tenderness to Jonah’s refusal to answer and to pout. Rather than killing Jonah as Jonah requested, God spared him and gave him a relatively painless object lesson.
In the midst of pouting and hoping that destruction would come to Nineveh, Jonah was uncomfortable in the heat. God caused supernatural growth to occur in a plant which sprang up and gave shade for Jonah. Jonah was happy and pleased about the plant, but not a word of thanks to God for it. God sent a worm to destroy the plant. True to his nature, Jonah became angry and prayed to die once again. Bitter, selfish anger will cause us to think strange thoughts and do strange things. God asked, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” (Jonah 4:9 NIV) Once again God did not kill Jonah as requested. Instead, God dealt tenderly with Jonah one more time. Of course, Jonah had no right to be angry about God’s mercy on Nineveh or the plant. Because Jonah did at least get the point of the object lesson, God gave him a gentle explanation.
Jonah had nothing to do with planting the vine or the city. Neither belonged to Jonah; both belonged to the Lord. The whole city had repented and besides there were 120,000 in the city who were too young to discern right from wrong, plus animals. God asked a third question, “Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (Jonah 4:11 NIV) God taught a tremendous lesson about His compassion and our lack of it. God was determined to show compassion even on the animals. As believers in God, as unworthy recipients of His slow-to-anger mercy, grace, compassion, longsuffering lovingkindness, how can we refuse to extend this to others? Should we not be concerned about those for whom God is concerned?