A Verse of Scripture
"Then God saw their works, that they (the people of Nineveh) turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord and said . . .please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!” (Jonah 3:10-4:3).
Background of the Book
Jonah, as you know, was the "runaway" prophet, who refused to go to Nineveh as God has commanded. After the Lord miraculously spared his life from the belly of a great fish, he finally obeyed and went to that great city preaching a message of pure judgment: “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown”. He offered no hope, no salvation, and no words of mercy. Because of his Jewish bias against these Assyrians, it was not a hard message for him to preach. He had been raised to hate these enemies of God, and so the thought of their destruction motivated his harsh-judgment sermon.
But Then, God Decided to Spare Them
The people of Nineveh fasted for 40 days, and cried out to God in repentance. So when God decided to spare the city from destruction, Jonah became angry and severely depressed. He was angry because the sermon he preached—the prophecy he declared—did not prove to be true. He told them they would be destroyed, yet they were spared. He was more concerned about his own “reputation” and self image than God’s will. He probably felt a little foolish when the forty days were up and no judgment came.
Talk About Being Inconsistent!
He was thankful for God’s sparing of his life (chapter 2), but he was unhappy when God decided to spare their lives (chapter 4). Like the prophet Elijah, who got so depressed that he went and sat down under a juniper tree, and requested to die, Jonah sat down outside the east side of the city of Nineveh, and also requested that he might die. When a worm came along and cut down the huge plant that provided shade from the sun, it was the "last straw". He really got mad.
God's Convicting Question
God graciously comes to this pouting prophet and asks: “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant? You have had pity on the plant . . .and should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left?” (4:9-11). Jonah was more upset about the death of a plant than what might have been the deaths of thousands of innocent little children! This is a great "PRO-LIFE" passage of Scripture. One of the reasons God gave for withholding judgment (besides the fact that the adult population had truly repented of their wicked lifestyles), was the number of small children who would perish, having done no wrong. The Lord has a heart for innocent children.
Time for an Attitude Adjustment
Sometimes we, like Jonah, become so self righteous and judgmental in our attitudes towards the sinners of our society that we (if we were honest about it) would rather see God judge them than save them! After all, they “deserve it”! That was Jonah’s attitude. Instead of being thankful that the Lord spared them, the same way He spared him, he became depressed and wanted to die. There are times when we as Christians look at our ungodly neighbors, and see their wicked lifestyles, and think God is unfair in sparing them (sometimes even prospering them!), while we who serve God suffer hardships like the loss of shade from a stupid plant. It behooves us as believers to get a spiritual attitude adjustment and stop thinking the rest of the world is less deserving of God’s grace than we are.