1But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry.
So we see that God is compassionate, not wanting any to perish but all to come to know Him (cf. 2 Peter 3:9), even Gentiles who were not His chosen Hebrew nation. God had always loved all people and desired all to repent and follow Him. God was and is a compassionate God, but Jonah, though he did God’s command, was not compassionate. He was greatly displeased that God had relented, and he was very angry. God had been compassionate to him to save him and forgive him even though he had hardened his heart toward God, but he would not open his heart to let God show mercy on those whom he wanted to see destroyed. Jonah needed to learn compassion.
2He prayed to the LORD and said, "Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.
3"Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life."
Here we are let into something that wasn’t clear at the beginning of the story. Why did Jonah run from God? It wasn’t that he didn’t want to do the work of ministry or that he was busy or lazy. It wasn’t that he was afraid that he might get killed by preaching to a violent people about their violent ways. He ran from God, as he admits here, because he believed that these people might repent and that God would, in turn, relent of the promised calamity. He didn’t like these people, and he wanted them destroyed. He wanted to see the city go up in flames. He wanted to hear the screams and wails and gloat in the wrath of God. But this was wrong, and Jonah needed to understand that even God doesn’t gloat in His outpouring of wrath, even though His holiness and perfect love demands that He judge rightly. God wanted these Gentiles to know Him. His love was universal, if only it would be received. Jonah was afraid that it might be received, and thus he fled. Now that God’s mercy had indeed been demonstrated, Jonah wanted to die. He was so bitter and merciless that he would rather be dead than watch a pagan nation be forgiven. He wanted them to have their just due- now. He didn’t love these people, and his hate was evident.
4The LORD said, "Do you have good reason to be angry?"
God’s response is merciful and kind, simply asking Jonah if he had good reason to be angry. When we are bitter or depressed, we need to ask ourselves if we have good reason to be as we are. God had been compassionate to Jonah and to Nineveh, and Jonah was angry unto death. There was no good reason for this. Jonah regarded sin in his heart. Interestingly, it appears that Jonah didn’t answer God’s question. He was angry and defiantly and silently went and sat in protest.
5Then 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.
Jonah decided to sit outside of the city in hopes that fire would rain down from heaven and the city would be destroyed. He wanted to see the destruction so badly that he created an alternate reality in his mind. He knew God had relented, and this was why he was mad. Why would he possibly think that God would suddenly not be merciful? Yet he sat and made a shelter, watching over the city in hopes of seeing God’s wrath poured out. No amount of stubborn will would change God’s mind, for God was working on Jonah’s heart. In many ways, Jonah was an all or nothing type of person. He either preached his heart out or decided that he could thwart God by sitting, by being depressed, or by fleeing. He had one strong will, but God’s will was stronger.
6So 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.
7But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered.
8When 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."
God pursued Jonah in love once again, desiring to teach him compassion. He appointed a plant to miraculously grow up over Jonah’s head as a means of protecting him from the heat and discomfort. The plant made Jonah happy. He loved it when things went his way. He didn’t thank God for the plant, but he was happy. God showed him kindness and compassion which he certainly did not deserve. The next day, however, God appointed a worm to devour the plant. These clearly were two supernatural events which Jonah recognized. Yet nothing changed inside Jonah. God appointed a third event, a scorching east wind. This made Jonah so faint that he wanted to die and asked God to take his life.
9Then God said to Jonah, "Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?" And he said, "I have good reason to be angry, even to death."
Again, God approached Jonah kindly and gently and asked him if he had good reason to be angry about the plant. Jonah this time did answer God and said that he had good reason to be angry and depressed. He liked his plant and now it was gone. This greatly upset him. Ah, but this was exactly what God had set him up to say.
10Then 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.
11"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?"
God’s message to Jonah is clear. Jonah was all happy about a little plant which was there for a day and then gone. He didn’t work for it, nor did help it to grow. God graciously gave it to him. Yet when it died, he had compassion on it, wishing that its life could have been preserved. The irony of this is that Jonah cared about the life and death of a plant but not about the people in Nineveh. There were 120,000 people who didn’t even know the difference between their right and left hands. Innocent children would have died, let alone many animals. With this many children, certainly at least several hundred thousand people would have perished and headed to hell in their wickedness. This didn’t bother Jonah at all, but a plant’s death did.
The book ends without telling us if Jonah repented at this juncture. Evidently we didn’t need to know that because that wasn’t the central message of the book. The main message was that God is a God of compassion, and He demonstrated that by pursuing Jonah in love, working on areas of his heart that were not God-honoring. He didn’t give up on Jonah, but Jonah gave up on many humans who needed to know the God that he knew. They needed to receive the compassion that he had received. But he needed to learn to give it himself. Thus, we learn from Jonah’s life, victories, and failures that God is consistently compassionate and pursuant in sanctifying us, that God desires none to perish in their sins, and that God wants to use people who are humble, contrite, and who tremble at His Word (Isaiah 66:2). If we have run from God, there is still time to turn back and run to His loving embrace.