Disaster and Deliverance
June 25, 2023

Disaster and Deliverance

Passage: Jonah 4:1-11

Understanding the Book of Jonah

You may remember that in Jonah, Chapter 1, God told Jonah to cry out against the wickedness of a foreign city – the city of Nineveh. But Jonah didn’t like this commission, so he ran away. He got in a boat and tried to sail across the Mediterranean Sea where God wouldn’t bother him anymore. But God sent a storm to confront Jonah’s rebellion, and the sailors ultimately threw Jonah overboard. This would normally have meant certain death for Jonah, but God sent a large fish to swallow Jonah and rescue him. Later, in Chapter 2, we find Jonah on his knees, praying and giving God credit for saving him, and in Chapter 3, Jonah ends up going to Nineveh after all and causes the whole city to break out in revival.

Now, if all we had here were Chapters 1 through 3, we’d walk away thinking that the main takeaway of Jonah is that God gives second chances and happy endings.

But Jonah Chapter 4 shows us that this book goes deeper than that. It gives us unique insights into the complex hearts of people and into the compassionate heart of God.

Tonight I want to show from Jonah 4 that God, unlike us, is a compassionate Savior. To unpack this big idea, I have two simple points – point 1: Jonah’s Disaster, and point 2, God’s Deliverance.

Jonah’s disaster.

In Jonah 3:10, we see that the Ninevites take Jonah’s warning to heart – they turn from their evil ways, they humble themselves before God – and the text tells us that God relents of the disaster he had cautioned them about, and he doesn’t do it. This is great news – more than a hundred thousand people have been spared from destruction! This should produce happiness and celebration.

But right away in Jonah 4, we learn that God’s decision here “displeased Jonah exceedingly” – literally the Hebrew says, “It was evil to Jonah – a great disaster.”

And this immediately tells us that all is not right with Jonah. Up until this point, it seemed like Jonah had turned his life around and was back on track with God. But here in verse 1, it’s clear that just isn’t the case. Jonah is deeply convinced that God’s mercy on Nineveh is evil – that it’s a disaster – but why?

Well, we’ve noticed before that Jonah seems to have some ethnic, national, and spiritual pride associated with being a Hebrew. Back in Chapter 1, Jonah boasts to the pagan sailors, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” In Chapter 2, in his prayer, Jonah belittles pagans by saying, “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.” And here in Chapter 4, we’re finally told why Jonah ran away from God in Chapter 1. It’s because he didn’t want the Ninevites to be saved. He knew that God was gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, relenting from disaster – and Jonah wanted the Ninevites to die.

Some people would say that Jonah’s problem was Israeli nationalism – he wanted Israel’s enemies to be wiped out. Some might say that Jonah’s problem was Jewish racism – that he despised other peoples and tribes and wanted God’s blessing to come exclusively to the Jews. But ultimately the problem wasn’t just one of these two things. The problem is that Jonah’s heart wasn’t actually true to God. Jonah himself was an idolator – an idol-worshipper.

But Jonah’s idolatry looks different than the idolatry of the Ninevites. He doesn’t bow down to metal statues or go off burning incense on mountains somewhere – his idolatry is more subtle, but not less dangerous. Deep in his heart, there’s something else he wants more than God – some other voice he trusts more than God’s voice. Jonah idolizes himself. Though outwardly he claims to fear God and serve Him, inwardly Jonah thinks his own ways are best. And when God doesn’t do things his way, it makes him angry.

We can see this clearly from the text. Jonah complains to God saying This is why I ran away to Tarshish! Because I knew what type of God you are – because I knew that you’re merciful, and gracious, and all the rest!

And notice, Jonah doesn’t like these things about God – at least, not when God’s mercy comes to other people. When God was merciful and gracious to Jonah – when God rescued him from drowning and death back in Chapter 2 – Jonah celebrated, “I, with the voice of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed, I will pay! Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

But when other people receive God’s mercy – and when those people are terrible sinnersNon-Jews and Ninevites – Jonah hates it. He’s furious. We see in verse 3, he’d rather die than see God’s mercy come to sinners.

To many of us, Jonah’s anger against God’s mercy may seem foolish. But there’s a principle here that all of should keep in mind. At the end of the day, God is God – not us. If we could pick and choose whatever we wanted to be true about God, then our religion would be fake. We wouldn’t be worshipping the real God – we’d be worshipping a figment of our imagination.

And whenever we lift ourselves up against God and protest against the clear meaning of his Word, we’re no longer loving and living for God. We’re worshipping ourselves – our own egos, our own opinions. We become idolators like Jonah, who are trapped in a disaster of our own making, who are far away from God, who are needy for a Savior. And this brings me to my second point.

God’s Deliverance.

Jonah goes out of the city in verse 5. He sets up a tent and sits down to watch, hoping that God will end up destroying the city after all. And verse 6 tells us something very interesting. It tells us that “God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort.”

This sentence is interesting because the last phrase “to save him from his discomfort” has a double meaning. The word discomfort can either refer to some sort of distressing situation, or it can refer to something that’s morally evil. So we can read this sentence two ways – on the one hand, God sends the plant to save Jonah from the distress of sitting in the sun. But on the other hand – and I believe this meaning is also intended – God is sending this plant to save Jonah from his evil – from his own evil heart.

At first, it seems like the plant’s only purpose is to block out the sun. Verse 6 tells us that Jonah is exceedingly glad because of the plant. But that purpose is short-lived. God appoints a worm to kill the plant, and the next day the plant is shriveled up and Jonah is exposed to the scorching sun and wind. And he’s so angry about the death of the plant, he calls out to God, again asking for death.

By this point, you would probably expect God to give Jonah the cold shoulder – to abandon Jonah, or punish him. Over and over, we see the ugliness of Jonah’s selfish, self-righteous heart. And yet God patiently, compassionately uses this teachable moment to speak truth into Jonah’s life.

After Jonah insists that he has a right to feel angry about the death of the plant, God answers him, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons, and also much cattle?”

Notice here – God doesn’t just tell Jonah to love Ninevites more. Because that’s not Jonah’s foundational problem here. Jonah’s biggest problem isn’t ultimately between him and the Ninevites – it’s between Him and God. And God has appointed the plant, the worm, and this whole conversation because He wants to showcase the rightness and beauty of his compassion. He wants to unblind Jonah’s proud eyes. He wants to save Jonah from his evil.

And God wants us to know his compassion, too. He wants eyes blinded by pride to see. And whether we’re pagans who think we’re beyond hope or self-righteous hypocrites like Jonah who expect God to be just like us – in either case, God wants to save us from our evil.

Jesus Better Than Jonah

We can know this because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has acted in human history to save us – and in the best way possible, he is unlike us, unlike Jonah. Jesus came down from the heavenly places to carry out his Father’s Mission, to call out against our evil, and never once did he run away. Never once did he say, “I would rather die than see those sinners saved” – but instead he said, “I would rather die than see those sinners un-saved.” And so he did it. Though he was innocent of all wrongdoing, he threw himself into the storm of God’s wrath – the storm which was certain to bring us death. And through that sacrifice of himself, he ended the raging of the storm and made peace. And as Jesus descended into the grave, he wasn’t abandoned there. But on the third day, our Lord rose with a message of everlasting life – a message for all the nations, so that everyone who trusts in this Jesus will be saved. God really is “a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…” Let’s love our God for this, and show this same love to the people around us.

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