Jonah’s Anger

Scripture: Jonah 4


Title: Jonah’s Anger



  • Introduction
  • Jonah’s anger
  • God’s argument
  • Conclusion



This is the face of anger

–         Eyebrows down and drawn together

–         Narrowing of the lips

–         And eyes glaring


This next one is the face of happiness

–         Cheeks pushed up

–         Softness in the eyes

–         With crow’s feet wrinkles showing


One more – the face of sadness

–         Cheeks relaxed with lips downturned

–         A hundred yard stare

–         And drooping eyelids


Over the past few weeks we have been looking at the city of Nineveh through the book of Jonah

–         In ancient times Nineveh was a major city in the Assyrian empire

–         These days it’s more of a province in Northern Iraq


Anger, happiness and sadness – Jonah gives us all three of these emotions, but anger is the predominant feeling


Last week we heard how Jonah reluctantly obeyed God and preached to the people of Nineveh, saying…

–         40 more days and Nineveh will be overturned

–         The people believed God and repented of their wrong doing

–         This morning we pick up Jonah’s story from chapter 4

–         I will be reading from the New International Version, beginning with the end of chapter 3…


When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.

But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.  He prayed to the Lord,


“O Lord, isn’t this what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”


But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”


Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.


Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered.


When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” “It is,” he said. “Angry enough to die.”


10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”


May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading for us


Jonah’s anger:

We began our message this morning by talking about Jonah’s emotions – in particular his anger

–         Anger is always a secondary emotion – it is caused by something else

–         And most of the time injustice is the cause

–         If you cut yourself, you bleed

–         If you experience injustice, you feel angry

–         That’s just the way we human beings are made


Jonah is angry because God has shown compassion on the city of Nineveh and relented from destroying it

–         Jonah doesn’t think this is right – to him this seems unjust

–         Consequently Jonah has a problem with the Lord – he is in conflict with God


There are basically four ways to deal with conflict, as shown on the wall here: declare, demand, defer or defect


Declare (I win and you win) Demand (I win and you lose)
Negotiate / work for fair outcome

Clarify issues clearly

Agree to differ

Try to understand


Share feelings


Out-talk / force my way

Exaggerate / over state

Criticism / sarcasm

Blame the other

Physically threaten

Emotional blackmail


Defer (I lose and you win) Defect (I lose and you lose)
Give in

Become a martyr

Go silent

Hide your feelings


Become resentful


Withdraw into yourself

Evade the issue

Stop if losing

Leave the room / disappear

Refuse discussion

Procrastinate / stall



To declare is to try and solve the problem together – find a mutually agreeable resolution to the conflict

–         Some of the strategies that go with declaring include:

–         Clarifying the issues, sharing feelings and trying to understand the other person’s point of view without being untrue to what you believe

–         Negotiating with the person you are in conflict with in order to work for a fair outcome or some kind of compromise you can both live with

–         Or, if that doesn’t work, agreeing to differ


When we declare, our energy is directed toward solving the problem

–         So to declare is to manage our anger in a positive way for a win / win outcome


In contrast to declaring we might demand our own way

–         To demand is to coerce, to bully, to intimidate or manipulate the other person so that you win and they lose

–         Strategies that go with a demanding approach include:

–         Out talking the other person, threatening them, blaming them, using sarcasm or emotional blackmail


When we demand, our anger is directed at the other person and not the problem – so we end up with an empty victory because the relationship is wrecked


To defect is essentially to avoid the problem & the person we’re in conflict with

–         Strategies that go with defecting include:

–         Leaving the room, running away, refusing to talk about it and procrastinating

–         When we defect, our anger haunts us, it follows us around wherever we go – we lose our peace of mind & so does our opponent

–         Consequently everyone loses


The fourth option for dealing with conflict is to defer

–         Deferring is basically letting the other person win at your expense

–         You don’t have the stomach for a fight so you give in and suck it up


A lot of people think the Christian thing is to always defer

–         Sometimes it might be the right thing (or the wise thing) to let the other person win at our expense but not always

–         Some things are not worth getting uptight about and we are best just to let them go (forgive them – don’t hold on to it, don’t sweat the small stuff)

–         But if it’s important then we don’t do ourselves any favours by withholding our truth or giving in to keep the peace

–         Always taking one for the team and pretending everything is okay, when it’s not, inevitably leads to resentment


When we defer, anger is turned inwards on ourselves


You tell me – which of those four options (generally speaking) is the best? Wait

–         That’s right: declare


And which options does Jonah go to most frequently in his conflict with God?

–         [Wait]

–         I reckon it’s mainly the bottom two: defect & defer

–         Jonah knows that demanding doesn’t work with God

–         God can’t be intimidated or manipulated

–         Jonah tried to defect – he tried to run away – but that didn’t work either because God came after him and turned him around

–         For whatever reason Jonah doesn’t declare – he refuses to try and work for a win / win solution with God

–         Instead he defers – gives in, goes silent & resentful – so his anger is turned in on himself


If left unchecked, deferring ultimately leads to self-harm

–         Jonah is so angry that he asks God to take away his life


We might think this is an over the top reaction by Jonah but, to be fair, it actually points to the depths of Jonah’s hurt


“The legitimacy of Jonah’s argument with God is that Nineveh’s salvation from destruction (through his preaching) will result in more terrorism in the towns and cities of Israel” [2]

–         I imagine Jonah was well acquainted with the cruelty & brutality of the people of Nineveh

–         How could he live with himself knowing he had scored an own goal and strengthened the hand of his enemies?

–         How could he return to his own people feeling like he had betrayed them?

–         Jonah’s integrity has been undone – his honour is destroyed

–         How can he continue if he can’t imagine a future for himself?

–         Inside Jonah is going through hell – he is really suffering


We know that Jonah isn’t alone in his conflict with God – in his anger

–         It’s quite common these days for people to reject God on the rationale that he lets evil people do bad stuff to hurt others

–         People say things like, “I can’t believe in a God who would allow so much suffering in the world”

–         This is essentially Jonah’s beef with God too – only it’s worse for Jonah because he’s a prophet

–         Jonah doesn’t have the luxury of pretending that God is not real

–         He is faced with an intolerable problem – one which God won’t let him run away from


God’s argument:

The comic genius of Monty Python came up with a skit many years ago called “I’d like an argument”


A man goes to an office and pays money for a good argument but all he gets is the frustration of contradiction – the other person disagreeing with his every word


As we’ve already heard, Jonah has a problem with God

–         What Jonah needs is for God to give him a good argument

–         A good argument is not the same thing as a fight

–         And it’s not the same thing as simple contradiction

–         A good argument is a collective series of statements to establish a definite proposition


After Jonah has asked God to take his life, the Lord replies:

–         “Is it right for you to be angry?”

–         Asking a question like this shows a gentle approach by God

–         The Lord doesn’t say, ‘Harden up and get over it’

–         Nor does God contradict Jonah

–         God is compassionate – his response is to declare – to clarify the issues, to help Jonah to think about the problem and solve it for himself

–         But Jonah is silent

–         Instead of engaging in a conversation with God, Jonah walks away, builds a shelter for himself and waits to see what will happen to the city


In an attempt to draw Jonah out of himself and back into the conversation, God causes a plant to grow up and give Jonah shade

–         This makes Jonah very happy – but it’s a superficial happiness

–         It distracts him from his anger without actually dealing with the problem


The next day God appoints a worm to eat the plant so that it withers

–         This is all part of God’s strategy to construct a good argument

–         When God sends a scorching east wind Jonah breaks his silence by saying: “It would be better for me to die than to live.”


This is the second time Jonah has said this

–         The first time he expressed it to God in a prayer

–         But this time he doesn’t address God at all – he just says it to himself

–         This creates an opening for God to help Jonah with a good argument


The Lord says to Jonah…

–         “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

–         Again we note God’s gentleness and patience with Jonah

–         He is trying to get Jonah to think about the problem and solve it himself

–         But Jonah replies: Yes, it is right for me to be angry, angry enough to die!

–         Jonah’s response here is simple contradiction – he can’t give God a good reason for being angry

–         Clearly Jonah thinks he is right and God is wrong – end of discussion

–         So the Lord shows him what a good argument looks like…


10 …“You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”


I think God is saying a number of things at the same time here…


Firstly, the Lord is trying to help Jonah understand justice from God’s perspective

–         When you renovate a house to make it larger you generally start with some de-construction – you knock some walls out before adding on

–         The deconstruction is messy and hard to live with for a while but generally worth it in the end


Jonah’s concept of justice was quite small, quite narrow and self-centred

–         In Jonah’s mind God’s justice should benefit just us – that is just Israel and the people Jonah knows and cares about

–         By showing compassion to the people of Nineveh God was basically knocking down some walls in Jonah’s mind to enlarge his point of view

–         It wasn’t pleasant for Jonah but it was necessary if Jonah was to live in a more spacious and gracious way


The Lord Almighty isn’t just the God of Israel – he is God of the whole earth

–         So God’s justice isn’t just about us – God has to be fair to everyone including Israel’s enemies

–         It wouldn’t be fair or just if God simply destroyed the city of Nineveh without giving them a chance to change their ways


You see, the people of Nineveh were ignorant

–         They didn’t know their right hand from their left

–         This doesn’t mean they were stupid or unintelligent

–         It means they don’t know any other way of being human

–         They were born into a culture of violence and cruelty and so they don’t know any different

–         If you only know one way of doing something then you don’t really have a choice – not a genuine choice

–         To be able to choose you have to have an alternative to choose from


By reaching out in grace and creating an opportunity for repentance God is giving Nineveh the opportunity to make a real choice, based on knowing an alternative

–         Now what God is doing here is extremely risky because the people of Nineveh might explore the new alternative for a little while and then decide to go back to their evil lifestyle

–         But either way, God has been fair in giving them a real alternative


It’s like the apostle Peter says…

–         The Lord is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance [3]


So that’s the first thing God is saying…

–         Jonah, your concept of justice is too small, too narrow, too self-centred

–         When you understand that my justice is not just for Israel’s benefit but for all peoples of the world and indeed for all my creation (including the animals) then you will realise that I am being fair

–         And if I am being fair then you have no right to be angry

–         That’s a good argument


The other main thing God is saying to Jonah here is that justice is not really the issue

–         The plant was a gift

–         It wasn’t something that Jonah was entitled to

–         He didn’t earn it or do anything to tend it or make it grow

–         Therefore, because the plant is a gift (not an entitlement), justice is not relevant here

–         Jonah’s rights have not been impinged on

–         This is not a justice issue – the real issue is something else


Jonah’s concern with the plant is really a concern with his own comfort

–         If Jonah is concerned for his own comfort then how much more should God be concerned with the welfare of the 120,000 people (and their animals) who live in Nineveh


Earlier in the service we read Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard from Matthew 20

–         At the end of that story the workers who laboured all day under the heat of the sun were disgruntled because they were paid the same as those who worked considerably less

–         They’re angry because they think they have been treated unfairly

–         But the landowner who hired the workers says…

–         I’m not being unfair to you. I have paid you what we agreed. If I want to pay someone more than they are entitled to then I’m free to do what I want with my money. “Or are you jealous because I am generous?”

–         In other words, this isn’t really a justice issue – this is a jealousy issue


Jonah is like one of those workers who had laboured under the hot sun all day long while the people of Nineveh are like the ones hired at the last hour

–         The real reason Jonah is angry is that the Lord is treating the people of Nineveh the same as him (the same as Israel)



This morning we’ve heard about Jonah’s anger and how God patiently dealt with that anger by giving Jonah a good argument


What we notice about the end of Jonah’s story is that it is unresolved

–         God has the last word and we don’t know how Jonah responded to him

–         Did Jonah stay angry?

–         Or did he finally repent and grow through his disorientation & despair to find a new hope and a new orientation?

–         We don’t know


The lack of resolution reflects our own experience doesn’t it

–         We live with these unanswered questions about suffering and justice and why ‘bad’ people seem to get away with it

–         God invites us out of despair and into a conversation with himself

–         He invites us to declare – not to demand, defect or defer

–         Let us pray…

[1] Adapted from John & Agnes Sturt’s book ‘Mentoring for Marriage’, page 124.

[2] James Bruckner, NIVAC ‘Jonah’, page 130.

[3] 2 Peter 3:9