In order to understand this chapter, we need to see what preceded this. In Jonah 1:2 the Lord told Jonah, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me” (NKJV). What was Jonah’s response to this commission from the Lord? Verse 3 says, “But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.” How sad! Instead of obeying God’s call to preach to Nineveh, he disobeys by fleeing IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION! Why did he do this? Did he not realize that Nineveh was indeed living in wickedness and that they deserved God’s wrath? Surely he did! So why would he blatantly disobey the Lord? Was he afraid of facing his Gentile enemies, supposing they may persecute him, even unto death? Perhaps he did entertain that thought, but in chapter four we will learn the real reason for Jonah’s flight to Tarshish.

If we had the time and space, we would cover the whole book, which reveals God’s dealings with Jonah that eventually led to him going to Nineveh. In 3:4 we read the following, “And Jonah began to enter the city…and he cried out and said, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown’.” How did the people of Nineveh respond? Verse 5 tells us “the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.” This means THEY REPENTED! How did God respond to their repentance? The answer is in verse 10, “Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way, and God RELENTED from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and HE DID NOT DO IT.” In summary, the people REPENTED OF THEIR SIN and God REPENTED OF HIS JUDGMENT!

How did Jonah respond to God’s mercy to the inhabitants of Nineveh? In 4:1 we read these sad words, “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.” Instead of rejoicing in God’s grace in sparing his Gentile enemies, Jonah was fuming with anger! The next verse is very illuminating, “So he prayed to the LORD, and said, ‘Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; FOR I KNOW YOU ARE A GRACIOUS AND MERCIFUL GOD, SLOW TO ANGER AND ABUNDANT IN LOVINGKINDNESS, One who relents from doing harm.” Here we learn what Jonah was thinking when he was first commissioned to go to Nineveh. He knew that God was a gracious and merciful God Who would indeed change His mind if the people would repent. The very thought of this caused him to abandon God and His commission to preach to Nineveh.

Now we might be thinking, “Why in the world would Jonah not rejoice in the repentance of sinners and subsequently in God’s mercy being displayed to them? Did not Jonah realize that he and all of Israel were objects of God’s mercy and grace?” Yes, Jonah knew he himself was a “trophy of God’s grace” but his hatred for the Gentiles was such that he lost sight of God’s grace and he wanted them to “get what they deserved,” which was JUDGMENT. His anger was so great that he pleads with the Lord, “Please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die that to live?” (Verse 3) Why was Jonah so depressed, despairing of life itself?” Was it not due to PRIDE, and the thought that HIS REPUTATION AS A PROPHET had been tarnished since his prophesy of Nineveh’s destruction never came to pass? The Lord then rebukes him with these words, “Is it right for you to be angry” (verse 4). In verse 5 we see Jonah leaving the city, making himself a shelter and waiting outside of it to “see what would become of the city.” It’s likely he hoped that Nineveh would return to their life of wickedness and be destroyed after all.

In the rest of the chapter God gave Jonah an OBJECT LESSON to teach him about His MERCY. In verse 6 God “prepared a plant” to shield Jonah from the sun and “Jonah was very grateful for the plant.” In verses 7 and 8 God “prepared a worm” to destroy the plant and He “prepared a vehement east wind” to “beat on Jonah’s head,” causing Jonah to cry out, “It is better for me to die than to live.” Verses 9-11 give us the conclusion of this lesson. They read, “Then God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’ And he said, ‘It is right for me to be angry, even to death!’ But the LORD said, ‘You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. 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—and much livestock.” The lesson is simple: Jonah had more concern for the PHYSICAL WELFARE of a mere plant, than he had for the SPIRITUAL WELFARE of more than 120,000 precious souls! God would teach His prophet to value those souls AND the mercy of God which would spare them. (310.6) (DO)