Jonah’s Rollercoaster & Our Firm Foundation
Topic: Sunday Sermons Passage: Jonah 4:1–4:11, Luke 18:9–18:14, Hebrews 13:12–13:16
 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.  And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.  Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”  And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
 Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.  Now the LORD 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. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.  But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered.  When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”  But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”  And the LORD said, “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 who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
Jonah’s Roller Coaster
When I was younger we had family passes to a local theme park; no, not Disney or SeaWorld or Universal, there used to be another theme park called boardwalk and baseball. Formerly known as Circus World, it turned into boardwalk and baseball but those details aren’t important to this illustration as much as one day I was going out there with my dad and it was going to be the first day that we rode a roller coaster together. It was named the Florida hurricane and I was, in a word: terrified. By the end of the day we would hit all of the roller coasters in the park, including the ones that went upside down, several times over.
There's nothing quite like a good wooden roller coaster, sure there's the ups and downs but there's something about that rickety foundation that takes it to a whole other level of fun and by fun I of course mean not being sure if it's going to hold up. That’s fun, for many people, on a roller coaster - but, our experience of ups and downs in life can be something else all together. It can lead to exhilaration of stepping out into something that God calls you to unexpectedly or the pain of loss. There are the moment’s of pure joy with friends or loved ones as well as the hurt of abuse or manipulation in relationships.
The book of Jonah can feel a lot like a roller coaster; Ups and Downs, mood swings to the left and the right, a tepid obedience at best. Many children's books don't even include this last chapter of Jonah, they simply decide to end of chapter 3. I'm actually glad that Shane addressed the issue of moralism and, that's something that we have to watch for so that we don't end up just thinking we have to do better or be better to accomplish more for God. I think that’s the danger of ending with chapter 3...
Today we begin looking at some ups and downs of chapter 4 and understanding the roller coaster that Jonah continues to be on. When I look at verse 1, I see a low in the ride so-to-speak, a dip in his spirits when it says: Jonah was displeased exceedingly. Of course, his mood changes to a high point at the end of verse 6 when it says he was exceedingly glad because of a plant.
In this chapter’s 11 verses alone Jonah is described in these 6 ways: Displeased, angry, wanting to die, exceedingly glad, discomforted, faint
This is where some study tools can really help us understand what is happening not only in this chapter but in this book of the Bible. By study tools I simply mean something like a good study Bible that helps us realize that chapter 4 contrasts the end of Chapter 1 into chapter 2. This is from the ESV study Bible:
“Both passages have the same structure:
- Jonah “prayed to the LORD” (1:17–2:1a; 4:1–2a)
- Jonah’s prayer (2:1b–9; 4:2b–3)
- “the LORD spoke/said” (2:10; 4:4)
This helps us understand how the beginning verses (1-5) of our passage today focuses on Jonah’s self-centeredness and hypocrisy.”
I’ve heard the book of Jonah described as a book written by a “ninja of prose” because of the ways that the book compares and contrasts again and again, masterfully using the language to make, repeat and support it’s main point for us. More than being captivated by the fascinating use of language, I want us to focus today on what that main point for us is: the consistency we experience in the mercy and compassion of God.
Jonah’s Rollercoaster points us to our firm foundation
Our Firm Foundation
To learn a bit more about our Firm Foundation we're going to look at the closing verses of Jonah together (5-11). I mentioned earlier that the book of Jonah is filled with comparisons and contrasts, most commentators would agree that there are seven sections of this book, the six before this compare and contrast with one another. This 7th section of the book stands on its own which helps us to understand it is it’s own lesson on the character of compassion.
(v.5) Jonah has torn off in a huff, he is displeased he's going out to watch what will become of the city and an interaction begins that helps expose what Jonah is most in love with: namely himself and his own perspective on things.
The consistent use of the phrase “God appointed” in verses 6-8 reminds us of God’s Sovereignty over creation - he has not only set creation in motion but he cares for it each day… even if it’s only for a day, as is the case with the plant.
I can’t get past the three questions that Jonah is asked in v.4, 9 & 11
- Do you do well to be angry?
- Do you do well to be angry for the plant?
- And should I not pity Nineveh, that great City in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?
- How’s that for a stunner - the last word in a book of the bible is cattle.
ILLUS: As many of you know I love a good documentary or docu-series, partly because you get an opportunity to see a lifetime worth of growth or lack thereof in a small and condensed setting. One example of this that comes to mind is the John Adams series that was released years ago and you see Adams needing to grow in his political acumen, his “playing well with others’, his overuse of quotes to sound smarter in public speaking… there's an area that John Adams didn't grow and the series, intentionally or not, brings this in sharp relief for us. His anger. It affected his professional life, it affected his marriage, it affected his parenting, it affected his relationships with others... It was corrosive his whole life long.
Jonah seems to have a similar issue - there’s a lesson he’s not quite learning. A reluctant obedience, and attitude in response, flat out saying that he is angry in response to God in verse 9 - some commentators would say that he goes so far as to call God’s Mercy, evil!
Then God responds with His final question about the city.
It’s worth noting that God's questions aren't intended for him (God) to come into knowledge of something he doesn't already know, God's questions are intended to expose our hearts for us to come to a place of understanding and even application of the truths of the Gospel.
I've experienced this in devotions in a number of different times, perhaps you have as well, when I have a sense that God is asking me something about what I'm reading or about how I'm responding to a circumstance in life. Perhaps you have as well which is why we do well to slow down here.
Because what’s happening in these final verses of Jonah are not the masterful stroke of a skilled writer, they’re the inspired words of God, captured for our benefit and molding and they reveal a contrast beyond what man wants to capture - it’s a contrast that God lays out for us between his ways and our ways.
We don’t need to be “better Jonah’s”, we don’t simply need a better Jonah, we need a savior that’s beyond Jonah and that’s provided for us in Jesus Christ.
I think we can all see a little bit of ourselves in Jonah if we slow down enough to be honest about it. Something that’s certainly not prophetic as much as it is the pharisee in our own hearts.
God’s last question asks about the great city, it’s people, it’s cows - not because Jonah’s vegan (I mean, he loves a plant that only lasts one day…) rather, because God is compassionate toward people who are so young in the faith they don’t yet know “their right hand from their left”.
The use of the word “pity” toward the Ninevites is an extension of God’s Merciful & compassionate character that is being revealed here.
As we study the word Mercy throughout scripture, I love what we can, again - learn from study tools, mainly a few things that I believe we see in our passage today; Mercy represents an outward manifestation of pity , it recognizes need on the part of those who are recipients of the mercy and there are sufficient resources to meet the need on the part of those who show it. - pause and think about that, not only is God sufficient in Mercy but you, as a recipient of His mercy you also have all that you need in Christ to extend Mercy to others.
The idea of mercy is to show kindness or concern for someone in serious need or to give help, to relieve the miserable.
In Jonah’s pity the outward expression is pouting to withhold, in God’s pity toward the city He is pouring out in his Mercy and compassion. WHAT A CONTRAST!
What came to mind for me in preparation was the parable that Jesus told of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:
Luke 18:9–14 - He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Justified; right standing, sins forgiven, able to stand - not because of works or abilities but because of the Mercy of God - sounds wonderful doesn’t it? It’s available to us today… it’s provided for us through the work and ability of Jesus Christ.
CONSIDER THIS: Jonah ‘went out of the city’ to pout and watch in a huff… Hebrews 13 points us to one who went outside of the city, not to watch but to suffer and die for our sanctification:
Hebrews 13:12–16 - So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
We are now invited, in light of God’s compassion and mercy toward us to live our lives as a sacrifice, freely giving to others as we’ve so freely received.
Jonah had love and compassion toward a plant… God has love and compassion toward a city, that extends to us today - (prayer) Holy Spirit; help us freely receive today and freely give away to others that they may know you through us.
Before I look at just a few practical implications for us today, I want to take a moment to look a bit more closely at what Jonah says in 4:2
Jonah 4:2 - And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.
This is a quote from Exodus 34:6-7
Exodus 34:6–7 - The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
Jonah knows something about the character of God that he doesn't want to extend to the city of Nineveh. Jonah knows that God is merciful and gracious as he has revealed in Exodus 34 and In this oft-repeated passage, God wants to reveal something about his heart toward us as his children today
What's being captured in Exodus 34 is the moment that God is writing, for the second time, his Covenant on tablets for his people. And just after he Reveals His name as the Lord or Yahweh, he Reveals His heart toward us - merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Are these the words that come to our mind first when it comes to the heart of God toward us as his children?
The Hebrew phrase here is actually that God is long of nostril (or patient) rather than being short of nostril (or angry) - the picture is being painted here is one of the bull that is ready to charge nostrils flared, breathing loudly, hoofs in the ground. But the Lord he's patient, not easily triggered, taking on repeated failings over and over again without it provoking his Wrath.
This is in contrast to us - who can so often be these pent-up emotional dams, ready to let loose… we ourselves can be the roller coaster - taking people through our high highs and low lows and every dip, twist and turn in between. Perhaps those around us want to get off the ride entirely and we find ourselves feeling isolated or abandoned.
Can this thought shape and mold us today? while we may be one’s who withhold our love and compassion while our ire, rage or anger, judgement of others or self-righteousness freely flows... God sets a different example for us and that his love freely flows and his anger is pinned up.
Some observations & implications from this passage for us this week:
As I’ve been preparing this week, I’ve had a few thoughts hit me that felt a bit random so I thought I’d capture it for us here as a bit of a summary and application of this passage and this series (next week we’ll begin our advent series)
Many of us will be with friends or family this week for the Thanksgiving holiday - perhaps you’re here today, in town as a guest for this holiday - welcome!
Often times, we’re around people that there can be deep, long-running offenses with or against… perhaps this creates a very practical mission field for us to apply some of the lessons from Jonah as well as this series.
- Are there areas that I’m prone to get angry over things that God does not?
- Are there areas that God has a Righteous anger toward that I do not?
- Might there be things, like Jonah turns to a plant, that I’m tempted to turn to for comfort in my anger that is not God’s best?
- Do I represent a rollercoaster of emotions or actions for people to try to keep up with? How might that affect others? How can I learn to find your constant in God’s character and that bring order to my own life?
- Do I have a heart and vision for the people around me? God has a heart for ‘that great city’ of Nineveh, an extension of what I’ve learned about the sanctity/dignity of life, does that affect the way I see my fellow man?
- Jonah 4:2 uses the phrase ‘relent from disaster’ in a similar way to what it says in Joel 2:12-14 when Israel is being called to repentance (a dramatic turn in life direction) - Am I open to God ‘relenting from disaster’ or do I expect the same punishment and consequences for everyone? Do I grieve when it seems, as David says, that the unrighteous prosper?
- Am I prone to weaponize truth as I’ve learned through this series (going back to Jude to ‘contend for our faith’) - are my view on issues like race, the poor and marginalized, sex or life informed by the world more than God’s Word?
- Do I marry God’s character to the truth I’m called to live out of as ‘salt and light’ in this world?
King David was a man, flawed even in his best times but described as a man after God’s own Heart. He believed, not only in the power, but the ability of the Mercy of God so much that in response to sin in his life, several times throughout his life and in his reign as king he would regularly say that he was casting himself on the Mercy of God.
This wasn’t like “casting lots”, he wasn’t “rolling the dice”, taking on a bet that may or may not work out in his favor… this was a sure thing, sure and true to the character of God Himself. AND THIS SURE FOUNDATION OF MERCY IS A AVAILABLE FOR ME AND YOU TODAY.
Casting yourself on Mercy is a sure thing. Receiving Mercy from God is a sure thing… extending Mercy toward others is a sure thing.
- Are you here today in need of Mercy? Freely receive…
- Are you here today needing to extend Mercy toward others? Freely give…