Have you ever taken the time to really think about why the prophet Jonah got angry in chapter 4 of his book? Jonah had finally obeyed God, preached His message to the people of Nineveh, and God relented from the destruction He had promised. Doesn’t that sound like a good outcome?
Yet Jonah was angry! Why?
I believe there’s a profound lesson here for those who have prophetic gifts.
In Jonah 3:4, we see, “On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed.’” This city was so big, it took Jonah 3 whole days to get into every corner, declaring the same message of doom.
The people heard the message and received the warning. They quickly repented. They began to fast and mourn as an appeal to God. The King even made a royal proclamation for the people to do these things and “call urgently on God.”
Naturally, God honored their repentance–but then something strange happened:
Jonah 3:10–4:3 – 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, is this not 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, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (NIV)
Why would it be better for Jonah to die than live? Why was Jonah displeased and angry?
Think back to Jonah 3. What was the message Jonah proclaimed in every corner of the city for 3 whole days?
“Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed!”
But now there would be no destruction. Jonah would be seen as either a lunatic or a liar…or worse yet, a false prophet. He would be a laughing stock.
Jonah 4:5 – 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. (NIV)
Jonah still wanted Nineveh to be destroyed. He still wanted his word to come to pass. Why? Probably because of pride.
In the next few verses, we see God revealing Jonah’s pride to him. He made a vine grow up overnight to give Jonah shade, which made the prophet very happy. But the next day, God caused it to be devoured by a worm and made the sun especially hot. Jonah went right back to his anger and despair. Jonah’s emotional well-being was directly related to his physical well-being.
Jonah 4:9–11 – But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” “I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.” But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (NIV)
As prophetic people, we need to get over ourselves. It is less important that our warnings come to pass and more important that God’s love is shown.
Prophecy almost always comes with the disclaimer “unless you repent.” Jonah even knew this—he knew God would relent from the destruction because of His compassion. Yet Jonah never presented that side of God. He only presented the righteous judgment against their sin.
We’re not sure why Jonah said, “Forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed,” but never said, “unless you repent.” One thing is for sure: If he had added that tag-line, no one would have thought twice about why the destruction never came.
As we preach God’s righteousness, it is also important that we preach His grace. Otherwise we will become selfish prophets whose words never come to pass. As we declare the word of the Lord, we must also reveal His heart.
Our God is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.”