“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.” Jonah 4:1 ESV
Jonah was on no vacation far away in a foreign land. This prophet from Israel had been sent by God to Nineveh, a great city filled with great evil. At first call, Jonah ran away and ended up in a raging sea. Through God’s merciful providence, Jonah had been rescued from the consequences of his initial disobedience when that whale swallowed him and spit him up on dry land. So Jonah went and preached God’s message of repentance to Nineveh.
The people of Nineveh believed God and repented of their sin. Jonah’s message had one of the greatest responses of all time! The prophet of God must have rejoiced at God’s merciful work among the Ninevites, right?
Wrong. Jonah was inflamed with anger. It was evil to Jonah, a great evil, that God had shown mercy to these people. The Ninevites were known for their wickedness and were the enemies of Jonah’s people. Jonah had a strict view of justice: Nineveh should be punished for its sins. Thus, rather than thanking God for His mercy upon the Ninevites, Jonah vehemently disapproved of God’s action to show compassion.
This is why Jonah never wanted to go on this mission. For he knew God’s character and anticipated that the Lord would grant repentance to Ninevah and spare them of disaster. Jonah hated that God gave evil people what they don’t deserve. So displeased was Jonah that he wanted to die. He was outraged at God.
The Lord responded to Jonah with a question, “Do you do well to be angry?” Did Jonah have any right to be angry with God? God is challenging Jonah’s response. Is he in a position to express such anger? Does he have the right to judge God’s actions?
How ironic it was that Jonah had even responded this way. Jonah is blind to his own self-centeredness and hypocrisy here. Was it not this same Jonah who had recently experienced the same mercy of God to him? Did not Jonah receive God’s grace and compassion when God was slow to anger with Jonah, showing His steadfast love by relenting from disaster and saving Jonah from certain death?
Jonah wanted God’s mercy for himself but did not want it for others. He enjoyed God’s compassion to Him but was enraged by God’s compassion upon those he deemed wicked. He desired only the grace that came to him; he objected to the grace shown to certain others. Jonah could not live in the reality of God’s shocking and sovereign mercy to the Ninevites.
God then gave Jonah an object lesson. Jonah had set up watch outside the city in the intense heat of the day. God caused a plant to sprout up and shade Jonah, making Jonah exceedingly happy. But the next day God caused the plant to wither under the attack of a worm. God sent a scorching wind that, along with the sun, made Jonah faint. Again he desired to die.
And again the Lord asked, “Do you do well to be angry?” This time Jonah defiantly responded, “Yes, I do well to be angry.” Jonah hated that God had taken away what he thought he deserved. He believes he is right to be angry. He sees God’s ways as being inconsistent: one moment He is about to bring justice upon Nineveh then He relents; one moment He gives relief to Jonah then He allows torment in the hot sun. God’s ways are beyond Jonah.
God used the object lesson of the plant to shock Jonah from his self-centeredness and deal with the root of his anger. Jonah had no right to be angry with God and His ways. He alone has the authority to deliver and to destroy. The Lord is sovereign in showing mercy and withholding mercy. “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Romans 9:15).
Like Jonah, many people, even Christians, get angry with God. At the root of their anger is a strong displeasure with God’s sovereign works. They get angry when God shows mercy to others that they think don’t deserve it. And they get angry when God withholds or even takes away mercy from them when they think they personally deserve it.
But God asks this question of anyone who is angry with Him: “Do you do well to be angry?” To anyone seeking to justify their anger, God challenges them to realize they have no right to be angry with Him. We are not God. We can’t put God in our own box. We are not the judge of what is right or wrong for God to do. God alone is sovereign and always acts rightly.
Like Jonah, Christians especially have no right to be angry with God. The Lord has showed us great mercy when He was slow to anger with us in our sin. He showed us His steadfast love and saved us through the cross of Christ. Because of His sovereign mercy, we live under His compassion and grace every day.
So when you see that God is truly sovereign in how He shows and withholds mercy, do you really have any right to be angry with God?