Jonah's Original Message to the Original Audience
The book of Jonah is an open rebuke of the nation of Israel for their hard heart.
- Hardened against repenting except under threat of death
- Hardened against Gentiles, whom God loves.
We see this message through demonstration, not just in chapter 4, but in Jonah's response throughout the book. Because the original audience would have identified with Jonah's action in full agreement, the Lord uses Jonah as an illustration of the nation of Israel. So, everywhere Jonah is mention, mentally substitute the nation of Israel, and a picture of the state of the nation emerges quite clearly.
Chapter 1: Jonah flees from the presence of the Lord when told to warn the city of Nineveh of impending destruction, so right off the bat we see his heart is hardened against the Assyrians.
But then, during his flight, Jonah displays his hard heart toward others in knowingly placing the crew of the ship in danger. He will not pray to God for relief from the storm, and he will not throw himself overboard to save the crew.
Also, Jonah shows how hard his heart is by refusing to repent at the general call, the confrontation by one, and the confrontation by many. Even in isolation, it takes Jonah three days to finally give in.
Chapter 2: Jonah only relents to do the will of the Lord when under extreme duress and the realization that God would not kill him. The nation of Israel was the exact same way. God had promised that He would never "kill" the nation of Israel, and so all that was left was discipline not leading to the death of the nation. Very powerful concept.
Of course, Jonah doesn't repent, but rather relents to do the will of the Lord from external pressure.
Chapter 3: Jonah finally obeys, and God does a great work in the hearts of the Assyrians. Once again, Jonah has suffered greatly at the hand of God in order to turn him from his disobedience while the Ninevites hear the word of the Lord and repent, with actions matching the heart change.
This stark contrast of responses to God's hand of discipline is meant to shame Jonah and soften his heart, but that does not happen and in fact, Jonah hardens his heart even more.
Chapter 4: Jonah finally erupts in anger that stems from his hard heart. He is not just a disobedient prophet, a petulant prophet, a reluctant prophet, a sulking prophet; he is a hard hearted prophet. He is furious that God has not destroyed the 600,000 people of Nineveh, including 120,000 children and lots of animals.
God appoints three things, a plant, a worm, and a wind, in order to show Jonah just how hard his heart is. Jonah mourns, even to death, his withered plant, his shade tree, his lost comfort.
God, knowing all things, compares Jonah's compassion for the plant and His compassion for the city of Nineveh (and by extension, Jonah's non-existent compassion for Nineveh). It is a night and day comparison.
Application for today
God's original message is still applicable today. As we substitute ourselves in the place of Jonah, God brings to mind people, groups, and individuals that we have hardened our hearts against. We want God to bring judgment not mercy to these ungodly, wicked people! We rejoice at the thought of their destruction and are furious when God gives them grace.
God used this original message in my own life as He confronted me with my attitude toward the people I work with. While they are not the most vile, evil people on the planet like the Assyrians were, they were still ungodly and steeped in the ways of the evil one. They were, and still are, walking "according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience." (Eph. 2:2b).
But, of course, I conveniently forgot both
Eph 2:1-2a (And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked) as well as
Eph 2:3 (Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.).
And of course, I pushed aside Eph 2:4-5 (But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),).
I was just as guilty as Israel and thankfully, God has used this study to turn me from my wicked, hard hearted attitude against my co-workers and is molding my heart into a heart of flesh, of concern, of compassion for the people that He has sent me to as a missionary.