At the end of the third part of Jonah we heard that when God saw what the people of Nineveh did and how they turned from doing wrong, God turned back from his plan to destroy the city as He had said He would do and He didn’t do it. The people from the lowest servant on up to the king of Nineveh threw themselves on God’s mercy not knowing if He would show them any mercy. Then they discovered that the Lord is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and who is sorry for disaster. They experienced God’s mercy just as Jonah worried they would.
Jonah was more than a little angry that God was not going to go through with the plan to destroy Nineveh. It was the reason he had tried to run away from God rather than go and preach to the people of Nineveh in the first place. He had tried to run away to Tarshish because he knew that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding steadfast love and sorry for disaster. Jonah knew that if the people of Nineveh changed their ways then God might have pity on them and not want to destroy them. But Jonah really wanted to see Nineveh get what they deserved for all of the evil that they had done. So he was mad when God told him it wasn’t going to happen.
Jonah got so upset that he wished he was dead. He asked God to take his life. Just a couple chapters before he had been asking God to save him from death, but now he thought it would be better to die than to live because the people of Nineveh were going to live. He was the prophet who pouted. So God asked him, “Do you have a good reason for being angry?”
Then Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made himself a tent there to sit under the shade where he would have a nice view of what would happen to the city. Maybe he thought that by throwing a temper tantrum he would get his way. And while he was sitting there God appointed a plant to grow up over Jonah and give him more shade so that he would be more comfortable. What this plant is we will never know. The Hebrew people didn’t even know what they word meant – they too would have said, “What is it?,” which in Hebrew is the question “Manna?” Thus the plant would remind them of the manna that God had given to the people of Israel in the wilderness. This plant was a mercy to Jonah and a reminder of God’s protection of him and that God provides for him. Jonah loved that plant and rejoiced because of it. But early the next day God appointed a worm to attack the plant so that it withered and then when the sun came up God sent a hot wind and the sun burned hot down on his head so that Jonah felt faint. And Jonah again asked to die. So God asked him, “Do you have a good reason to be angry about the plant?”
Jonah thought so. He thought he was right to be angry enough to die. So the Lord said, “You pity the plant when you did not work the ground, nor make it grow, and that grew in a night and died in the same night.” And he asked Jonah, “Should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 people and many cattle?” It is an argument from the lesser to the greater – if Jonah cared about this plant with a short life, then shouldn’t God care about people and cattle in a city that has been there for a long time.
God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and sorry for disaster. And His grace and mercy and love is on display for us in Jesus on the cross. The anger of God has been poured out on Jesus on the cross so that God is not angry with us. Sometimes very religious people do not want that mercy shown to very bad people, but God shows mercy to whomever He wants to show mercy.