Dr. Lawrence Butler, The Bridge Church, Pembroke.
Lesson 11 “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:1-3). This prayer and attitude is as remarkable as anything else in this entire book. It is certainly commendable that Jonah complains to God and not just about Him. However, notice how selfish and self-centered the prayer is. Nine times the personal pronouns I, my and me appear. He is focused on himself and not the ministry entrusted to him.
The word “displeased” has been described as somewhat of a play on words (New American Commentary). A reference to Jonah 1:2 can be seen when God says the wickedness of Nineveh had come before Him and judgment was required. The apparent connection is that to Jonah the sparing of Nineveh was as distasteful to him as their sin was to God! How could any real prophet of God feel this way?
It is true that the Ninevites were a fierce and brutal people. Sennacherib, one Assyrian king, is revealed in the Bible (2 Kings 18,19) as a great enemy of Israel. Others, such as Ashurbanipal, who had the hands and lips of enemies torn off their bodies, and Tiglath-Pileser, who had prisoners flayed and then displayed their skulls, brought great fear to neighboring kingdoms. Jonah really wanted them destroyed.
Israel was experiencing a time of prosperity, and the result was a falling away from God. Perhaps Jonah feared great retribution on Israel through the barbarism of the Assyrians. Whatever the deep-seated reason for Jonah’s anger, it was real, and devastating to his ministry. What missionary or evangelist would not rejoice over such a great revival? Failure to appreciate God’s blessings is no way to receive more.
Jonah requested to die. So did Moses, but under quite different circumstances. He was worn out from carrying the load of responsibility and desired death if the Lord would not help him. Elijah desired death, but because he felt his ministry had failed and no one was serving God but him. Jonah wanted to die even though he just led a great out-pouring of God’s spirit and many souls had been saved in the revival. He despised God’s mercy in spite of the fact that mercy had been shown to him.