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Jonah 4 Study Guide: Anger with God

Community Group Study Guide — Anger with God
Jonah 4:1-11

Study Information:
In our last study guide we got to witness massive repentance on a scale that we’re not used to seeing. Nineveh repented of their violence and evil as a city, beginning with the common people and all the way up to the king. God responded to this by turning away from the disaster he had planned because God’s character is one bent towards mercy. That aspect of God’s character will be central to how the book of Jonah ends because God being slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love is the precise reason why Jonah fled from God’s call to go to Nineveh; deep down Jonah knew that God would forgive and show mercy. Many of us can think that God is angry in the Hebrew Bible and then changed his character in the New Testament to happy and gracious but this passage flies in the face of that. Jonah’s complaint against God is that he showed mercy too quickly and to the wrong people. 

In our study guide we will learn how in his love for Jonah and his people he confronted their self righteousness with this book.

Jonah's Problem with God
Jonah 4:1-4
The repentance of Nineveh and mercy of God made Jonah greatly upset and angry. We all get angry with God form time to time because he does not match our expectations or act in the ways we would. Positively Jonah turned to God in prayer, which is better than turning away from God (Jonah 4:2). His prayer was a complaint against God and that gives us a window into Jonah’s disobedience and fleeing from God. Jonah specifically fled because his understanding of God is that God is gracious, slow to anger, merciful and abounding in steadfast love. This is a quote of Exodus 34:6 and is the most quoted passage in the entire Bible because it is so central to who God is. Jonah’s anger turned into despair and he said he would rather die than live with. God in his great wisdom just replies back, “do you do well to be angry?” and then God took Jonah through a series of events that revealed to Jonah how silly his position really was.

Jonah did not like how God was “too gracious” to people whom he did not think were worthy. Jonah essentially wanted God to act out of his justice in one moment and only show his mercy to the “right” people. Part of God’s attributes (who he is) is something called divine simplicity. God is not a sum total of his attributes like being 5% merciful + 5% just + 5% love, etc, adding up to 100%. Rather God is all his attributes at all times. When God acts in a way that we would say was wrathful, it was not devoid of his love or power or wisdom because God is those attitudes all the time. Jonah did not know or understood the gospel, that God’s mercy always goes out to those who do not deserve it but turn from their wicked ways and to God’s grace. As we heard last week, God’s wrath against sin was bottled up and poured out on Jesus so that all the undeserving could receive grace including Jonah, the Ninevites, you and me. 

God's Problem with Jonah
Jonah 4:5-11
Remember back in chapter 1 when we learned that everything in the book of Jonah listened to God and obeyed God except for Jonah? God does it again in this chapter by appointing a plant, a worm and a harsh wind. Jonah sat down, presumably to watch to see if Nineveh’s repentance fell apart and God would wipe out the city and God created a lesson to show Jonah how hard his heart was. 

Jonah set up a shelter to watch what would happen and God appointed a plant to grow up to give him shade and save him from his discomfort (Jonah 4:6). In Jonah 4:1 he was displeased exceedingly, and now he is  happy exceedingly because of this plant and his own personal comfort. But the next day God appointed a worm to destroy the plant and as the sun rose God appointed a really hot wind from the east thus wiping out Jonah’s shade or comfort and he once again longed for his life to end (Jonah 4:8). Jonah was wrapped up in his own comfort and protection. God asked him “do you do well to be angry about the plant?” Jonah’s response drips anger and venom back at God, “Yes I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” God told Jonah that the plant was a gift, an act of God’s grace that he did nothing to deserve and it perished in one night. Should God not care about all these people and even the cattle, who are ignorant to God’s ways? God told Jonah that they did not know their right hand for their left, that they were ignorant and needed instruction and mercy (Jonah 4:11); yet Jonah was really only concerned with himself. Jonah, as a prophet and a member of Israel, should have been happy to take the word of God to the nations so they’d know God and his ways, but he would rather see them perish. 

Jonah lacked compassion to see outsiders be saved and that was the core problem with Israel during the time of Jonah that would lead to their exile. They were meant to be a light to the nations, but became like the nations in worshipping idols and forsaking God but still maintained an attitude of self-righteousness and God wanted to expose that in Jonah so we’d see and turn from that attitude ourselves. 

Jonah's Lesson For Us
Why does the book of Jonah end with God pointing out Jonah’s hard heart and bitterness and without Jonah as the hero of the story? If Jonah wrote this, what does he want us to learn by how this ends? Did Jonah repent of his ways and his hard heart? We do not know, but there is hope that he possibly wrote this down to show his people and us today the error of loving ourselves at the expense of loving our neighbor and our enemy. 

Jonah’s people Israel were in danger and this book is meant to warn them and to show God’s heart for the nations. Earlier lamented about how the Ninevites worshipped vain idols, but idol worshippers need the gospel. More than that, Israel was caught up in idol worship and it would lead to their exile to Assyria in about 60 years time. Israel failed to be a light to the nations and did not desire to see the ends of the earth know and worship God. Jesus will talk about the sign of Jonah in Matthew 12, which he links to his resurrection to his love for the nations. He’d go to the cross to that mercy and forgiveness could extend across the face of the earth and the self righteous Pharisees missed it (Matt 12:38-42). God wants his people to repent of their self righteousness and see that his compassion and grace is not limited to just those we assume or those like us. This book should challenge us to ask if we are closed off to outsiders receiving the message of God’s grace, are we pursuing our own comfort at the expense of love and do we really want God’s steadfast love to be shared with people we do not think are worthy? 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:
Read Jonah 4:1-11

Describe Jonah’s attitude following the repentance of Nineveh? How does Jonah prioritize his own comfort and expectations?

Describe Jonah’s understanding of God’s character. Is this consistent to other places that God is described in the Bible (in other words is Jonah right tot think of God this way)?

What does God “appoint” in this story and what point was he trying to make?

How can Christians today take the message of Jonah to heart and want to see compassion extend to people we would think of as unworthy?