But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
A quick background story: God had sent Jonah on a sort of ‘special op’ – into dangerous territory, to deliver a not-so-friendly message. And because Jonah knew how God often operated, he was banking on watching Nineveh burn because he was sure the people there would not change their ways. But when Jonah’s message of doom reached the king of Nineveh – notice that Jonah did not personally deliver the message to the king – something unexpected happened: the king ordered all his people to repent and seek God, hoping that God would turn away His promised punishment (Jonah 3:6-9). Guess what happened next? God did turn away His promised punishment when He saw their sincere repentance; but for Jonah, this was a very upsetting development. Nineveh deserved to be punished!
I believe Jonah must have felt blindsided, even shot out of the spotlight. He must have felt like God had gone ahead and done something without making him a major player. I am pretty sure Jonah felt his reputation as a prophet was at stake; either that, or he just wanted so badly to see Nineveh openly disgraced and brought to her knees by an Almighty God. And I am pretty sure that God meant to do so if Nineveh would not repent.
Frankly, I am both interested in and amused by how God handled Jonah’s attitude. Though his anger did not glorify God, albeit justified, God felt concerned that Jonah was angry – so concerned that He asked Jonah the same question twice: “Do you do well to be angry…?” Hold on… God felt concerned that a human was angry? How often did this happen, especially in the Old Testament where we see examples of people being punished (sometimes almost instantly) for challenging God (Numbers 16; 2 Kings 7)? But God did not rain down judgment on Jonah for challenging His change of heart; instead, He gently prodded Jonah, patiently teaching a lesson that we miss far too often: He is God, and we are not.
Also, God reminded Jonah that He had more reason to save the “persons” in Nineveh than Jonah had for wanting to see them punished: “…should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left…?” (Jonah 4:11). Talk about compassion! The lesson here is that God values people: you, me, everyone. How many times have we forgotten this simple but important truth when confronting people who have wronged us or who we have been privileged to warn of imminent judgment?
Finally, I believe the moral of the entire story is that ultimately, control belongs to God and not to us. Give it up!