Jonah 4

1 Jonah was not happy with the phenomenal success of his ministry. The repetition of "greatly displeased" and "angry" indicate how strong his negative reaction was.
2 It becomes clear from this verse combined with verse 11 that Jonah was angry because God had spared Nineveh. It is easy to surmise that Jonah hated the Ninevites, but we are not told why. Jonah may have in some way experienced the cruelty of the Ninevites or simply despised this part of their character. He may have had deep-seated racism. Whatever the case, his hatred was fully expressed in his initial refusal to share God's warning with Nineveh. When he had fled to Spain it was not because he was afraid of the Ninevites or the prophetic task he was assigned - he was concerned that the people would believe the message and experience God's love and compassion rather than His wrath. His "fears" were fully realized. The most severe expression of hatred is to attempt to withhold God's love from someone.

To Jonah's credit, he does talk about this with God. Even when we know our thoughts or attitudes are sinful or go against God's character, we can still talk with Him about them.

It is obvious that Jonah knows the character of God. After all, Jonah was a prophet and had probably seen God work in this same way before. Jonah had probably been happy whenever his own people turned to God, but he was unhappy that God would consider extending His grace to Jonah's enemies. It also seems characteristic of many of the Israelites throughout Scripture that God would possibly save Gentiles who would turn to Him. Even in the New Testament we have examples of Jews turning into murderous mobs at the mere suggestion that God would have compassion on Gentiles (Luke 4:25-29, Acts 22:1-24). Jonah may have harbored this same kind of racial hatred. Israel is God's special people, but both the Old Testament and New are clear that God can and will save Gentiles who believe in Him. God does not discriminate on nationality, age, gender, or background, and we should not either.

3 Jonah's ego was hurt. His pride told him that it was better to die than to live with the supposed humiliation of either having given a prophetic word that was overturned or not seeing his enemies suffer as he had hoped they would. If it was the latter, then it is a real pity to know that someone would rather die than see certain people experience the love of God. Some people will not witness about what God has done because they are afraid people will not respond positively, but others do not because they are afraid that those they hate might be forgiven.

The irony of this verse is that Jonah is asking God to kill him - the same God who would not kill evil people who repented. Why would He destroy His prophet whom He loved very much and had used for a great work? Again, this is an illustration that we can go to God with our deepest flaws. However, we must remember that when we do, He is likely to show us where we are wrong and how we must change.

4 Jonah was pouting because things were not going the way he wanted them to. God first came to Jonah and tried to reason with him. He basically asked if Jonah he had any justification for being angry that God saved the Ninevites after they turned to Him.
5 Jonah does not answer. Instead, he went outside the city to wait. The area to the east was elevated, and he may have been able to see the entire city from there. He was apparently hoping that either the Ninevites would recant their new faith or God would change His mind and destroy them anyway. Nineveh was in a hot and dry area, and Jonah built a shelter to sit in to be comfortable.
6 Since Jonah was not in the mood to reason, God used an object lesson to help Jonah understand the problem with his uncompassionate way of thinking. The first step was to grow a plant to provide some shade for Jonah. Jonah had built a shelter, but it must have been very sparse (verse 8). It may have been perfect as a trellis or arbor for this plant. The plant obviously had large enough or dense enough foliage to provide adequate shade to not only bring Jonah relief, but also make him noticeably happier despite the discomfort of the desert. Verse 10 indicates that the plant grew up overnight. It was a miraculous event. God may have specially created the plant or simply caused an existing seed or plant to grow rapidly overnight. God would have had to provide the energy for this growth since plants normally make energy during the daytime when the sun is shining on them.
7 The second step in this lesson was to kill the plant, and God had some kind of worm (most likely an insect larva) do this. The easiest mode of operation would have been for the worm to eat the roots or the vascular system between the roots and stem. This might be considered less than miraculous except that the text specifically says that God directed this action. With the water supply cut from the top of the plant, the leaves quickly withered in the desert heat.
8 The third step was for God to increase Jonah's misery by making it a clear, hot, and windy day. The east wind was notoriously uncomfortable, having come from the hot and dry desert. Obviously, the shelter he built was inadequate to deal with the heat (the wind may have knocked the shelter over). While Jonah had been happy the day before, his circumstances changed to become "unbearable." Jonah again begs to die, apparently with more earnestness than he had before.
9 From the two questions we can gather that Jonah grieved to the point of death for the plant, but had also been deeply grieved that 120,000 people had been spared. It is obvious that Jonah loved the plant more than the people of Nineveh. We, like Jonah, seem to forget at times that people are God's most treasured creation. We get attached to possessions, animals, and even plants. These days there appears to be more effort to save endangered species than people. People collect material possessions rather than treasures in heaven. We can expect this from people who do not know God, but Christians should understand that a single person is more valuable to God than all the treasures on earth. Not only must we treat people with more love and respect than any kind of object or living thing, but we should also make every effort with the gifts we are given to present them with the Gospel so that they can make an informed decision whether or not they will follow God.
10 Now, using the object lesson of the plant, God confronts Jonah's problem of misplaced compassion. Jonah was concerned about a fragile plant, which was there one day and gone the next. He had not done anything to make it grow or sustain it. He had selfishly loved the plant because of the benefit he gained, and was grieved when it withered. Jonah's concern over the ephemeral plant was absurd when placed side by side with his disregard for the eternal welfare of people.
11 On the other hand, God cares deeply for every person He has made. He is greatly distressed when people move away from Him because people do not seem to realize that they do themselves eternal harm this way. It pains God to see us suffering the effects of sin and is angry when evil people harm the innocent. He puts much effort into working people's circumstances so that they have the opportunity to recognize Him either through nature or, more commonly, through the ministry of a believer. Eventually, He would become more involved by taking on human form and then dieing a cruel death in order to bear the punishment for our sins. In other words, God has much invested in the lives of people, and it is no wonder that He has compassion for us.

Jonah knew the character of God, but did not want to follow his example because of his own feelings. We must remember that God's desires are much more important than our feelings. One does not need to love those to whom God calls you to minister before we go. The most important part of the success of a ministry is that one is obedient and allows God to work. However, God does want us to love people, and after we see how much God loves those whom we might despise, we will hopefully learn to love them as God does. Jonah's successful ministry saved the lives of 120,000 people along with their innocent creatures that would have perished if the people had been punished (note that it has been suggested that "not knowing right from left" may refer to children only, indicating that more than a million people might have lived in Nineveh and had been saved). This was a reason and time for Jonah to rejoice over the people and glorify God because of His goodness.