But the LORD replied, "Have you any right to be angry?"
I. A MAN WHO HAS FOUND MERCY HIMSELF MAY YET PRACTICALLY GRUDGE IT TO OTHERS. Misanthropy is Satanic. The devil hates men utterly and intensely. And the man, if there be such, who hates men instinctively, and would destroy them unprovoked, is less human than diabolical Jonah was not such a man. There were considerations, and paltry ones, for which he would have sacrificed all the souls in Nineveh, but, apart from these, he wished them no ill.
1. One of these considerations was supplied by egoism. As the prophet and mouthpiece of God, he had predicted the destruction of the city, even to the naming of the day, and his credit required that the event should now occur. If it did not, his prophecy failed, and his reputation as a prophet suffered, both with the Ninevites and with his own people. The prospect of this he could not stand. In his miserable and guilty self-seeking he preferred the destruction, soul and body, of a million people, to the possible discrediting of his prophetic claims. Such heartlessness in a believing man seems well nigh incredible. But it is far from unparalleled. Every Christian worker approaches it who works for his own credit or advantage, and not for the salvation of men. He may not be conscious of the fact, or he may fail to realize the significance of it, but he virtually and practically prefers that men should perish rather than that he should be deemed a failure. His reputation as a Christian worker, and his success in that character, is more to him than the salvation from sin of all to whom his words may come.
2. Another consideration sectarianism provides. To Israel in its wickedness a whole line of prophets had preached, with no result whatever, save their own extermination (Acts 7:52), and the announcement of inevitable doom on the obdurate race (Amos 5:27; Amos 7:17). The Ninevites' deliverance, establishing as it would the genuineness of their turning from sin, would bring into unfavourable contrast the obstinate impenitence of Israel, would emphasize the needs be of her approaching ruin, and would amount to the preservation and encouragement of the very heathen power by which she was to fall. Then the overthrow of Nineveh by an angry God would have been a terrible example to quote to Israel, and a rod to conjure with when calling on them to fly the wrath of God; whilst its escape the prophet's careless countrymen might wrest to their own destruction, and from it argue that the vengeance denounced would likely never fail. There is an attitude of indifference toward the perishing, into which an analogous spirit of sectarianism sometimes causes believers to fall The question of their salvation gets mixed up with some question of denominational loss or discredit. We desire their conversion, and desire to be the means of it. But we don't desire it supremely or disinterestedly. We don't desire it apart from all denominational considerations. The idea of their remaining a while longer in sin would be almost as tolerable to us as that some rival sect should win their gratitude and adherence by helping them into the kingdom. This is, at bottom, the spirit of Jonah exactly. It is putting an earthly and narrow interest. before the eternal life of souls. It is a spirit unworthy the Christian character, and a shameful stigma on the Christian name.
3. A further consideration may be found in the surviving misanthropy of a half-sanctified nature. God desires infinitely the highest well being of men (Ezekiel 33:11). And men, in proportion as they are God-like, desire it too (Romans 9:1-4). The sinful nature, which is largely selfish, is being taken away, and the gracious character, which is essentially benevolent, is being inwrought. But neither process is complete on earth, and the missionary spirit, which is their joint issue, is proportionally weak. It was so with Jonah. He shows the old nature strong still in pride and petulance and ingratitude, and why not in lovelessness, its characteristic vice? Such a man is incapable of understanding the tender and gracious heart of God, which loves men absolutely and infinitely, and acts in every respect in character. He is incapable of desiring supremely the highest good of men, for he has never climbed to the high spiritual level in which to apprehend his own. A half-sanctified man is considerably more than half-selfish, and a good deal less than half benevolent. If we would know what it is to travail for men's salvation, we must rise to a love of God baptized into the likeness of the Divine love out of which it springs.
II. GOD'S CHARACTER IS CONSTANT, WHATEVER ELSE MAY CHANGE. (Ver. 20 Jonah changed, and the Ninevites changed, and God's treatment was changed accordingly; but the Divine character and rule of action remained the same throughout.
1. He acted strictly in character in this case. Jonah's language seems to imply a charge of weakness against the Divine dealing with Nineveh. On no other assumption can we understand his quoting in such a connection, and with disapproval, God's own revelation of the character in which he desired to be known (Ezekiel 34:6). And the supposition is strengthened by the fact that, whilst he gives literally the clauses that speak of God's mercy, he leaves out the clause that speaks of his justice (Exodus 34:7), and substitutes for it a sentiment of his own. But justice and mercy met in the whole transaction. The Ninevites were mercifully spared, yet not unjustly. They might in justice have been destroyed, but not in mercy (Isaiah 55:7; Jeremiah 31:20). Therefore Jonah absurdly makes it a charge against God that he is what he had always gloried in declaring himself to be. So blind and stupid can a sulky servant be. God need not overact his merciful character in order to offend such people; it is his mercy itself with which they have a quarrel.
2. The prophet himself affirms the Divine consistency. "God," we are told, "repented of the evil," etc.; and Jonah says, "I knew that thou art a gracious God... and repentest thee of the evil." The thing that Jonah knew he would do he did. His action was normal and entirely consistent - such action as he has always taken, and will take, in a like case. He repented, in fact, yet did not change. He did what it would be a change to cease from doing in the circumstances. He threatened Nineveh sinning, as he threatens all, and then he spared it turning, as he spares men in every age. His repentance, so called, is his method coordinating itself with the changing conditions of life, and is simply an aspect of his immutability.
III. THE PRAYER OF THE SELF-SEEKER IS OF NECESSITY ILL-ADVISED. (Ver. 3.) Jonah's prayer was bona fides. It is as a believer he prays. His spiritual instinct brings him in his unhappiness to a throne of grace. "He does not seek a refuge from God. He makes God his Refuge" (Martin). He shows a surly sincerity in unreservedly stating what is working in his mind; and "so long as all can yet be declared unto the Lord, even though it be your infirmity, there integrity still reigns" (Martin). Yet, barring the quality of sincerity, this prayer lacks almost every other element of acceptable worship.
1. It is inappropriate in its matter. (Ver. 3.) It is not absolutely and necessarily wrong to pray for death. Paul, persecuted and afflicted, had "a desire to depart and be with Christ." It is easily conceivable that a believer, broken down and prostrated with incurable disease, should pray for death as the sole available release. It would be nothing unbecoming if a ripe saint, whose life work is done, and who longs for rest, should make its early coming a matter of prayer. But Jonah was neither past living usefully nor, in his present temper, ready to die. His death, if allowed, would have advanced no interest either of his own or of others. His work was, humanly speaking, far from being done, and his life, if he put a noble interpretation on it, might be of great importance in the world. He was stupidly wanting to fling away from him, instead of prizing and using it, one of God's most precious gifts, and his own most sacred trust. The desire to die, which some consider the cream of all piety, is as often mistaken as appropriate, and far less often a duty than a sin. In such cases men "ask and receive not, because they ask amiss."
2. It is improper in spirit. One can easily see that Jonah was in no praying mood. He was angry and insolent. His prayer was really a contentious manifesto - the joint issue of arrogance and discontent. As such it was utterly offensive to God, and itself a new sin in his sight. The spirit of it, however, made it harmless, as it secured the refusal of its mischievous request. Our union with Christ is a condition of successful prayer (John 15:7). The guarantee of its acceptability is our dwelling in Christ: the cause of its fitness is his Word dwelling in us. The Spirit helps the believer's infirmities, and in these qualities we have the outcome of his work (Romans 8:26). The very gist of prayer is a leaving of ourselves in the hands of God. Its inquiry is, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" and its request is, "Lord, here am I; send me." Such a request is offered in terms of our Father's will, and, being offered in Christ, is ideal prayer to God. But the prayer of wilfulness, of fretfulness, of carnal suggestion in any shape, is lacking in every element that God regards or can accept. "For let not such a one think that he shall receive anything of the Lord."
IV. GOD ANSWERS A FAULT-FINDING PRAYER BY REBUKING THE SPIRIT OF IT. The rule is that believing prayer is answered (Matthew 21:22; Mark 2:24). It is a special qualification of the rule that the answer comes in the form of things agreeable to God's will. Jonah's prayer had enough of faith in it to secure an answer, and yet enough of folly to necessitate an answer very different from the one desired (ver. 4). There was wonderful condescension here. Jonah makes an insane request, and it is mercifully ignored. He makes it in a sinful way, and gets the thing he was most in need of - an admonition. The words imply:
1. Are you angry on sufficient grounds? An enumeration of the antecedents of his anger would have covered Jonah with confusion. His contemptibly egotistic refusal to prophesy, as it was his business to do, had not so much been punished, as forcibly overcome, and then forgiven. His life, jeopardized, in the natural course of events, by his own infatuate conduct, had, by a miracle of mercy, been given back to him from the grave's mouth. His recent ministry so tardily exercised had been blessed beyond a parallel, to the saving of a mighty city and the glorious illustration of the mercy and grace of God. These grounds of feeling are the only grounds which, as a servant of God, he could consistently regard. The others, which bore on possible results to his own official prestige, and Israel's moral attitude and fate, were purely speculative, might prove unfounded altogether, and whether or not should have no place in a spiritual mind. A true prophet is a man who speaks for God unquestioningly, who acts for God undauntedly, who is in fullest sympathy with his gracious purposes, and who knows no personal considerations in his work. Well might God ask, "Art thou wiser than I?" "Is thine eye evil because I am good?" If a servant may have an interest antagonistic to his masters; if a man "may make his own narrow capacity the measure by which to judge of the Divine wilt and the Divine procedure" (Martin); if the salvation of a million strangers is nothing in the balance against a possible hurt to a few of our own friends; - then Jonah was fitly angry, and we, in a like case, may fitly be angry also. The words also imply:
2. Is your anger itself a right thing? The will of God is the ultimate reason of things. The way of God is uuchallengeably right. The office of censor over him does not exist, There is no provision in his scheme of government for our being angry, and no place in the chain of cause and effect at which it could come in. We do it solely on our own responsibility, in violation of the Divine harmonies, and at our own risk and loss. It settles nothing outside ourselves, influences nothing, and has no right of way across the field of providence. God is supreme, and men are in his hands, and all duty in relation to his government is, "Thy will be done." The question of men's salvation is God's question in the last appeal. He sits at the helm. He settles who shall be saved, and whether any shall be saved (Romans 9:11, 16, 22, 23). The conversion of sinners is but the evolution of his purpose; the glorification of saints the realization of his plan. Is not this good tidings for the lust? Seeking God as he thinks with all his heart, the anxious sinner fancies sometimes that the is willing and God is not, and that the question to be solved is the question of overcoming a certain Divine inertia, and getting God's consent to his entrance into life. The idea is a delusion of Satan, and has ruined more lives than could be told. "Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life." That is Christ's way of it. "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live." That is God's gospel, the glorious and precious truth. God's willingness to save is infinite. He waits to be gracious. It is you that are not willing. You think you are, and you may be in some respects. But you are not willing perfectly and all round. There is a secret reservation lurking somewhere. Search well and see. If you had ever been wholly willing for a single instant, you would that instant have been across the threshold and in the kingdom. If you are wholly willing now, it is the golden hour of your life, for it is the beginning of the new life in Christ. - J.E.H.
Then said the Lord, Doest thou well to be angry.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE, AND THE TEMPER OF THE PROPHET UNDER THEM. Jonah was displeased exceedingly because God had accepted the repentance of Nineveh; that He exercised mercy, and turned away His wrath from that numerous people. We cannot acquit him of much that was wrong on this occasion. He was off his guard. He was greatly influenced by a proud and rebellious spirit. Henry observes of his prayer, — It is a very awkward prayer. Indeed, what could we expect from a man agitated with such a temper? How unhallowed is the petition, "Now, O Lord, take, I beseech Thee, my life from me." We cannot but notice the long-suffering goodness of God, the tenderness of Divine compassion, in the expostulation with Jonah.
II. THE TEMPER OF THE PROPHET WAS EXTREMELY CENSURABLE. Is anger, then, in no case allowable? It may be directed against sin, in ourselves or in others. It was not allowable in Jonah. Every emotion of displeasure with the dispensations of God is extremely censurable; for —
1. Each of them is just.
2. Most of them are merciful.
3. All of them work together for good.Then, "in your patience possess ye your souls." Self-possession is a great and most desirable attainment.
1. That in the end God's purpose of grace in the salvation of sinners will be justified.
2. Want of sympathy with God's purpose of grace and salvation to sinners is a common sin.
3. This want of sympathy betrays itself, in selfishness like Jonah's, in self-seeking, self-pleasing, self-indulgence.
4. God is still rebuking this sin of selfishness, or want of sympathy, as He rebuked Jonah here, both in His Word, and in His providence.
II. THE RESORT. Whither did he flee in his petulant fit? "Unto the Lord." Can a man in a passion pray? Jonah's prayer was a perverted privilege. He made it the medium of access to God for self-vindication and Divine vituperation. This is the first attempt at excusing himself for going to Tarshish. The greatness of God's mercy was his present grievance. Jonah's prayer closed with —
III. A REQUEST. It was as unreasonable as it was unjustifiable. Self-will prompted it, and peevishness uttered it. "My reputation as a truth-speaking prophet will be slain, therefore I prefer being slain myself." What cowards disappointed expectations make us.
IV. PETULANCE DIVINELY QUESTIONED. The question has a sting which enters deeply into Jonah's soul. Physicians probe wounds before they heal them. Temper is the shadow of the tempter.
V. PETULANCE IN RETIREMENT. Temper generally seeks solitude when its tide is ebbing. Sulks like to mope by themselves in seclusion.
VI. PETULANCE SUBJECTING JONAH TO INCONVENIENCES. Petulance is the parent of manifold discomforts — physical, mental, social, moral, ecclesiastical. It is the multiplier of life's sorrows, the inventor of ghostly troubles, the despotic subjector to manifold inconveniences.
VII. PETULANCE UNDER DIVINE SYMBOLIC CORRECTION. The gourd is to be the means of physical amelioration, and then the medium of symbolic spiritual correction. Jonah learned this lesson. If the perishing of a mere gourd was a source of great grief to him, how infinitely more painful to God would be the destruction of multitudes of intelligent beings.
(J. O. Keen, D. D.)
(T. T. Carter.)
1. There is a feeling to which we give the name of moral indignation. We thus distinguish it from other kinds of anger, more or less selfish and self-asserting, such as anger at an inconvenience, at a slight, at a disappointment, or even at a providence. Of this kind are all those broodings over the superior advantage or happiness of other ranks or other people, over the circumstances of the station or the education or the success in life, over the events which make a home dreary, or over the natural temperament which makes a heart gloomy, or over the peculiar predispositions and tendencies which make it doubly difficult to be good, — all of which, when thoroughly sifted, are a "replying against God." Moral indignation is characterised chiefly by this, that it is quite unselfish. It is the feeling that rises in the breast of a man on seeing the ill-treatment of an animal, a child, or a woman. To stand by and see these things without remonstrance or without interference is no forbearance: it is cowardice, it is unmanliness, it is sin. In such cases to be angry is a virtue. It is a higher exercise of the same virtuous indignation, to feel where it does not see — where it only reflects and meditates upon the misery and the wickedness and the living death which hangs so heavily and so hopelessly upon the world.
2. There is place also for anger, not only in the contemplation of wrong, but in the personal experience of temptation. There is aa indignation, even a resentment, even a rage and fury, which may be employed without offence to the Gospel, in repelling assaults upon our peace and virtue. "Be ye angry and sin not" has often been exemplified, in its truth and power, in the experience of the man, young or old, who would none of the tempter's enticements, or of the companionship of the profligate.
3. There is a place for moral indignation in connection with the great personal tempter.
(C. J. Vaughan, D. D.)
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