Session 4: Jonah's Anger and the Lord's Compassion - Radical

Secret Church 23: Jonah

Session 4: Jonah’s Anger and the Lord’s Compassion

Do you want to live a comfortable life in your nation or to spread the gospel in all nations? In this session of Secret Church 23 on Jonah 4, Pastor David Platt encourages us to examine our priorities. He encourages Christians to leverage their lives for the sake of the gospel among the nations and the unreached.

  1. Have you ever wanted your way more than God’s will?
  2. Are you inclined to settle for the comforts of people and places that are familiar to you instead of paying a cost to go to people and places that are foreign to you?
  3. How often do you pray for and desire the good of other people that may be considered your enemies?
  4. Have you ever questioned the justice or mercy of God?
  5. Is it possible for you to know about the character of God yet not show the compassion of God?
  6. Do you sometimes care more about your earthly desires than others’ eternal destinies?
  7. What do you truly want more: a comfortable life in your nation or the spread of the gospel in all nations?

​​Let’s come back together. It’s late and it’s time to bring things home with what is by far the most important chapter of the book, so hang with me to the end. There’s a sense in which everything to this point has just been setting the stage for what we’re about to read.

For the first time in the entire book, we’re about to see a dialog between God and Jonah together. Think about that. Up to this point, it’s been God speaking to Jonah, or Jonah speaking to God. But never God and Jonah speaking with each other—until now. This is going to be so revealing, not just about Jonah, but about you and me.

So let’s remember the set up. Nineveh has just experienced massive revival—every preacher’s dream—with just a five-word sermon. Everybody’s praying and repenting and fasting, even the animals. The king is on his knees. And Jonah 3:10 says, “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.” What a picture of what could be the greatest revival in the history of the world.

Then we read Jonah 4:1: “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.” This verse is shocking in its impact. The English translation here relays the meaning, for sure, but the original language literally says, “It was evil to Jonah, with great evil.” Remember our Hebrew word for evil? Ra. It’s actually used two times in the first three words of this verse in the original language which is a major contrast. As we just saw at the end of chapter three, Nineveh turned from their evil way and God relented of the disaster that he was going to bring upon them.

Now, in the very next verse, Jonah is saying, “This is evil. This is a disaster, what God has done.” And he is angry. The word means flaming hot mad. Again, contrast back in Jonah 3:9 when the king of Nineveh expressed hope that God might turn from his anger and God did. But when God turned from his anger, it made Jonah angry. The use of language here is masterful and the author is making the point crystal clear: Jonah and God are on two totally separate pages. Jonah is burning with fury, calling God’s action evil and disastrous.

This scene is tense, as Jonah now speaks to God in verse two: “And he prayed to the Lord…” There’s only one other time we see this word ‘pray’ in the book. Look back at Jonah 2:1: “Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish.” The last time Jonah prayed, he did so because God had saved him and his prayer ended with praising God for his salvation. This time Jonah prays after God saves Nineveh, but his prayer is very different. He said, “O Lord, is not this what I said…?”

Let’s just pause here. Jonah said, “O Lord…” The word is like “Alas. Ah, now Lord, Yahweh.” He uses the covenant name for God, representing God’s love for Israel, his chosen people. “Alas, Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish.” Whoa. Now, for the first time, we’re discovering the real reason why Jonah ran from the presence of the Lord and fled to Tarshish, why Jonah did everything he could to get as far away from God as possible.

Remember the first chapter where we pointed out that the author has not shown us the reason why Jonah fled to Tarshish. We’ve had our guesses, but the author has intentionally left us guessing until this moment for a reason and now he’s ready to disclose it. Now he’s ready to show us the whole point of the story and he doesn’t want us to miss it. The stage is shockingly set for Jonah to share why he ran from God. Are you ready? Here it is.

Jonah 4 Thanks God for His Mercy

Jonah says, “…for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” Does that verse not leave us stunned and speechless? Jonah says, “I knew you were going to save this people because that’s who you are—and that’s why I didn’t want to come here.” Not only “I didn’t want to come,” Jonah is saying, “That’s why I wanted to get as far away from you as I could—because of who you are.” Jonah is quoting here from Exodus 34, one of the most famous revelations of God in one of the most famous moments in Israel’s history.

We’ve actually talked about this moment already, when God’s people—the people of Israel—had worshiped the golden calf and God said he was going to destroy them. Moses interceded for them for forty days, then God relented of the disaster he was going to bring upon them. That’s Exodus 32. Then in Exodus 33, Moses prays, “God, show me your glory. Show me the greatness of who you are.” And in Exodus 34:6-8, God descends in a cloud and reveals his glory:

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.

This revelation from God is repeated over and over again in Israel’s history. At the brink of the Promised Land, they say together, “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Number 14:18-19). This is throughout the Psalms, for example:

  • Psalm 86:15, “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
  • Psalm 103:8, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

Later in Nehemiah 9:16-17, when God’s people were recounting the sins of their forefathers, they say:

“But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.”

Jonah 4 Describes Jonah as a Faithful Leader

So Jonah, as a leader among the people of Israel, loved this description of God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness—when it applied to Israel. Remember this word for steadfast love? Hesed. This beautiful word in the Hebrew represents God’s kindness, mercy, faithfulness, loyalty and love, all wrapped up in one. It represents God’s covenant love, faithfulness to and mercy toward the people of Israel. This was their word, their verse. This was their God. This was Jonah’s verse, Jonah’s word.

We read in chapter two—with Jonah in the belly of the fish—that Jonah loved the mercy of God. He celebrated God’s hesed toward him. Jonah triumphantly declared in Jonah 2:9, “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” He loved the steadfast love and salvation of the Lord—of Yahweh. But Jonah could not stand the thought of God showing that same steadfast love, kindness, mercy, faithfulness, loyalty and salvation to Assyria. No, he thought they deserved God’s justice, which you’ll notice that Jonah conspicuously omits here in Jonah 4:2.

Back in Exodus 34:6-7, God said he “will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” He will bring justice upon sin. But that’s just it; Jonah believes God’s mercy toward Nineveh is unjust and evil. This is shocking for us to read, so we can quickly become critical of Jonah.

Let’s pause and put ourselves in Jonah’s shoes—even in the shoes of the original readers of the story. We’ve already talked about how cruel and barbaric the Assyrians were. Let’s try to make it personal. What if it was your father or grandfather who had experienced Assyrian brutality? What if you grew up hearing about how the people you loved were dismembered or skinned alive by these people? What if it was your mother or grandmother who was burned at the stake by them?

Or fast forward to what happens after this in Assyria. The story of Nineveh in the book of Jonah ends with their repentance, with them turning from their evil way. That lasted for a time, but before long, they returned to their evil way. They rose again to power and resumed their barbaric conquests, all the way to 2 Kings 17:6 which is one of the lowest verses in the Old Testament: “In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria,”—the capital of Israel—and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.”

The Ten Tribes of Israel

The ten tribes of Israel—the northern kingdom of Israel—were totally conquered, people were captured, taken into slavery and exiled by the Assyrians. So imagine hearing or reading the book of Jonah when you’re in exile, when you’re suffering as a slave at the hands of the cruel Assyrians, then you read the story about how God saved this people who eventually conquered and enslaved you.

Once you start to realize that Jonah’s preaching didn’t just bring mercy to Nineveh, but that it eventually led to the destruction of Israel, you start to have questions about God’s justice too. These are the same kinds of questions you or I would ask, especially as we fast forward to more recent history. I want to step real carefully here, with all due respect for the gravity of the historical reality that I’m about to present.

How might enslaved African men, women and children think about cruel torturous slave owners in the mid-nineteenth century? How might Jewish men, women and children think about Nazi Germany officials in the mid-twentieth century? Or fast forward to today and the relationship between men, women and children in Ukraine and the soldiers of Russia? Or the Rohingya of Myanmar who have been razed, raped, killed and cast out by the Burmese military?

I think of Christian brothers and sisters in my country, here in the United States, who have fought wars in the Middle East. It’s hard for them to think about God’s mercy toward individuals they’ve seen do evil things. It’s not uncommon to hear politicians rile up a crowd with shouts of, “Let them burn in hell!” Don’t forget that we have Christian brothers and sisters in other countries outside the United States who have experienced the effects of Americans at war and have a hard time thinking about God’s mercy toward Americans.

Again, I step carefully here, because there are so many angles to consider. My point is that we can all find ourselves at moments when we question God’s justice in relation to God’s mercy. We’ll discuss this more later. This is where Jonah was. He couldn’t stand the Assyrians.

Now listen very closely here. When God took initiative to show mercy instead of justice to the Assyrians, Jonah went from not being able to stand the Assyrians to not being able to stand God. This is Jonah saying to God, “I didn’t want to follow you because I know who you are.”

This leads him to then say in Jonah 4:3, “Therefore now, O Lord” —Yahweh, this patient, forgiving, merciful king God who is showing steadfast love to my enemies, for that matter, to the enemies of your people—“please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Are you seeing this? This is the second time we’ve seen this in Jonah. The first time was in chapter one, when Jonah said, “Just throw me overboard and kill me.” We wondered then why Jonah didn’t just obey; now he’s telling us. Jonah would rather die than serve this kind of God.

These are very similar words about wanting to die that we also read from Elijah in 1 Kings 19. After Elijah calls down fire from heaven and rain from the sky—even when the Israelites don’t repent—queen Jezebel then threatens him. First I Kings 19:4 says, “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.’” So Elijah the prophet asked God to take away his life, but the circumstances are entirely different.

Think about the contrast. Elijah was disappointed that Israel had not come to repentance; Jonah is disappointed that Nineveh has come to repentance. Then think about these words. “It is better for me to die than to live.” This is the same prophet who, less than two chapters before, was saved from death and said in Jonah 2:6b: “Yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.” He’s talking to the same Lord, his God, and continues in 2:7-9:

“When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

Jonah 4 Attributes Salvation to the Lord

Wait. Does salvation belong to the Lord? Or does salvation belong to Jonah and Israel? Jonah was happy to receive salvation, but he hated his cruel, evil, violent, barbaric enemies receiving that same salvation. This leads the Lord to ask him a question in verse four: “The Lord said, ‘Do you do well to be angry?’” Now, before we think about the question God asks, let’s make sure to note what God doesn’t do.

First, God doesn’t even address Jonah’s request to die. God moves right past that. Second, yet again, God doesn’t treat Jonah as he deserves. Think about it. Does Jonah really want God to be just? If so, then Jonah’s done. Jonah should have been done a long time ago, so he is surely done now.

Ironically, God is showing the precise attributes toward Jonah—kindness, forgiveness, steadfast love—that Jonah is objecting to in God. God kindly and tenderly asks Jonah a question, actually the first of three questions we’re about to see here in Jonah 4, which is not uncommon for God when his people are caught in sin. Think about Genesis 3:9-13, after the first sin entered into the world:

But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?”

In the next chapter, in Genesis 4:9-10, we read this: “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ And the Lord said, ‘What have you done?’” Thus God starts working in a way that continues all the way to Jesus, who looks into Judas’ eyes and says, Luke 22:48, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And not just when God is confronting sin in his people.

Think about Job. After 37 chapters of Job questioning the justice of God, Job 38:1 says, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’” This begins 64 questions as Job gets a greater glimpse of God and a truer glimpse of himself, which summarizes what God does with his questions. He reveals himself and he leads Adam, Eve, Cain, Judas, Job and now Jonah to examine themselves. And not just Jonah.

We see these questions from God to Jonah that are intended to lead you and me to examine ourselves when we are prone to question the justice of God, even being angry at his justice or lack thereof. Is it well for us to be angry? The language literally states that it is right for us to be angry. The word ‘angry’ here literally means heat. We’ve seen it already at the end of chapter three when God turned from his anger, then in the beginning of chapter four when Jonah was inflamed in his anger.

Listen to how Jonah responds in verse five: “Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city…” Jonah went out. He doesn’t reply to God. He ignores God’s question. He goes out of the city to the east. Think about it. He entered from the west, which shows he’s in no hurry to get back home to Israel, for good reason.

Let’s imagine being in his shoes now, as word gets back to the homeland that God has saved the Assyrians and used Jonah to do it. The national hero has now become a national zero. He just helped the enemy in a way that one day will lead to the destruction of Israel. He’s in no hurry to get back home. So he goes east; even this symbolism is significant. From the beginning of the Bible, specifically in the book of Genesis, travel eastward is linked with disobedience to God. Think about it.

  • After sin enters the world in Genesis 3, we read in verse 24, “[God] drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.”
  • Then in the next chapter, Genesis 4:16, after Cain sins, “Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”
  • Genesis 11:2, “And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.”
  • Which led to the building of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:-9).

Then in Genesis 13:11-13, we read: “So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.” This eventually leads to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

So now Jonah, in his defiance of God, went east of the city, “…and made a booth for himself there.” The word for ‘booth’ here is also used when God’s people stayed in booths during their wilderness wanderings which seems appropriate. Ironically, that then led to the Feast of Booths, or the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-44). Zechariah 14:16 later says, “Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths.”

Jonah’s Hope for Nineveh

Jonah makes a booth for himself which basically would have been like a makeshift shelter of branches and leaves. Let’s acknowledge the obvious: there were plenty of shelters in Nineveh, places where this prophet who has just brought this message likely would have been very welcome. But Jonah wanted out of Nineveh. So he made himself a booth, then watch what happens: “He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.” Jonah just wants to watch. The language seems to indicate that he’s still hopeful that maybe God will bring about the destruction they deserve.

Many believe Jonah’s language about wanting to die was basically him saying, “God, either kill me or kill them.” This is interesting because back in Exodus 32, which we’ve mentioned multiple times, when Moses was interceding for God’s people who deserved his wrath, Moses actually prayed this in Exodus 32:31-32: “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” Moses offers himself as a sacrifice, basically saying, “Either save them or destroy me.”

Jonah, again, is doing the exact opposite. He’s not saying, “Save them.” He’s saying, “Either destroy them or destroy me.” Jonah is hoping that maybe Sodom and Gomorrah-like destruction is still a possibility. Maybe God will rain down justice on this wicked city. So Jonah waits. As he does, “The Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort.”

“The Lord God…” It’s interesting how at each of the critical points of this story, the whole title— “The Lord God”—is used.

  • Jonah 1:9: “And he said to them, ‘I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
  • Jonah 2:1: “Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish.”
  • Jonah 2:6: “I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.”

Now in Jonah 4:6, “The Lord God” —Yahweh, Jonah’s God— “appointed…” We’ve seen that word before in Jonah 1:17: “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.” This time it’s a plant. We’re not sure exactly what kind of plant this is, but clearly it’s sufficient to come up over Jonah and provide shade over his head from the raging heat of the sun. The symbolism here is thick.

Amidst the heat of Jonah’s anger, God is providing shade from the heat of the sun. Just as God appointed the great fish to save Jonah, now God appoints a plant to save him from—listen to this—“his discomfort.” Guess what this word translated ‘discomfort’ is in the original language. Boom. It’s ra. Evil, calamity/trouble. This word carries a double meaning throughout the book, so surely the author intends both meanings here. God wants to save Jonah from his physical discomfort—the distress, trouble and calamity he’s experiencing. At the same time, God wants to save Jonah from the spiritual evil and wickedness that fills his heart.

Again, the irony is so thick. Jonah is sitting here, outside an evil city, wanting calamity to come upon that city, while he’s ignoring the evil in his own heart and the calamity in his own life that God is mercifully wanting to save him from. The question is will Jonah get the point?

Well, verse six tells us: “The Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.” Exceedingly glad. This is the first time we see Jonah happy in the whole book. He wasn’t happy when God first called him to go to Nineveh. He wasn’t happy when the storm came. He doesn’t even say he was happy about the fish. He obviously wasn’t happy about God’s second call for him to go to Nineveh. Nor was he happy when Nineveh repented. But now Jonah is happy, and what is he happy about? He’s happy about a plant.

The language literally says, “Jonah rejoiced with great joy.” It’s the exact opposite of verse one in this chapter when Jonah was exceedingly displeased. Now he’s exceedingly glad. See the parallel. When God gave mercy to Nineveh, Jonah was exceedingly angry. When God gave mercy to him, Jonah was exceedingly happy. When God met Nineveh’s needs, Jonah was very, very mad. When God met Jonah’s needs, he was very, very glad.

However, verse seven says, “But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered.” Same word—‘appointed.’ God sovereignly appointed a fish, a plant and now a worm that attacked the plant. This is a militarily charged term here. The worm, as an instrument in God’s hand, “attacked the plant so that it withered.” God’s mercy was withdrawn and God wasn’t finished.

Verse eight: “When the sun rose, God appointed…” This is the same word we’ve seen over and over again—a fish, a plant, a worm. Now God has appointed “a scorching east wind,” coming from the desert. “…[A]nd the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint.” The word for ‘beat down’ here is the same as that militarily charged term ‘attacked’ in the verse right before this. So the sun attacked the head of Jonah, so that he was faint, exhausted and fully exposed to the heat. It’s like Jonah is fully exposed to God’s justice bearing down on him.

Again, Jonah “asked that he might die.” He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” This is the second time in this chapter that Jonah is saying this. It’s hard to tell based on the language, but earlier Jonah prayed to the Lord, “Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me.” Here Jonah is not talking to God; he’s talking to himself. The language is literally, “He asked himself to die.” He’s saying to himself, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

He’s not even addressing God. The first time Jonah said this was when he saw God’s judgment withdrawn from Nineveh. Now he’s saying this when he experiences God’s judgment in his own life. In other words, he wants judgment for them, so much he would die for it. And he wants mercy for himself, so much that he would die for it.

Jonah 4 Exemplifies God’s Mercy

Jonah has now turned completely inward, not toward God. He is preoccupied with himself and is choosing isolation from God over reconciliation with God. Yet God has still not given up on Jonah. God speaks to him in verse nine: “But God said to Jonah, ‘Do you do well to be angry for the plant?’”

This is the second time God responds with a question to Jonah’s request to die. And this question is very similar. In verse four, the Lord had said, “Do you do well to be angry?” Now again, “Do you do well” —are you right— “to be angry”—to be so flaming mad? With the repetition of this word here, the author is obviously highlighting this theme. “What right do you have to demand God’s mercy for you and God’s justice for others?”

This time, God adds, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” In other words, “Is it right for you to be angry for a plant?” God is luring Jonah into a display of the foolishness of his heart—and the hearts of the Israelites—and Jonah is taking the bait. God said, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” This time Jonah replies, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” He repeats the word twice. “I am angry, angry enough to die.”

Jonah just confessed that it was more important to him for a plant to live than for the people of Nineveh to live. It was more important for him to be comfortable than for them to be saved. Jonah’s self-centeredness is now fully on display. This is where self-centeredness leads. His last word in the sentence—and what will be his last word in the entire book—is literally death.

This sets the stage for God to have the final word, beginning in verse ten: “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.’” There’s an emphasis on ‘you’ here because the Lord is about to contrast himself with Jonah.

He said, “Jonah, you have pity. You feel sorrow for, you have concern for, you express strong emotion over a plant. Let’s think about your relationship for a moment with that plant. You did not labor for it. You did nothing to bring it about. You did not make it grow. It came into being in one night, then it perished.”

God uses the same word here that’s been used multiple times in the book. The mariners pleaded before God that they wouldn’t perish. The Ninevites pleaded with God so they wouldn’t perish. Now here’s Jonah, emotionally distraught and at the point of death—not over an entire population of people, but over a plant that has perished. Now the contrast is clear.

The Lord continues, “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city?” Or, “Is it not right for me to pity, to be concerned for, to feel sorrow and emotion for Nineveh?”

God says, “You question my righteousness, whether I’m in the right to be concerned about people whom I created, people whom I have made—not overnight, but over years—every single one of them from their mother’s womb, children and women and men?” Again, we’re seeing that God is not just God over Israel; God is God over all people in all nations. They all belong to him. They’re all of concern to him. This is such a significant point in this book.

Many Jewish people would have thought God is not concerned about them but that God possesses pity toward evil, wicked Gentile cities. So if you were to ask a Jewish person, “Should Gentile cities experience the pity of God?” they would answer with a resounding, “No.” But now that same ‘no’ is almost embarrassing to come out of somebody’s mouth. Nobody reading this story and seeing Jonah pout about a plant, saying, “I just want to die,” is thinking, “Yeah, I want to be like him.”

The human and divine author is exposing the foolishness of questioning the justice of God. “Do you really think it’s not right for God—the sovereign creator of all people—to not be concerned about the people he’s created?” “Should I not pity Nineveh?” Once again, it’s described as “that great city,” that significant, large, valuable city. Who is it valuable to? It’s valuable to God.

This leads for the first time to a God’s-eye view of the city. God says, “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?” Wow. These are two interesting descriptors to close the book.

First, “There are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left.” There’s some debate over exactly what this description means. Some think it’s a symbolic number, just representing a large number of people. For people at that point in history, the number 120,000 sounded huge. We’re used to cities of millions of people today, but that was not the case then. So however you understand this number, the impression you would have is that Nineveh was a massive city.

Some think 120,000 who don’t know their right hand from their left is a reference to the children in the city which would make the total population much larger than 120,000. This would mean the focus in this verse is again on how large the city was.

There’s a lot of evidence that this description is emphasizing more than just how big the city is because the phrase that’s used here is a Hebrew idiom that’s used in different places in the Old Testament to refer, not to children, but to ability to make distinctions and decisions based on God’s Word.
Over and over again in Deuteronomy—which is the recounting of God’s Law that he gives to his people—we see verses like this:

  • Deuteronomy 5:32-33: “You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.”
  • Deuteronomy 17:11, talking about the decisions of priests and judges whom God provides, says, “According to the instructions that they give you, and according to the decision which they pronounce to you, you shall do. You shall not turn aside from the verdict that they declare to you, either to the right hand or to the left.”
  • Then, once God’s people entered the Promised Land, God said in Joshua 23:6, “Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left.”

The Law of Moses

So we see this phrase about the right hand and the left in reference to the Book of the Law of Moses—God’s Word that he gave his people to show them how to live. And that’s just it. In Nineveh, they didn’t have that Book. They didn’t have God’s Law. They didn’t have God’s word. Now, we know from the rest of Scripture they had a law of right and wrong written on their hearts. God makes that clear in Romans 2:14-15: “When Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts.”

So it’s not that the Ninevites didn’t know right from wrong, or that they were innocent of wrong. That was clear at the end of Jonah 3 when the king declared that everyone turn from his evil way. They knew they had done evil. But what they lacked was God’s Word that told them what to do and how to live by faith in God. That was special revelation that only Israel had.

Follow this; this is so important. As a result of not having God’s Word, they didn’t know what they needed to do, until what happened? Until God sent a prophet to proclaim his word to them. They didn’t know what to do until God provided somebody to tell them what God was saying. “Repent or experience judgment.”

Do you realize what this means? Nineveh is a picture of unreached people in the Old Testament. Nineveh is a picture of people who were under the judgment of God in their sin, but they could not be saved from that judgment until somebody spoke God’s Word to them. God is saying, “Do you not think it’s right for me to be concerned about masses of people who haven’t heard my word?”

Now this is the second description and it’s curious that these are the last words God speaks in the book: “and also much cattle.” It seems that God mentions the cattle because his sovereignty over all creation has been highlighted at every point in this book. God is sovereign over wind and waves, fish and worms, plants and cattle. Don’t forget, even the cattle were part of the picture of repentance in Jonah 3. We saw similar language in Joel 2, which leads to the specific point here.

In the ancient world—and I would say in much of the contemporary world—livestock was extremely valuable to the people’s way of life and to their sustenance. So to put this in context, get what God is saying. He’s saying, “Jonah, you’re not concerned about hundreds of thousands of people, souls of children, women and men whom I’ve made? You’re not even concerned about their cattle, their sustenance, their lives? You’re passionate about a plant? Is it right for you to be passionate about a plant, but not for me, as God, to be passionate about a whole city of people and all the creation I’ve provided for their good?”

Thus the book of Jonah ends with a question mark. It’s one of only two books in the Bible that end this way. I’ll mention the other one in just a minute. But here our story ends with no resolution. The curtain falls and we have no idea what Jonah said or did. It’s pretty clear that the author closes this way because the point of the book is not what Jonah said or did, not how Jonah responded. If so, he would have included that. The point of the book is what we as the hearers are going to do with this story. How will you and I respond?

One writer said, “This question leaves the reader engaged and unable to be aloof. This masterful short story ends in a way that demands application in our lives.” Another says, “It is primarily the reader on whom God’s final words land, the reader who is left to ponder their meaning, the reader who must decide what action to take next.” The author of Jonah intends for us to end this book by examining our hearts and minds and lives.

So as we come to our final takeaways, I want to ask seven questions that I’ll run through fairly quickly right now. Then at the end of this journey, we’ll not do them justice. So I offer them here, but I challenge you to come back to them and really think through them, maybe even periodically. These are seven questions we need to ask in our own lives after reading the book of Jonah.

If we just walk away thinking, “Man, Jonah missed the point,” then we missed the point. We need to ask these questions in our own lives. I’m going to phrase these personally toward you, but just know that I’m asking the same questions in my own life.

1. Have you ever wanted (or even now, do you ever want) your way more than God’s will? Jonah clearly preferred his way over God’s will. What about you? How many times has God said to you, “Arise, do this,” then you’ve arisen and done the exact opposite? Or just stayed down?

How many times have you disobeyed God’s Word, fled from God’s presence or taken a downward spiral centered around yourself? How are you prone to do that even now? In what ways have you or are you even now resisting God’s will or God’s call in your life?

2. Are you inclined to settle for the comforts of people and places that are familiar to you instead of paying a cost to go to people and places that are foreign to you? That’s clearly Jonah’s story, but ask the question in your own life. How eager are you to go to people and places that are foreign to you?

I would add, especially if those people are threatening to you or perceived as your enemies? Are you eager to go to them or do you prefer to stay where you’re comfortable, around people and places you know? How often are you going to people and places that are foreign to you?

3. How often do you pray for and desire the good of other people (and countries) that may be considered your enemies (or enemies of your country)? Jonah obviously was not doing this. So if a picture of your prayer life was thrown on the screen right now, how often would your enemies appear?

More specifically, how often would countries and people groups in the world appear that may be considered enemies of your country? How often are you praying and interceding for God’s blessing and mercy on them? Do you sincerely desire their good, enough to offer up prayer for them? Do you want to see them flourish, or do you actually want to see them fail?

4. Have you ever questioned (at least in your mind) the justice of God or the mercy of God? As we’ve mentioned, the book of Jonah is in a sense a lot like the book of Job. It’s a picture of a man of God wrestling with the character of God. Romans 11:22 talks about the kindness and severity of God.

Do you ever see kindness toward wicked, evil people and think, “Why?” Or at least, “Where are you, God?” When this person does such evil and seems to prosper, do you not wonder why or how in God’s economy that is right?
Or do you ever see God’s severity, his judgment, and think, “Why?” Maybe when you think about pictures of his judgment on earth, or maybe when you think about the picture of his judgment in eternity in an eternal hell. Do you ever wonder, “Why?

For this person, this friend, this family member who is so good in so many ways, why, God, would they experience everlasting suffering in hell?” Have you ever questioned—or I should say, even now, do you ever question—the justice and or mercy of God , particularly how they go together?

5. Is it possible for you to know about the character of God, yet not show the compassion of God? Isn’t that part of the point of the book of Jonah? He said in verse two of chapter four, “I knew you were like this, God—gracious and merciful, abounding in love.”

Jonah knew about the character of God in his head, but the compassion of God was nowhere to be found in his heart. So is it possible for you to have good theology—a right biblical understanding of who God is and how God loves the world—yet not possess, much less show, that love for other people?

In what ways do you disconnect what you know about God’s character in your head from what you feel for other people in your heart and show other people in your life, particularly people who are hard to love or who are unloving toward you?

6. Do you sometimes care more about your earthly desires than others’ eternal destinies? Jonah cared more about a plant than the souls of an entire city of people. What about you? Are there things—possessions you own, pursuits in your life, pleasure you love—that you prioritize more than leading people to eternal life?

One way to honestly ask this question is to look at where your money goes. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). So what does your use of money show about where your heart is? Is your heart focused on your earthly desires or on others’ eternal destinies? And obviously not just money.

Look at your time, your attention, your affections. What do you spend the most time and attention on? What most excites your affections? Things in this world or the destiny of everlasting souls around you and around the world?

7. Then, speaking of affection and desire, the final question is this. What do you truly want more: a comfortable life in your nation or the spread of the gospel in all nations? We have looked together at one Bible book, one Bible character, but we could spend many more hours walking through the whole Bible to show that the global purpose of God has always faced resistance from the nationalistic people of God.

Over and over again, the people of God prefer the comforts of their own nation to the spread of God’s glory in all the nations. So ask yourself these questions. In your life, look at the evidence of your life. What do you truly want more: a comfortable life in your nation or the spread of the gospel in all nations?

We are Jonah

The point of all these questions is to lead us to two conclusions. The first I think—I hope—is clear by now to all of us. Ladies and gentlemen, we are Jonah. The book of Jonah is a mirror into our hearts, minds, lives, motives, desires, plans, dreams, struggles and sins.

I hope we all walk away from this time not thinking about Jonah’s foolishness, but our own flaws, weaknesses, tendencies to think and speak and act like Jonah. I trust we’ve seen this in many ways, but here’s the primary way I would summarize the problem in Jonah’s life—and the similar problem in all our lives: It is possible for us to receive the mercy of God yet resist the mission of God. Jonah was happy to receive God’s mercy, but he was totally resistant to God’s mission.

One of the questions I wrestle with most in studying the book of Jonah is why? Why was Jonah so glad to receive God’s mercy, but so resistant to God’s mission? Why are we so glad to receive God’s mercy, but so resistant to God’s mission? I wrestle with this honestly when I look in my own life and when I look at the church today.

We’ve already talked about it. There are over three billion people who have not been reached by the gospel in the world right now. They are like the 120,000 Ninevites who don’t have God’s Word, so they need somebody to come and share it with them. God has told us to share it with them and has clearly commanded us to make disciples of all the nations. So why are we not doing everything we can to get his Word to them and make disciples among them? Why was that the case in Jonah? Why is that the case in us?

Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to from studying Jonah. Some of this may sound harsh, but I want to say that I include myself in all of this. Studying Jonah has put a mirror up to my own heart and life—and to our collective hearts and lives as the church today. Left to ourselves, this is us and all of this is going somewhere. What we’ve seen in Jonah, and what we’re about to see in us, doesn’t have to be the end of the story. So hang with me and we’re going to see the solution. We need to identify the problem first.

Jonah 4 Thanks God for His Mercy

Based on the book of Jonah, I think there are four reasons why he and we can so easily receive mercy from God, while rejecting mission with God. Here they are.

1. Left to ourselves, we like our comforts. Jonah sure did. From all we can tell, Jonah loved his life in Israel, until God told him to go to Nineveh. That’s how the book starts, then the book ends with him loving the comfort of a plant which seems silly to us. We’re almost embarrassed for him when he says, “Yes, I do well to be angry; angry enough to die by not having the plant.” Start talking about taking away our comforts and we’re not very happy either. We like, we want, comfortable lives.

We like the comforts of people and places that are familiar to us, far more than people and places that are foreign to us, especially people and places that are offensive to us. If we’re going to be serious about making disciples of all nations, it will mean decreased comforts—and we don’t like that.

2. Left to ourselves, we lack concern for others. Now, I’m certainly not saying that none of us have any concern for others. But the data makes this point pretty clear about us. We had a whole Secret Church on the Great Imbalance, on how we collectively, as the church, spend most of our money and resources on ourselves. We give a small percentage of our money and resources to churches and ministries. We give an even smaller percentage of those resources to what we call “missions work” around the world.

Out of even that small percentage of money we spend on missions, approximately 99% of it goes to people and places in the world where the gospel has already gone. We spend approximately 1% of our missions money on three billion people who’ve never heard the gospel before. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:212).

Our hearts are not with people who have never heard the gospel. We’re giving relative pennies to get the gospel to them. Most of us aren’t praying for them. Most people in America go through their Christian lives hardly even thinking about them, if they even know about them. We lack concern for them.

So here’s the picture in Jonah. He built a booth outside Nineveh and waited for their destruction. So we build houses in America and wait for the destruction of unreached peoples. Of course, we would say we’re not waiting for their destruction, but if we’re not doing anything for their salvation, then aren’t we showing contentment with their destruction? We like our comforts and lack concern for the nations, specifically unreached people

This leads to the third factor. Again, I promise this is going somewhere hopeful, so hang with me. Let’s keep looking in the mirror, even when it’s hard. These last two are the heaviest of all.

3. Left to ourselves, we don’t like God’s commission. Clearly Jonah didn’t. He did everything he could to avoid God’s commission. Let’s just be honest, we don’t really like making disciples. We don’t really like sharing the gospel with people right around us, much less far from us.

Most Christians don’t rise up, go and share the gospel outside our front doors, so the chances of going other places in our cities or around the world, to hard places, to people who are different from us, maybe even dangerous to us is very slim. Most of us are functionally saying with our lives, “Not me.”

We may not be as deliberate and defined as Jonah was in his disobedience, but I don’t think you can look at our culture and the church today and say, “They really like making disciples of the nations. Christians have made it the central mission of their lives.” We don’t like God’s commission.

Ultimately, this is the core conclusion that studying Jonah leads to, in a way that I didn’t see coming until I really dove into this book. By the end, I’m convinced it is inescapable as a conclusion and it has major ramifications for why we’re resisting mission today.

4. Left to ourselves, we don’t like God’s character. This is what’s so bold in Jonah, when he says in chapter four, verse two, “God, I knew you were like this, that’s why I ran from you, that’s why I want to die.” Jonah cannot stand how God would save Assyrians who will one day destroy Israelites.

How is that just, God? How is that merciful toward your covenant people? There’s a sense in which Jonah wants to be God. Jonah wants to call the shots on who gets mercy and who gets justice. Jonah wants either to be God, or control God, or get God to do what Jonah wants him to do.

So what about us? Do we experience similar thoughts and have similar questions? Even concerns? I asked earlier, “Have you ever questioned the justice or mercy of God in light of things you see in this world or in light of things you’ve experienced in your own life?”

Let me give a couple of examples. Again, I want to tread very lightly here, because these examples are really heavy and I know it’s really late in this journey we’re walking on together. Just think about this with me.

Some of you know the story of Jeffrey Dahmer, who over a period of about 14 years murdered and cannibalized 17 men and boys—a completely heinous, horrifying evil. Yet some of you also know that a pastor befriended Dahmer in prison and supposedly led Dahmer to faith in Jesus.

Obviously God alone knows the state of a person’s heart, but this pastor was fully convinced, even by the fruit of Dahmer’s life after he came to faith in Christ, that he had genuinely believed in Jesus. So what do you think about potentially meeting Jeffrey Dahmer in heaven, while at the same time knowing where his victims are in eternity? Some questions start to rise in our minds about the justice and mercy of God.

Here’s another example. I think of all the military personnel at the church I pastor, many of whom have fought on the front lines of terrorism around the world where they have seen terrorists do horrible things. So picture a member, even a leader, in the Taliban, who has carried out evil, wicked crimes against people, but then comes to know Jesus. Imagine that Taliban leader in heaven, while some American soldiers who fought against that evil are in hell.

There is something in us, as sinful creatures, that has a hard time with a sovereign creator. There’s something in us that reacts against how God sometimes dispenses justice and mercy. Here’s why this is so important. We won’t participate on mission with God if we’re not in alignment with God.

Jonah was way out of alignment with God and after studying Jonah, I can’t help but wonder if we are too. Is there is part of us—and more a part of us than we prefer to admit—that really doesn’t like the thought of eternal justice in hell? Do we not like the thought of spreading undeserved mercy on earth? So we don’t do what God has so clearly called us to do. Maybe we prefer a God we can control? Maybe we prefer to be our own god? Maybe we want God to do what we want him to do. Conclusion number one: we are Jonah.

Jonah 4 Emphasizes that We need Jesus

This is the whole point. The Ninevites needed a savior. The Israelites needed a savior. Jonah needed a savior. Think about the things we’ve talked about. Jeffrey Dahmer needs a savior, needs Jesus. Those who are victims of his evil need Jesus. The Taliban needs Jesus. American soldiers need Jesus. You and I need Jesus. We need a savior. Praise God, someone greater than Jonah has come (Matthew 12:41):

  • Whereas Jonah reluctantly preached to sinners in need of God’s mercy, Jesus relentlessly pursues sinners in need of God’s mercy.
  • Jonah unhappily went to a city filled with his enemies; Jesus joyfully went to a cross for the sake of his enemies.
  • As a result of Jonah’s life, people in Nineveh were temporarily spared from the judgment of God. As a result of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, people from every nation can be eternally saved from the judgment of God.

Those people include you and me. I trust that what we’ve seen together has made clear that Jonah needed the mercy of God in his life. And that you and I need the mercy of God in our lives. Jonah needed—we need—someone who will bring our lives up from the pit.

Someone who will save us from death. Jesus went to the grave for us, in our place, and three days later he wasn’t swallowed up by a fish, he was raised up from the grave. See the justice and the mercy of God in Jesus, in his kindness and his mercy—his hesed. Jesus takes the holy justice we deserve upon himself, so that anyone in any nation might be saved from God’s wrath and dwell in God’s love for all of eternity.

We are Jonah and we need Jesus to save us from our sin, to transform us to live on mission with him. Think about Jesus’ initial invitation to his disciples in Matthew 4:19: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Do you see it? From the start of following Jesus, he makes us for mission.

He makes us for a mission that obviously doesn’t come naturally to us. In our Jonah-like sinful self, we like comforts, we lack concern, we don’t like God’s commission, we don’t even like God’s character. But Jesus makes us new creations, freed from sin and freed for an entirely new purpose on this planet.

Instead of searching for fish all over the sea, Jesus said to his disciples, “You’re going to spread the gospel all over the world. That’s what following me is all about.” Those were his first words to his disciples in the book of Matthew’ these were his last words to them in Matthew 28:18-20:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Left to ourselves, we’ll be like Jonah. We will resist this mission. Think about what happens when Jesus not only saves us, but also transforms us from the inside out. We need Jesus to so transform us that when we see wrong and/or we are wronged, we remember and reflect the mercy of God.

Let’s be clear. The Ninevites were evil and wicked; God said so from the start of the book. Left to ourselves in our sin, we react to that evil and wickedness in all kinds of ways. But Jesus transforms us to react in a totally different way, to remember his mercy toward them. Remember that Hebrew word ra, with its dual meaning? Remember that just as God possesses holy anger at their evils, he also possesses holy concern for their calamity.

We may wonder why God doesn’t act more swiftly in his justice. God actually tells us why he doesn’t in his Word as people were scoffing and saying Jesus won’t return to enact justice:

For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.

But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:5-9).

Do we hear that? Do we wish Jesus would return soon, like now? Yes. Do we want to see an end to all evil and injustice? Absolutely we do. We long for this. At the same time, what is God longing for? He longs for others to reach repentance. God is patiently calling evil, sinful men and women to himself. And praise God for that patience, with you and me.

Just think about it. Aren’t you glad Jesus didn’t come back before somebody shared the gospel with you and you believed? So remember his mercy toward you and them. God loves you. God loves the world. God longs for every person he’s created to reach repentance. There are eight billion of them on the planet today and God desires salvation for each one of them.

So even when you see wrong and/or are wronged, by the power of Jesus in you—by the power of the one who went to the cross on behalf of the very people who were killing him, by his power inside you—remember the mercy of God, then reflect it in your life. When you’re struggling to reflect God’s mercy, remember how God has been merciful to you. By the power of Jesus in you, reflect that mercy to them.

This is the grand theme of the Bible, the core message of our faith. God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” He’s “keeping his steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:6-7).

So God is just, which means secondly, we need Jesus to so transform us that when we see wrong and/or are wronged, we trust and wait for the justice of God. I should caveat this statement by saying we definitely don’t ignore God’s call for us to do justice according to God’s Word. But even as we do justice, we will still see wrong and we will still be wronged. So how does Jesus transform us when this happens?

I mentioned that Jonah is one of two books in the Bible that end with a question? Do you know what the other one is? Nahum. Do you know what Nahum is about? It’s a whole book about God’s just judgment being poured out on Nineveh. Listen to how Nahum starts, in Nahum 1:1-3:

An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh. The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.

Notice this description of God is really similar to Jonah 4 and Exodus 34, although Nahum includes the part that Jonah left out: that God will not clear the guilty. God will show his justice and that’s what the book of Nahum is about. At a later time, when the people of Nineveh turned back to their evil ways, God’s full justice was poured out on them. Listen to the last two verses of this book, Nahum 3:18-19:

Your shepherds are asleep, O king of Assyria; your nobles slumber. Your people are scattered on the mountains with none to gather them. There is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous. All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you. For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?

You’ll never guess what that last word in Nahum is in the Hebrew. There it is: ra. This question that ends with the Hebrew word for evil is intended to make this message crystal clear: God will ultimately judge evil—in Nineveh and in every nation. You can trust in the justice of God. When you see wrong and/or are wronged, by the power of Jesus, you can wait on his timing.

I think about the souls of the martyrs in Revelation 6:10. They’re crying out, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” God tells them to wait, which sets the stage for the end of the Bible, when all of heaven shouts, according to Revelation 19:1-2: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just…” This will be the conclusion that we will all come to in the end: God’s judgments are true and just.

So we need Jesus to so transform us that when we see wrong and/or are wronged, we trust and wait for God’s justice, as we remember and reflect on God’s mercy. How does this play out practically?

3. We need Jesus to so transform us that we pray intentionally for the good of other people (and countries) that might be considered our enemies (or enemies of our country). Remember Jesus on the cross praying this in Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus was praying for the good of his enemies.

Then, through the power of Jesus transforming us, as Stephen is being stoned, what does Stephen pray as he sees Jesus standing in heaven? Acts 7:60: “And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” This is the power of Jesus in us, even when someone is killing us.

Jonah 4 Reminds Us of Our Need for Jesus

So all the more, in any and every situation, for any and every person—especially people, people groups or countries that might be considered enemies—we need Jesus to so transform us that we are praying intentionally for the good of all people, even our enemies, knowing that God loves all people, even our enemies, and desires their good. Don’t walk away from this time in Jonah and let your prayer life look the same. Pray specifically and intentionally for the good of all the nations.

I would love to help you do that through the “Pray the Word” podcast every day. In just five minutes a day, we pray through God’s Word, almost always including a specific nation or people group in the world. Obviously you don’t need a podcast to pray intentionally for the good of all the nations and countries, including people who may be considered your enemies. As you do, let Jesus transform your heart to be more like his. But don’t stop there.

4. We need Jesus to so transform us that we give sacrificially for the spread of the gospel to all nations, particularly those with the least access to the gospel. We need Jesus to transform our hearts so we will sacrifice comforts in our nation for the spread of the gospel to all nations. So we sacrifice here in this world for the sake of souls in the world to come.

What if Jesus is actually directing your spending and giving? What would look different in your use of money? We obviously have opportunities to put this into practice as part of this Secret Church. May Jesus’ Spirit in us compel us to give sacrificially for the spread of his Word to places that have the least access to it in the world, now and in the days to come.

5. Then ultimately, we need Jesus to so transform us so we go willingly and gladly for the nations right where we live and wherever God leads. We need Jesus to so transform us to be willing to rise and go and make disciples of the nations, willingly and gladly believing this is what we’re made for. Jesus makes us for this, starting right where we live, in the great cities and communities where we reside right now. God has sovereignly placed each of us where we are right now for the spread of his mercy. So go and make disciples, right where you live and wherever God leads.

To be a Christian, to be a follower of Jesus, is to live in such a way that he can say at any moment, “Rise and go to ____________”—fill in the blank, then you replying, “I’m getting up and going.” Think about Jesus’ words to his disciples in Matthew 4:19: “Follow me.” He didn’t tell them where they would be going. They didn’t know where they were going, they only knew who they would be with—and that is enough. Go with the presence of the Lord, wherever he leads you.

Surely, with three billion people who have never heard the gospel, he’s calling more of us to rise and go to them. It would make no sense to study the book of Jonah and not at least pause and ask, “God, are you calling me to go somewhere else with the gospel? Are you calling me to make a change?”

Ask that question and truly listen to what God says, then obey, knowing he’s calling all of us to make disciples of the nations; the question is just where and how. So don’t leave the book of Jonah without willingly and gladly saying, “Jesus, I’ll go and make disciples of all the nations wherever you lead me, starting right now where I live.”

A Final Word

All this leads to a final word and question. The final word is the hope I want to leave you with and I want to make this as personal as possible to you. Here it is: Your disobedience does not have to be the end of your story. This is the good news of Jonah and the good news of the gospel. God is apparently not surprised when people whom he calls struggle with his call.

God is relentless in his pursuit of them. God is not just concerned about the accomplishment of his mission; God loves you and is concerned about the condition of your heart. His capacity to forgive you is greater than your capacity to sin against him because of Jesus.

Aren’t you glad your disobedience doesn’t have to be the end of your story? Let Jesus write your story, knowing that his exaltation will be the end of history. Yes, I’m using ‘history’ very intentionally as ‘his story’—as the story that belongs to the sovereign God who’s working all things together toward one end. We’ve already seen it twice, and here it is again from Revelation 7:9-12:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

The exaltation of Jesus the Son, to the glory of God the Father, is where all of history is headed. For eternity, we will sing what Jonah sang from the belly of the fish: “Salvation belongs to our God and to the Lamb!” Every nation, tribe, people and language will be there. This is where his story—history—is headed.

So I leave you with a question in Jonah-like fashion: Will your story align with the purpose of his story? Will your story align with the purpose of God’s story in history? God is calling you right now to live for his purpose, for the greatest dream, vision and goal in all of history. So how are you going to respond to his call in your life?

Ah, Jonah takes us all the way back to the very first verse. Just like the word of the Lord came to him, the word of the Lord has come to us: “Arise, go with urgency to the people around you and the peoples around the world, with the good news of my love and grace, so that when they repent, I will relent and Il show my salvation through you to the nations.”

That leads to how I want us to close this Secret Church. I want to thank you for making time to be a part of this. It says a lot about God’s grace in you to go through a journey like this. I want to close in prayer with a moment for you to come before God in your life. We’ve just focused hours on the Lord in Jonah.

I want to give you an opportunity to focus on the Lord and you. There’s a page at the end of the Study Guide with space to write out a prayer, and here’s the pray I want to challenge you to pray this: “God, as a recipient of your grace, I will do whatever you call me to do—no matter the cost—to get the gospel to people who have never heard it.”

Would you be willing to pray that? Not knowing what that means, whether God may leave you where you live now for the rest of your life, making disciples of the nations there, praying intentionally and giving sacrificially for the spread of the gospel to people who have never heard it, who don’t have access to it right now.

Or God may lead you to actually move to a place in the world where the gospel has not gone yet. What you’re saying in this prayer is, “My yes is on the table. Whatever you call me to do, no matter the cost, as one who has received your mercy, I will obey your mission. I am not resisting your mission.” If you’re willing to pray that, would you write this prayer out there in your Study Guide?

Obviously feel free to add to it if you want. I want to give you a few moments to write out a closing prayer to God, based on how he has spoken to your heart through this journey.

Then, I want to lead us all together in prayer. But take a moment, just between you and God right now. If you’re willing, write your prayer out to him. Let’s spend time with him, just between each of us and God right now.


Dear God, we praise you for your Word. There’s nothing like it in the world. We praise you for its beauty and power to transform lives. We praise you for how you’ve orchestrated every single word and phrase. We are so thankful for this time in Jonah and this time to learn about and pray for the persecuted church in Iran, as well as to give to gospel work there and other places where the gospel hasn’t gone.

Please, God, bless our giving. Continue to lead us to give, even beyond this moment, sacrificially for the spread of your Word among the nations. O God, we pray that the story of each of our lives would align with the story you are writing in the world, for the glory of your name, Jesus.

We pray that you would save us from the Jonah in us, that you would transform us, so that as recipients of your mercy, we indeed would do whatever you call us to do, no matter what it costs, to make disciples of the nations, to get the gospel specifically to people who have never heard it. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.


That means that the people with the most urgent spiritual and physical needs are receiving the least support. You can help change that!