The Lord’s Question


We’ve looked at Jonah’s sinful response and ungodly prayer found in Jonah 4:1-3. We now turn to the Lord’s question to Jonah in verse 4, “Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry?”

The LORD sees the sinful and unjustified anger of his prophet and He hears his sinful request to die. Instead of granting him his wish and killing him on the spot, the LORD gently speaks to Jonah about his problem of sinful anger. And instead of severely chastising and rebuking him, the LORD asks him a simple question, “Doest thou well to be angry?” Or “Have you any right to be angry?”

We call this a rhetorical question because no answer is expected or required. Of course it was not right for him to be angry. The purpose of the question was to get Jonah to pause and to do some serious reflection and consideration.

Jonah was angry about the fact that God was not angry with Nineveh. His anger arose out of God’s lack of anger. Quite clearly, Jonah’s anger and God’s anger were out of sync. They were not aligned or in harmony, which ought not to be. If God was not angry with Nineveh anymore, then neither should Jonah be. To be angry at someone when God Himself is not angry with that person is to pretend to be more righteous and just than God, and to pretend to know better than God how one should respond.  

And so the Lord was really saying to Jonah, “If I, as the infinitely holy, just and righteous God, am not angry with Nineveh, what right do you have, as a mere man, to be angry with them?” So Jonah’s anger was not right in light of the sovereignty of God. God can do whatsoever He wishes, including pardoning and sparing the wicked sinners of Nineveh.

Rather than challenging His will, Jonah ought to have bowed before God in humble submission and to have acknowledged with the Psalmist, “For I know that the LORD is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places.” (Psalm 135:5-6)

He ought to have said as Abraham said many years ago, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25)

But Jonah’s anger was also not right in light of his recent experience of God’s grace and forgiveness.

How could Jonah resent God’s mercy upon the Ninevites when he himself had been a recent recipient of that same mercy? How could he who had been so recently forgiven not be willing to forgive others?

Well, there is no question that the Lord was being very gracious, merciful, patient and kind towards Jonah at this point. Jonah was unjustly angry with God and he even had the audacity to challenge His sovereign will and action. But rather than responding with holy and just anger at Jonah’s sin, the Lord sought to graciously reason with him and to teach him the right way. 

Now how did Jonah respond to this gracious word and question from the Lord? Not very well. Rather than seriously reflecting upon his ways and repenting of his ungodly attitude, Jonah persisted in his defiance and rebellion against God.

Verse 5 tells us that he went out of the city to wait and see what would become of the city. In our next article, we will see how the gracious and merciful God goes out in pursuit of His straying sheep to bring him back to Himself once again.

But as we close, I’ll like us to consider two simple thoughts.

Applications

First, let us be angry about the right things. Our text begins in verse 1 with Jonah exceedingly angry about something and it ends in verse 4 with the Lord confronting Jonah about the rightness of his great anger. There is nothing wrong with anger itself. In fact, there are times when we ought to be angry. But the problem with us is that many a time, we get angry for the wrong reasons and we do not get angry for the right ones.

Jonah was angry at the repentance of Nineveh and the Lord’s subsequent withdrawal of His threatened judgment upon them. Jonah ought to have rejoiced and praised God when sinners turn from their sins. Instead, his pride, selfishness, provincialism and failure to reflect on God’s recent goodness to him prevented him from responding rightly.

The first chapter of the book of Jonah opens with Jonah’s sinful flight from the will of God. The last chapter of the book opens with Jonah’s sinful anger at the mercy of the Lord. In both these failures and sins, Jonah points us to the One who never once failed.  

The Lord Jesus was perfect in His obedience to God’s will and the Lord Jesus was perfect in the way He reacted and responded to things. During His earthly life, He exhibited anger at times but it was always a just and righteous anger. The Lord Jesus was angry and zealous for the glory and honour of His Heavenly Father. Thank God for the righteous anger of Christ for that too is part of His perfect obedience to the will of God.

If Christ had not been angry at the right things and at the right time, then He would not have lived a perfect life, and we would not be saved from our sins. He was angry and He sinned not.

We ought to be angry when we see or hear the name of God being taken in vain and His honour being trampled upon. Sadly, many of us have become immune and indifferent to that. But then when it comes to our name and our honour and our pride that is being trampled upon and when we do not get our way, then we respond in great anger and indignation.

O how we need the sanctifying grace of God in our lives to make us more like Christ in terms of our anger. O that the Lord, by His Spirit, would enable us to be angry about the right things and to put aside all sinful and unjust anger.

The second thing we learn from our text is that a knowledge of God’s attributes ought to lead us to godly thoughts, words, actions and reactions.

Jonah was right that the God whom He served was a gracious, merciful, patient and kind God who is pleased to turn away from inflicting judgment upon people. He had a sound understanding of these attributes of God. Sadly though, he did not act or react in a way that was consistent with that knowledge. Furthermore, he did not act consistently with his own experience of those attributes of God. There was a sad gap between his doctrine and his application, between his understanding and his practice.

But isn’t it true that all of us likewise have great gaps between our knowledge and our living? We know that our God is compassionate and forgiving and we ourselves have experienced His great compassion and forgiveness. But yet, we often do not find it in our hearts to be compassionate and forgiving to those who have offended us. We know that our God is sovereign and that He always does what is right. And yet we often murmur and complain about our lot in life, and we look with envy and jealousy at others who appear to have a better lot than us. We know that our God is slow to arrive at anger and full of patience and yet we are often quick to wrath and very impatient with others. We know that our God is well-pleased when sinners repent of their sins and turn to Him and yet we are often so slow to rejoice in the conversion of sinners and to seek the salvation of those who are still lost in their sins. We know that our God is faithful, good, truthful, loving, gracious, merciful and so on, and yet we often fall far short of His glory and fail to properly represent or image Him to the watching world.

But once again, the existence of gaps in the life of Jonah and in our own lives must point us to the Lord Jesus Christ, the perfect man, who never for a moment had a gap in His doctrine and practice. He never once acted and thought inconsistently with who God is and with what God required of Him.

Dear friends and brethren, our only hope and help is found in Jesus Christ the righteous. Look to Him to save you from all your sins and to deliver you from all remaining corruption, including the many gaps between our knowledge and our lives.

—Linus Chua