God’s Word for You
Jonah 4:1 He became angry about it
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, January 5, 2019
4 But this was displeasing to Jonah, very, very displeasing, and he became angry about it.
Here in the Hebrew text, the verb wa-yera is either “he was displeased” or “it was displeasing.” Since it is followed by “to Jonah” (el-Yonah), I have taken the verb as impersonal, “it was displeasing.” Hebrew is poor in adjectives and adverbs, so a noun, ra’ah “bad, evil, displeasing” follows, which I have translated “very displeasing,” but this is followed by gadol “much, large,” and so we have “very, very displeasing.” Since ra’ah also means “evil,” we have an underlying tone: To Jonah, God’s actions were “evil; very, very evil.” So much for the translation.
Why was Jonah very, very displeased? He wanted God to act the way he, Jonah, wanted, not the way God wanted. He didn’t think that someone who was so miserable a sinner as a Ninevite could be forgiven. He wanted them all to be crushed, destroyed, and condemned to hell.
Jonah’s attitude here is like many people today, even many Christians, who don’t think that there is any power in the Word of God. There is a profound irony here that Jonah’s belittling of the power and truth of Scripture is precisely the same attitude that makes his own story so difficult to swallow for so many people today. Those who reject the truth of God’s word and the power of the Word of God generally select the story of Jonah when they begin to tear down the edifice of the Inspired Word of God. They see Jonah’s story as humanly impossible, and so they discard it.
This is seen today in Protestant Churches that reject the absolution or public forgiveness of sins in worship. The general view of the Bible for so many of them is that the Bible itself is “nothing but (a) mere representation and teaching and in itself ineffective” (Hoenekce IV p. 211). These things are completely intertwined, since Jonah disputed God’s ability to forgive the Ninevites when they repented. Is God not omnipotent? Is God incapable of doing the things he promises to do? God commands pastors and, indeed, Christians in general, to forgive one another when they repent. Listen carefully to Jesus’ answer to Peter:
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” (Matthew 18:21-22).
When this forgiveness takes place—nearly every Sunday in Lutheran worship—the one who is forgiving is really God. He is working through the pastor, but the pastor is working the means established by God in the Word of God.
Jonah, by becoming angry with God, betrayed his sin against the First Commandment. He wanted to withhold from his congregation the divine result of the proclamation of law and gospel. God tells us that his word always works: “It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). The Psalm says, “When I was in great need, he saved me” (Psalm 116:6), and who is in greater need than the sinner who doesn’t even know he has sinned, who doesn’t even know Christ? To have a preacher like Jonah show up, proclaiming the word of God, bringing about the change of heart that is repentance, is miraculous. Jonah’s anger with God shows that the power of God’s work is not in the thoughts or actions of the minister, but in God himself; in his holy word.
Thank God for your pastor and his work, but thank God also for his word, for all the power of God there among us. If God forgives someone you think is a sinner, rejoice! He forgave you, too.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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