The Pouting Prophet

Title: The Pouting Prophet

Bible Book: Jonah 4 : 1-11

Author: Mark Adams

Subject: Discouragement; Trouble; Prayer; Anger at God; Disappointment



If you have a young child, you’ve probably read the popular children’s book called Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. It’s about a little boy whose day starts out bad and goes downhill from there. He gets gum in his hair and gets his sweater wet in the sink and he trips over his skateboard and doesn’t get a prize in his cereal box — and that’s all before breakfast! He could tell right away that it was going to be a TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY. Then he goes to school and his teacher doesn’t like his drawing of an invisible castle, he doesn’t get a dessert in his lunch bag and his best friend doesn’t want to be his best friend anymore. And after school his mom buys him plain white sneakers instead of the ones with red and blue racing stripes, his dentist finds a cavity in his tooth, there are lima beans for dinner, and he gets soap in his eyes when he takes his evening bath. In frustration, he finally says, “I think I’ll move to Australia.” If you’re like me you can relate to this book because we all have had days like Alexander…days when people treat us unfairly and nothing works out the way we want it to and by the time we fight our way home through bumper to bumper traffic…we’re just plain mad. Well, chapter four of today’s text begins with Jonah thinking he has just experienced one of those days and Jonah was angry, but not at things or even people. No, he was mad at God.

If you are our guest this morning, you should know that this is the final segment of a series of sermons on the life and ministry of the prophet Jonah. When we last left Jonah he had just delivered God’s message to the Ninevites. They responded by repenting of their wicked lifestyle and by putting their faith in God in what was the greatest revival in the history of the world and if the story had ended here, Jonah would have gone down in history as one of the world’s greatest prophets. I mean to preach and have hundreds of thousands turn to God is no small accomplishment. But this account of the life and ministry of Jonah the prophet DOESN’T stop here because this is not just a story about God’s love for the wicked Assyrians. It is also a story of His grace-driven love for an angry, pouting prophet…a very immature Hebrew preacher who thought he was having a TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD day.

You know when you look back at the story from this perspective you can see that in chapter one of this little book Jonah acted like the prodigal son but here in the fourth chapter he is acting more like the pouting elder brother. Jonah is not at all happy that the Ninevites have repented and come home to God. So, the story is not over because God’s work was not complete. The Ninevites were doing fine at this point-but not Jonah. He still needed work. You see, God is not satisfied with mere compliance to His will…which is apparently what He got from Jonah in chapter 3. What God wanted was for Jonah to value what He valued and God knew this has not happened yet. Take your Bibles and you’ll see what I mean as we look at Jonah 4, verses 1-11.

Jonah 4:1 – But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 – He prayed to the Lord, O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God Who relents from sending calamity. 3 – Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live. 4 – But the Lord replied, Have you any right to be angry? 5 – Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 – Then the Lord God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head and to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. 7 – But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. 8 – When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, It would be better for me to die than to live. 9 – But God said to Jonah, Do you have a right to be angry about the vine? I do, he said. I am angry enough to die. 10 – But the Lord said, You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 – But Niniveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?

Could you feel Jonah’s anger at the beginning of this chapter? He WAS steamed…not at his enemies, the Ninevites, but at God Himself. And to catch this you really need to back up and read the last verse of chapter 3 and then the first verse of chapter 1. Listen to the way the New Living Translation puts it, When God saw that the Ninevites had put a stop to their evil ways, He had mercy on them and didn’t carry out the destruction He had threatened. This change of plans upset Jonah and he became very angry. Well, Jonah then proceeded to prove that old statement that says, Man is angriest when he is the most wrong because he blew his top at God. He blamed Him for his own rebellious flight to Tarshish. He even threw scripture in God’s face quoting Exodus 35:6-7 but instead of using this familiar text to praise God, Jonah angrily uses it to complain and accuse. He says in essence, I left home because I knew You would do this, Lord! I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. I knew how easily You could cancel your plans for destroying these people!

Now, look closely at verse 4 which is God’s GENTLE response to Jonah’s tantrum. If I were God, I would have said something like, You want to see some fire and brimstone? Okay…here…enjoy! And I would have hurled a few tons of the stuff down on his sassy-mouthed head! But, thankfully, God is not that way. The Lord has a LONG FUSE where we are concerned. By the way, the verse Jonah sarcastically quoted is something Moses had written down some 500 years earlier when he was up on the top of Mt. Sinai conferring with God. You may remember that the people had thrown a party characterized by drunkenness and immorality.

These people whom God had just delivered from bondage in Egypt expressed their thanks to their Heavenly Father by worshiping an idol of a golden calf made from discarded jewelry. When God told Moses what was going on Moses came down from the mountain and angrily shattered the original copy of The Ten Commandments. Well God was ALSO angry and wanted to destroy the people…but in answer to Moses’ pleading on the people’s behalf, God reconsidered. He even promised to give Moses a new copy of the Ten Commandments. God took him back to the top of Mount Sinai, and before God began dictating these moral imperatives a second time, Exodus 34 says that He passed in front of Moses proclaiming,

The Lord…the compassionate and gracious God, is slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

Now, like any parent, God DOES get angry. But He puts up with a great deal before reaching His boiling point. He is PATIENT with us. When I was about 10 years old I was active in the R.A. program of our church. And I remember the seemingly limitless composure of our leader, Mr. Trap. He was the most PATIENT man I have ever met. His middle name must have been JOB! One Saturday about a dozen of us boys were involved in a work project in which we cleaned out the lot behind our church. We were using Mr. Trap’s pick up truck to haul garbage out of the area so the church could use the land for a softball field. All day long Mr. Trap let each of us have a turn driving his truck through the field and from the way we caused it to lurch and jerk, I know we must have burned out his clutch that day. Surely he was frustrated by our grinding inability to handle the shifting of gears but it never showed. He was soooo patient with us. Why? Because he knew we were just boys. He didn’t expect us to be more than we could be.

And God is patient with us for the same reason. As Psalm 103:14 says, …He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are but dust. As our compassionate Creator, God understands our tenuous nature and factors in our frailty when He weighs His responses to us…which is why instead of a rebuke of fire and brimstone, God patiently asked Jonah a question: Is it right for you to be angry? Now, the word here that God uses for angry literally means to burn so what God really said, was, Jonah, do you have any valid reason to be so HOT UNDER THE COLLAR? Well, Jonah’s only response at that point was to stomp off up into the hills where he could have a clear view of the city of Nineveh. Understand, this is the second time Jonah has fled his area of ministry. He fled to Tarshish in chapter one rather than do what God wanted him to do and now he head for the hills when he should have been helping the newly repentant Ninevites to learn more about the God Who had so lovingly spared their city.

When Jonah reached an elevation where he was high enough to see all of Nineveh proper he built himself a little lean-to using some leafy branches…something to shield himself from the severe desert heat, which was pretty much a necessity because the average temperature in that region was between 110 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, it was not a good place to allow yourself to get hot under the collar!

Well, Jonah got as comfortable as he could and then he proceeded to sit there and look down on the Ninevites, thinking, Just watch God! They are going to go back to their wicked ways…You’ll see! You can never trust a Ninevite. Once a Ninevite, always a Ninevite. I’m going to sit here until they slip and then force You to admit that You were wrong about these pagans! You’ll see that I am justified in my anger at what You have done! In other words Jonah trained his eyes on the Ninevites when he should have been examining himself. Like many of us, he was more concerned with the splinter in his neighbor’s eye than he was about the two by four in his own eye!

Well as the day dragged on the leaves on the branches of his shelter dried up and began to fall off. And because of this Jonah began to get very hot. Perhaps adding to his discomfort were the sounds of the Ninevites in the city below continuing to mourn and pray to God in repentance! At this point verse 6 says that God caused a vine to grow up and provide shade for Jonah, to ease his discomfort. Now, the Hebrew here literally says, to deliver him from his evil which means that even this vine was just a tool in God’s hands to free Jonah from his sinful attitude.

Verse 6 also says that, Jonah was very happy about the appearance of this vine. In fact it is the only time in the entire book that this grumpy prophet is happy about anything. Maybe his mood improved so because he thought this shady vine was an indication that God was coming over to his side. But, God was not done. He interceded once more and performed another miracle. This time instead of summoning a huge sea creature, He called forth a tiny worm to eat the root of the vine, causing it to wilt and ruin Jonah’s shelter. Then He threw another storm at Jonah. This time it is a desert windstorm known a Sirocco. Now, when these winds blow in the temperature rises dramatically, and the humidity drops quickly. It’s like being inside a convection oven. The Septuagint accurately translates this sudden wind as a scorcher. It is almost as if God says, Okay, Jonah if you’re so up on being hot under the collar, here’s a little help. Then, as Jonah’s frustration builds, God said, Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?

Jonah angrily retorted, Yes, I do…even angry enough to die!

At this point God has Jonah where He wants him. God has used this vine and worm and wind as tools to show Jonah the absurdity of his demeanor to help him understand his own confused heart…to help Jonah realize that he is so full of self-pity that he has no pity left over for the repentant Ninevites. Well, when the vine withered Jonah’s temper flared again and so God said in essence, You are angry about this plant that is pretty much here today and gone tomorrow but Nineveh has more than 120,000 children. If you can be concerned about something as trivial as a plant, should I not be allowed to be concerned about something as important as these people-not to mention their livestock?

This part of the story reminds me of a time I heard Tony Campolo speak at a pastor’s conference in Suitland, Maryland a few years ago. As part of his message he angrily said, Yesterday 30,000 children around the world starved to death and you don’t give a ‘blankety blank.’ And I remember thinking, Oh…Tony…you shouldn’t have said that. You’re only going to get these ministers mad at you. And I could see that they were indeed angry at his cursing. But then just as all of us had moved up to the edge of our seats in sort of a defensive posture Campolo said,

…The sad thing is you pastors are more upset that I said ‘blankety blank’ than you are that 30,000 children starved to death yesterday. Well a silence descended over the room and almost in unison all of us slunk back into our seats thinking, He’s right! O God, how did our priorities get so mixed up? When did we become so calloused to human need?

Well, it is in an awkward silence like this that the book of Jonah ends. God had the first word in this story and now He has the last word as well. Jonah doesn’t reply. He couldn’t because like me and the other ministers in Suitland, he was too busy taking his foot out of his mouth. By now even he could now see how off base he has been. So, God got through to old Jonah in the end. In fact I believe he wrote this no-holes-barred autobiographical book and ended this way to show his repentance. One of Michelangelo’s paintings on the walls of the Sistine Chapel is called The Prophets and the Apostles…because in it he attempted to capture the faces of the great heroes of the Bible. Art critics say that of all the faces Michelangelo illustrated in this work, none had a more radiant countenance than Jonah. He painted old Jonah this way because he was convinced that Jonah did see his sin and change. Michelangelo believed that Jonah became a communicator of grace to his own nation through writing his book and his continued preaching as a prophet of God.

Now, if we were honest with ourselves here…I think we’d have to admit that there is a little Jonah in all of us. So, as Jimmy Draper has said, Our concern should not be whether a man can live inside a fish, but whether the spirit of Jonah lives inside of us. You see, at one time or other in our life each of us have rebelled against God just like Jonah did. We have refused to do things God has told us to do. We have done things He told us not to do. We have also had our own priorities mixed up. Like Jonah we have frequently been more concerned about our own physical comfort than about God’s purposes. And, as Jonah did in this last chapter, many of us have also willfully fanned the flames of anger…even anger that is directed at God Himself. This is because anger is possible in any relationship-even a relationship with our Creator. In fact, the closer you are to someone-the more passionate you feel about each other-the more likely you are to get mad at some point.

Maybe you are here today and have been mad at God due to the seeming unfairness of life. Or maybe you have loved ones or friends….good, God-serving people, who have suffered in life. Perhaps you had children who have endured great pain or even died prematurely. Like Jonah, many of us have at times had misplaced expectations of what God ought to do, and when He didn’t do what we thought He should, we got mad. So the question is not, SHOULD we get mad at God? The question is, What should we do with our anger? How should we handle it?

Now, the very idea of getting mad at God is enough to make some people feel very uncomfortable. I think I am noticing several of you shifting in your seat about now. Many of us feel that somehow it is not right to be angry at God…the very idea seems blasphemous. Others are afraid to admit their angry feelings because they are intimidated by what they hear from some Christians. They’re given the impression that being angry toward God is the unforgivable sin.

They’re told, Look, no matter what happens, just thank God and keep praising Him and keep a smile on your face at all times, because God has a wonderful plan for your life and He doesn’t need you second-guessing it. In other words, if you don’t feel like smiling at God-fake it. Now…because of all this we have a problem. On the one hand, we have the fact that at times in life many of us are angry at God and on the other hand we have the fact that many people think it’s totally unacceptable to be angry at God. So what’s the natural result? The result is that people paper over their emotions. When they experience anger because they feel like God’s being unfair or silent or unresponsive, they stuff that emotion down deep and paste a phony smile on their face. And yet that just aggravates problem, because when you bury your anger, you bury it ALIVE. It doesn’t go away; inevitably, it crawls out in other forms.

Think about it in terms of your relationship with your spouse. If you’re angry at something he or she did and you don’t deal with the anger, what happens? Communications stops, doesn’t it? Because we don’t like talking to people we’re mad at. We give them the silent treatment-We withdraw. And, eventually if nothing is done we begin to feel distant from our spouse. Well, the same is true in your relationship with God. So ask yourself a very important question this morning. Could the reason you have stopped praying and reading the Bible or enjoying worship be due to your unexpressed anger at God over some perceived injustice or unfairness? Maybe you secretly blame Him because you married a man who said he was a Christian and he ended up to be abusive or he walked out on you. Maybe you harbor a lingering resentment because your parents divorced when you were a youngster or a loved one suffered and died, and God didn’t stop it. Maybe you’ve accused, convicted, and sentenced God because you feel He has let you down at a crucial time. Or maybe you’ve had a TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD LIFE, and you blame God because you think if He really cared, He’d do something about it.

Well, if that is true then listen. One thing we can learn from Jonah is that it’s okay to express our honest emotions to God, even when we’re angry. Actually, it can even be advisable. As theologian Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian has said, God is a big boy. He can handle your anger. It won’t threaten Him or diminish Him or embarrass Him, and, really, it won’t even surprise Him, since as Psalm 44:21 says, He already knows the secrets of our hearts. You see, when we’re dealing with the pain and confusion and frustration over the difficulties and seeming unfairness of life, God understands. He knows we’re people with messy emotions who live in a messy world. I mean, He created us. He sent His son to live among us. I’m not saying God deserves our anger. I’m not saying He’s done something wrong or is somehow at fault or that our anger is justified. I’m just saying He understands our anger. He understands when our pain causes us to be unreasonable and accusatory and confused. And like a true friend, He wants us to bring it to Him and talk it out. God is compassionate, not condemning. So we should feel free to be honest in our relationship with Him ﷓﷓ even to the point of being painfully honest.

The Bible records that this is what the heroes of the faith did. Listen to the angry words of Moses in Exodus, chapter 5, verses 22 and 23: O Lord, why have You brought trouble upon these people? Is this why You sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has brought trouble upon these people, and You have not rescued Your people at all! God’s spokesman, Jeremiah, actually accused God of deceiving him and said his life had become so unbearable that he wished he had never been born. And King David didn’t shy away from venting his frustration toward God either. Listen to the way Psalm 13 begins: How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O Lord my God!

Do you see? These men were honest. They expressed their real feelings to God instead of pasting on a superficial smile. And guess what? God didn’t destroy them for it! On the contrary, He included their angry words in the Bible for us to read and gain confidence that we, too, will find God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness. - even when we’re venting our anger at Him. Well, back to my question. What should we do when, like Jonah, we are mad at God? Lee Strobel (to whom I am deeply indebted for this portion on being angry at God) suggests three things:

I. First of all, PRAY IT THROUGH.

This is a difficult step to take because as I said a moment ago when we’re mad at someone, our natural inclination is to pull back and avoid talking to them. Like Jonah, when we are angry with God we give Him the silent treatment. And yet that just makes matters worse because we’re cutting ourselves off from the very God who can comfort us in the pain and confusion that sparked our anger in the first place. So, as Mark Mittelberg says, If you don’t feel like praying, talk to God about it. In other words, go to God and say, I don’t feel like talking to You, and here’s why… and then finish the sentence. Or say, God, I feel mad at You right now, and here’s the problem… and keep on going. When you pray forget formality; forget the thees and thous. Forget complete sentences. Forget trite phrases and clichés. Forget the phoniness. And, if you need to, forget trying to hold back the tears. Just be brutally honest. If you can’t pray…write God a letter but tell God how you feel! You see, anger towards God causes us to slip into sin when we try to hide it from Him. God isn’t afraid of your honesty. He can heal your heart but only if you speak truthfully. Remember honesty breeds intimacy. It deepens and strengthens a relationship. After you’ve honestly and openly worked through your anger or disagreement with your spouse don’t you feel closer? One man who had been a Christian for 17 years, said he got mad at God because of the deep sadness he felt over a personal loss. Listen to his words:

I was driving somewhere and pounded my fist on the steering wheel and dash of my car and yelled at God for forcing me to give up what I had lost. I cried and I grieved. It was only after that…that I was able to talk to God in a more controlled manner.

Now, as you PRAY IT THROUGH, don’t make Jonah’s mistake. I mean he vented his anger at God but for him prayer was a one-way conversation. He didn’t stop to listen for God’s reply…You see in listening to God you discover that when you pour out your raw feelings He doesn’t strike you down but instead He extends His compassion to you. You come to see that God is on your side. He isn’t watching from afar in a callous and disinterested way. If you listen, God will remind you that He has already made the choice to voluntarily join us in our pain through the suffering and death of His Son on our behalf. As one author said: In Christ, God suffered alone, utterly and completely alone, so that you and I would never have to suffer alone.

After this time of honest prayer, that kind of realization begins to take root again. In fact, remember a few minutes ago when I read King David’s anger and anguish at the beginning of the 13th Psalm? After he got that off his chest, he finished that psalm by saying: I trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me. You see, David needed to process his anger first before he was then ready to reacquaint himself with God’s love for him ﷓ and the same is true for us. So first, pray it through, and, second,


By that, I mean spend some time to think through what’s behind your anger toward God. I believe Jonah did this after God asked him that last question and, as he thought through all that had happened he realized how selfish and foolish he was being…that he had been trying to control God like some cosmic genie. He saw that the plant’s purpose was to teach him that his priorities were all mixed up. Jonah saw how gentle God had been with him and how steadfast His love had been in spite of his childish behavior.

And when we are angry with God we need to do the same thing. We need to stop reacting emotionally long enough to rationally process what is happening. You know many people who stop and think realize that they’re mad at God because they believe He broke a promise-when the truth is God never really made that promise in the first place. For example God has never promised that following Him would always be a pleasant problem free journey. In fact, Jesus came right out and said in John 16:33 : In this world you will have trouble.

So pray it through, think it through, and, finally,


Don’t be like Jonah and go off alone by yourself. Get with other Christians, especially those who have endured tough times and walked the same road of anger and confusion that you are on. I think this is one reason Hebrews 10:25 says we must NOT forsake, meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but [must] encourage one another… Meeting together has tremendous benefits as many of the Sunday School classes here at Redland has discovered. For example, our single mothers class is made up of women who have had a lot of tough times in life…enough to make anyone feel angry at God…but they come together to encourage and help one another….to study God’s Word remind each other of His promises. I believe they have found that there is great healing in talking with others who have suffered the same pain you have. Friends, that’s what Christian community is all about.

Well, when you feel angry at God and you pray it through, think it through and talk it through, you get past the stage where your hand is balled into a fist toward God and it gradually opens up to an outstretched hand reaching out for His help. When this happens He pours His courage and peace into your life.

I remember a time a few years ago when I was angry at God. It was after my first year as your pastor and at that point I honestly wasn’t doing to good at learning to deal with the unique stress that comes with this job. But I promised myself that if I could just hold on a few more months vacation time would be here and I’d gather the family and we’d head for the beach to rest and enjoy each other’s company. On the way we planned to spend a few days in Williamsburg, Virginia but on the second day I wound up in the hospital suffering from a very painful intestinal blockage. I had to have surgery and all this pretty much torpedoed our vacation that year. I remember crying out in anguish to God saying, “If I ever needed a break God, You know it is now. Why have You allowed this to happen to me? I mean instead of rest, You have added extra stress to my life.” But as I lay in that hospital bed and listened to God, I realized prideful it was for me to expect a pain-free life. As I thought through all that had happened throughout my life…as I talked about this with Sue and others..I came to see that God was faithful to me. He had put at my disposal His limitless strength to enable me to deal with stress. I learned that as Paul said, God’s power is perfected in weakness. …that my goal as a pastor should not be to achieve self-sufficiency but God-sufficiency. In addition to all this understanding God gave me great doctors to take care of my physical problems…But best of all He gave me Himself. He hovered around me like a devoted parent helping me to learn how to cope. Through that experience I have come to see that it is better to endure storms in life WITH Christ than to sail calm waters without Him.


Now, life is full of things that can cause us to feel frustrated and the wonderful news of the Gospel is that God stands ready to tenderly equip us to deal with these tough times. All we have to do is ask and this morning you may need to do just that. You may even want to come to the altar here and pray and be honest with God. God may be leading you to join our church so that you can have other Christians to help you understand and bear life’s burdens. If you are here today and are not a Christian then you have been coping life all on your own…if that is true then I encourage you to commit today to becoming a follower of Jesus. Repent of your sin and ask Him to come into your heart and life. I encourage you to make any of these decisions public by walking an aisle now and sharing them with me or Steve as we stand now and sing.

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