Jonah 4: Selfish Righteousness

Jonah 4: Selfish Righteousness

Jul 29, 2023 3:35 PM
JonahChapter StudyAngerMental HealthRepentance and ForgivenessAssyria
Bible References

Jonah 4

Table of Contents
A podcast episode on this chapter is available (🎙️Jonah 4: The Unmerciful Believer).


Jonah 4 concludes the book of Jonah and it should be a time for rejoicing as the people of Nineveh have repented and God had chosen to honor their repentance with mercy. Instead, the book follows Jonah wallowing in anger about God’s decision.

Why is Jonah Mad?

Jonah is angry that God shows mercy on the people of Nineveh, but why? We aren’t given an explicit reason why, but there are a few possibilities that make sense given the context.

  1. Ninevah was the capital of Assyria, a rival of Israel. Jonah likely wanted to see harm come to them out of prejudice or as a form of “justice” in his eyes.
  2. One of my study Bibles suggests that Jonah was embarrassed that he spent time telling them a calamity would befall them, and it didn’t.[1]
  3. Perhaps Jonah thought their particular sin (or amount of sin) was to egregious to “let go.”

Bitter Rivals

When people do us wrong, we often have the desire to see them get what’s coming to them. While we may get the details—or even the larger picture—completely wrong, the desire to see justice carried out is within each of us. It is the strongest when we are the victim seeking justice against our perpetrator. It’s possible that Jonah saw Israel (and thus himself) as the victim and Assyria (including Nineveh) as the perpetrator. As such, he would be hoping God would destroy the city and show them a think or two.

We can be guilty of the same behavior. We may not call people enemies and rivals in our day to day life, but there are likely people we see as adversarial. It is easy to fall in to the trap of wishing harm on such people, especially if they have been the cause of harm to us. However, we are still to show mercy to and desire mercy for these people.


Jonah had been preaching doom and gloom for 40 days, only for there to be repentance and joy. I can definitely relate to the idea that Jonah would not want to look like “the boy who cried wolf.” Personally, however, I think Jonah’s proclamation that he might as well be dead is a bit over-dramatic for mere embarrassment. When you consider that not only could Jonah go home but the people actively petitioned The Most High God to change his mind, I don’t think people would have still viewed Jonah as a prophet.

Nonetheless, there is still a lesson to be learned from this possibility. Sometimes we are so determined to be right that we don’t care about justice or mercy. That is not how we should lead our lives. We should rather to be wrong and see someone saved than to be right and see them suffer.

A Worse Sin

People often rank sin, despite the Bible never doing such a thing. For example, the general public would probably consider murder worse than dishonoring your parents (though arguably, murder would probably constitute dishonoring your parents making the latter a subset of the former). In such cases we may believe we a person who has committed a sin we consider “the worst” doesn’t deserve mercy and repentance. However, this exact image represents what the Father does for each of us—we are all guilty of sin and none deserve His grace but it is freely given to any who will accept. Many verses remind us that we will be judged the way we judge others. If we are unforgiving and suggest someone does not deserve God’s mercy, the question will be why do we?

Undue Anger

My favorite verse from this chapter is verse 4 (repeated in verse 9):

But the Lord said, “Do you have a good reason to be angry?”

📚 Jonah 4:4 NASB

God calls out the absurdity of Jonah’s angry. Many times we get upset about things that have nothing to do with us. Should we be upset that someone else receives mercy? In Jonah’s case, we aren’t talking about a situation where he believes they received something that was owed to him instead. Jonah was granted mercy for his own disobedience in the first chapter, so he really has no reason to be angry! How often do we dwell in this mindset where we forget the grace and mercy shown to us in favor of trying to restrict grace and mercy from being shown to others? This is the behavior The Most High God is rebuking in this chapter.

To illustrate His point, God causing a plant to grow, providing shade for Jonah, then just as quickly causes it to die—prompting another “temper tantrum” from Jonah. There are two lessons we can get from God’s demonstration. The first is the point He explicitly makes: if Jonah is upset over the death of a single plant that sprung up overnight, why shouldn’t God care about the death of thousands of people living in the city? The second point is more subtle. Jonah is angry about something he did not create nor cultivate. God created the people of Nineveh, they belong to Him. It was His message Jonah delivered, and the repentance of people that made a difference. Jonah is irrelevant in the equation. Many times we elevate ourselves and insert ourselves in situations (perhaps out of pride) that have nothing to do with us.

References and Footnotes

  1. David Stern. The Complete Jewish Study Bible. pg. 835-836. 1998

Back to 📕Jonah overview

Other Pages to View

Bible Studies


Related Studies



Related Studies


Related Podcasts

Related Experiences


Related History

Dealing with the Devil (Pt. 3)
SatanWitchcraftPaulActs1 Corinthians2 CorinthiansRomansRepentance and Forgiveness
2 Kings 18-20: Hezekiah
2 KingsChapter StudyBabylonAssyriaBlessings & CursesFaithWealth
2 Kings 13-15: Elisha’s Death + 8 Kings of Israel
2 KingsChapter StudyMoabSyriaElishaAhaziah/JehoahazDeathAssyriaCaptivity
2 Kings 16-17: The Northern Kingdom Captured
2 KingsChapter StudyAhazAssyriaCaptivitySamariaTempleSyriaHosheaIdolatry
1 Kings 17-19: Elijah, Ahab, and Jezebel
1 KingsChapter StudyElijahJezebelAhabElishaIdolatryMiraclesMental HealthSyriaResurrection
Ecclesiastes 12: The Meaning of Life
EcclesiastesChapter StudyDeathRepentance and ForgivenessWisdom
Ecclesiastes 7: Wise Sayings
EcclesiastesChapter StudyWisdomDeathWomenAngerFalse Doctrine
Psalms 31-40
Chapter StudyPsalmsRepentance and ForgivenessCommunicationMessianic ProphecyBook 1
Proverbs 25-29: Hezekiah’s Collection
ProverbsChapter StudyHezekiahPridePovertyAngerMoney
Proverbs 10-22: More of Solomon’s Wisdom
ProverbsChapter StudyPrideWisdomAngerRepentance and ForgivenessWomenJusticeLyingCommandmentsRelationshipsMoney
Job 41-42: God’s Final Word
JobChapter StudyAnimalsWaterRepentance and Forgiveness
Job 15-21: The Second Responses
JobChapter StudyMental Health
Job 2-3: A Conversation with Friends
JobChapter StudyMental HealthRelationshipsDeath
Jonah 1: Running From God
Chapter StudyJonahWaterDavidAnimalsRepentance and ForgivenessMessiahFaith
Genesis 37-50: The 12 Tribes of Israel
GenesisChapter StudyJosephBenjaminLeviJudahRuebenSimeonZebulunIssacharGadDanManassehEphraimAsherNaphtaliRepentance and ForgivenessFamineEgyptWomenSexual ImoralityGenealogyIncestTamarDreams and VisionsIrony
Deuteronomy 1-4: The First Address
DeuteronomyChapter StudyMoabAmmonFalse Deities and ProphetsCommandmentsMosesRepentance and ForgivenessJoshua (person)
2 Chronicles 33: Manasseh & Amon
2 ChroniclesChapter StudyAmonManassehJosiahJudahFalse Deities and ProphetsRepentance and Forgiveness
2 Chronicles 28: Ahaz
2 ChroniclesChapter StudyOdedFalse Deities and ProphetsSyriaAssyriaDivision of IsraelEdomPhilistineAhazJotham
2 Chronicles 29-32: Hezekiah
2 ChroniclesChapter StudyHezekiahMusicPassoverDeathIsaiah the prophetAssyriaLevi
Would You Rather?: Betray or Deny
Would You RatherJudasPeterRepentance and ForgivenessLuke
1 Samuel 12: Samuel
1 SamuelChapter StudySamuelRepentance and Forgiveness
1 Samuel 15: Saul Sins
1 SamuelChapter StudyAmalakitesSaulRepentance and ForgivenessSamuel
Isaiah 28: Don’t Drink and Preach
IsaiahChapter StudyDeathSalvationRepentance and ForgivenessProphecyDrunkenness
Isaiah 17: Damascus/Syria
IsaiahChapter StudyJudgementProphecyAssyriaSyria
Isaiah 10: Woe to those Who Oppress the Poor
IsaiahChapter StudyPovertyAssyriaProphecy
Isaiah 6: A Glimpse of Angels
IsaiahChapter StudyAngelsRepentance and ForgivenessJudeEnoch
Isaiah 9: Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace
IsaiahChapter StudyEphraimManassehMessianic ProphecySatanJudgementRepentance and Forgiveness
Isaiah 1: Judgment for Israel is Coming
IsaiahChapter StudyCaptivityRepentance and ForgivenessJudgement
Numbers 35: Special Cities
NumbersChapter StudyMurderPovertyLeviRepentance and Forgiveness
Exodus 33-35: Repentance & The Second Set of Tablets
ExodusChapter StudyRepentance and ForgivenessClean and UncleanIsraelIntercessory PrayerFeasts & Holy DaysMoses
Exodus 32: The Golden Calf
ExodusChapter StudyFalse Deities and ProphetsMosesAaronCommandmentsRepentance and ForgivenessIntercessory Prayer
Do Not Kill
Joseph, son of Jacob
JosephMiracle BirthMental HealthGenesisCharacter Study
Genesis 4: Cain and Abel
CainAbelSacrificeMurderJealousyAngerGenesisChapter Study
Nehemiah 7-11: Restoration of Jerusalem
NehemiahChapter StudyTithesGenealogyRepentance and ForgivenessSalvationFeasts & Holy Days
Acts 9: From Saul to Paul
ActsChapter StudyPaulRepentance and ForgivenessHoly SpiritTheft
Acts 15: Disagreements in the Church
ActsChapter StudyPaulPeterLeadershipCommandmentsSalvationCircumcisionRepentance and Forgiveness
2 Samuel 13-19: Absalom’s Coup
Chapter Study2 SamuelDavidRelationshipsTamarWomenSexual ImoralitySexual AssaultRepentance and Forgiveness
Would You Rather?: Marriage vs. Singleness
Would You RatherRelationshipsLoveRepentance and ForgivenessHoseaPaul
PSALMS to God is a blog, podcast, and YouTube channel that discusses many topics and issues, always keeping YHWH as the anchor. Hosea 4:6 says “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”—here, the aim is to always ask questions and study to find the answers. You can keep up with new content by signing up for the weekly newsletter.