R. Kent Hughes tells the story of a little boy guilty of misbehaving in the classroom. His teacher told him to go sit in a chair in the corner. The little boy did so, but then announced to the room: “I may be sitting down on the outside but I’m standing up on the inside.”
In the final chapter of Jonah, the prophet is “standing up on the inside” – and against God at that!
If his prayer in chapter 2 seems a bit self-centered, the prayer in chapter 4 confirms it. He hated the Assyrians and wanted nothing for them but death. He didn’t mind that the Lord, despite Jonah’s hatred for the Ninevites, caused shade to shield the prophet from the desert sun. But when the Lord took it away, Jonah was furious with God; furious for not obliterating the repentant city, and furious for not preserving the shade for himself.
God’s final words to the prophet are instructive for us. Jonah was concerned about something he had no connection to. He resented God’s concern for the children and livestock of Nineveh. He should be ashamed of himself.
And, of course, so should we, when we find ourselves more concerned with our own well-being than the well-being of others we may not like, but for whom God has a heart.