Jonah’s reaction to the transformation of the people of Nineveh shows a disregard for the purpose of his visit. Jonah knew that God wanted the Ninevites to repent and turn from their wicked ways, and yet, when they did, “it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry” (Jonah 4:1). Jonah was not interested in seeing a change, he wanted revenge.
In spite of his successful mission, Jonah was distraught. It is clear from his prayer that Jonah wanted a different outcome. Jonah prayed, “Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:3). What Jonah meant was that he thought the outcome was unfair. God was only supposed to care about the Israelites because they were his chosen people.
At the core of Jonah’s complaint, was a belief that the Israelites should be treated different than everyone else. Jonah did not want God to forgive the people of Nineveh. As Jonah was demonstrating, the Israelites had become proud and were taking advantage of their relationship with the LORD. God wanted Jonah to realize that his mercy was not exclusive, anyone could repent and be saved.
Jonah was convinced that the Ninevites repentance was not genuine. It says in Jonah 4:5, “Jonah went out of the city, and there made himself a booth, and sat under it in the shade till he might see what would become of the city.” Jonah expected that on day 41, the day after the people were to be overthrown, everything would go back to normal. Jonah thought as soon as the people had escaped God’s judgment, they would return to their evil ways.
The booth Jonah made for himself was a temporary shelter or hut constructed by weaving together tree branches or the leaves of a plant (5521). Jonah’s attempt to make himself comfortable while he waited made it seem as if the destruction of Nineveh was a spectator sport that Jonah was meant to enjoy. In spite of his calloused attitude, God indulged Jonah by causing a plant to grow over him that provided additional shade. Unfortunately, the plant was eaten by a worm the next day.
In a final attempt to bring Jonah to his senses, God demonstrated his sovereign control over Jonah’s circumstances by sending a hot east wind to drive him away, but Jonah would not relent. Jonah was determined to prove God wrong and could not accept that the people of Nineveh were worthy of God’s compassion. What Jonah didn’t understand was that God’s mercy was not a part of his covenant with Israel. Rather, it was a part of God’s covenant with Noah that applied to the whole world (Genesis 9:15-17).