4 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing 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, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
4 But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
(Jonah 4:1-4 NIV)
Last time we walked through Chapter 3, as God gave Jonah a second chance to obey. God called Jonah once again to go preach to the Ninevites, and Jonah obeyed. After Jonah’s first day of preaching, the entire city, including the king, repents and turns to the Lord. God then spares Nineveh the punishment He had for them because they repented and turned to the God of the Hebrews.
So what would your attitude be if you preached to a wicked city, and after the first day, the entire city turned to the Lord? You and I would likely be amazed, be jumping for joy, and worshiping the Lord with all our might, praising Him for what He had done!
So what was Jonah’s attitude to Nineveh repenting, and to God’s relenting of the destruction He had planned?
Jonah was MAD!
Jonah’s response gives us some insight into the tone of his message to the Ninevites. Jonah’s words were not a proclamation of love, but of hatred and disdain. Jonah didn’t want the Ninevites saved; he wanted them dead.
Jonah knew God quite well – and we see Jonah’s reasoning for his earlier disobedience as he prayed:
“Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing 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.” (v. 2)
How quickly Jonah had forgotten his earlier prayer from inside the fish (2:1-9), pleading for God to rescue him, begging for God’s grace and mercy.
Notice how many times Jonah says “I” in verse 2… sounds like Jonah was having a pity party, doesn’t it?
Of course, you and I would never be so inwardly focused and self-absorbed, would we?
In verse 3, Jonah tells God to just kill him; he does not want to go on with life. I think the translators were being kind to Jonah here. In reading several scholars, it seems that Jonah’s attitude and sentiments were more like “Rescue Nineveh over my dead body, God!”
Just as God showed grace and mercy on Nineveh when the city repented, God shows grace toward Jonah and does not grant his request. God answers Jonah and asks him in a kind tone, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
God is asking Jonah, “Is my doing good toward Nineveh displeasing to you, Jonah?”
In Jonah’s world, bad behavior should lead to bad consequences. Justice should be administered, and the Ninevites had it coming big time. AN eye for an eye was the law of the land. According to God’s Law, that was certainly the case.
Except for God’s intervention of grace.
How often do we want God to intervene on our behalf, when we’ve been wronged, or others that we love and care for have suffered at the hands of bad people?
But when the bad people repent, do we still hold on to our hatred, our demand for justice, or wanting to see things made right again?
When it comes to matters of eternal life, God shows His heart of compassion toward even the worst of sinners, as exemplified by the people of Nineveh. Remember, one sin is just as offensive to a holy God as a million sins are. There are no degrees of comparison to one another that will justify our behavior before God. His standard is sinlessness perfection; the standard is Himself.
God’s love for people is not just in the Old Testament, in Jonah’s day; His love for people like you and I is extended into the New Testament as well. Listen to Peter’s words:
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
(1 Peter 3:9 NIV)
May we remember God’s heart for the Ninevites, and for us, and for others.
May we extend that same grace to others as God has given grace to us.