Jonah was a prophet who God asked to go to the city of Nineveh to tell the people there to change their ways. That didn’t sit right with Jonah so he disobeyed God and instead he got on a boat headed in the opposite direction of Nineveh. God was not very pleased so he caused a storm to form. After a series of events Jonah ended up being thrown overboard and swallowed by a big fish. He prayed to God and the fish spit him out three days later. Jonah went to the people of Nineveh, saying all that God had commanded. And Jonah left feeling very good that he had done what God had told him.
Well that is the Sunday school version anyway. I feel like this is a good basic summary of the story of Jonah up until the end. It is here that the story gets a little diluted.
“When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.” (Jonah 3:10)
“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.” (Jonah 4:1)
“He was angry.” Why was he angry? The crimes that were committed by the Ninevites were not against him, but God. It was as if all the mercy that God had shown to Jonah had been quickly forgotten.
“And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” (Jonah 4:2)
“I knew it God, I knew it!” The words of Jonah seem quite ridiculous. I mean who complains about God being too merciful and loving? I find it baffling that Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh because God was gracious, merciful and loving. Reading the real version of Jonah made me see that Jonah was not all sunshine and rainbows when it came to people relations. I don’t think he really had the change of heart we see in the Sunday school version. He never changed the way he viewed the Ninevites, he continued to see them as a savage and barbaric people, undeserving of God’s mercy. The prayer Jonah prayed while in the fish shows he was sorry for disobeying.
I think we all have those moments where we don’t like what God is asking of us and we choose to go the opposite way. Maybe it’s because someone has hurt us, or we have preconceived ideas about them, but we do not have the power to choose who deserves to receive God’s mercy. And really we should show grace, mercy, and love to everyone because it has all been shown to us. (Romans 5:8)
It is sad that Jonah had so much anger in his heart towards the Ninevites. He sat on a hill waiting for God to bring his wrath upon Nineveh. Thankfully for Jonah’s sake God is very patient, and he commanded a plant to grow up and shade Jonah. After a day God felt like Jonah had sat there in comfort long enough, so he sent a worm to attack the plant. The hot sun beat down on Jonah and he cried (more liked whined) to God, “Oh Lord please take my life…” (Jonah 4:3) This is Jonah’s melodramatic side coming out. Jonah basically said to God, “You won’t kill this city, so please kill me! I don’t want to see your mercy shown to these people.” Now for myself I have not gotten to the point of wanting to die because God is merciful and gracious, but there have been moments in my life where I have questioned God’s mercy towards others. The thing is we all need God’s grace, mercy, and love. (Romans 3:23)
God’s response to Jonah is certainly thought provoking.
Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” (Jonah 4:10-11)
He says to Jonah, “Why are you crying over a plant? If you can cry over a plant you did nothing with, surely I can care what happens to 120, 000 people whom I created.” Jonah treated a plant with more respect than the people. His heart forgot whom he served.
Lord, please help me to stay humble, and to show mercy unconditionally. Help me to keep my eyes focused on you, so that when you call me to something I can look on with love and a heart after your own. Keep me from looking at people with contempt. In all things let me seek after you and obey, trusting in your plan and being sure of your power.