But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 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.
Jonah 4:1-2 (NIV)
Read: Jonah 4
Consider: In the last post we saw that Jonah was prepared to preach God’s judgement to the people of Nineveh, but he wasn’t really expecting them to repent. In this post we start where chapter 3 ends:
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. Jonah 3:10
Instead of joy, Jonah’s reaction was one of anger. Jonah couldn’t imagine the Ninevites repenting and how could God possibly change his mind and not destroy them!
In verses 1-2 of chapter 4 we see the true reason why Jonah decided not to go to Nineveh the first time God called him. We are told that Jonah knew God’s nature (gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love) and he must therefore have suspected that God would give the Ninevites a chance to repent.
It is very telling that chapter 4 begins with the words: ‘But to Jonah this seemed very wrong …’ Jonah didn’t really care what God wanted. In his view the Ninevites were wicked and undeserving of God’s forgiveness – the very point God wanted Jonah to understand. God’s grace is something none of us deserves, yet despite this God offers it freely.
You might think things couldn’t get worse for Jonah, but they did. In his anger he went out of the city, sat under a convenient plant for shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. He probably thought (and hoped) that God would change his mind again and destroy Nineveh.
In chapter 4 God asks Jonah twice ‘… is it right for you to be angry …’ and twice Jonah says ‘I wish that I were dead’. Thankfully God didn’t take him at his word! God had some very powerful lessons that he wanted Jonah to learn and everything that happened to him (from the shipwreck to the sun beating down on his head) was to bring these home to him. Of course God was passionately interested in the welfare of the Ninevites – we see this from the end of chapter 4 where it is stated:
‘But the LORD said, ‘You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh …’
God was also interested in Jonah. Do you remember where we started into the first post on Jonah? We saw from 2 Kings that he was a prophet of God. While the climax of the book of Jonah is the forgiveness of the people of Nineveh, it also shows us that Jonah would come to know exactly who God is. Jonah had to learn and see that God is indeed ‘… a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity’. Jonah had to see what this meant in practice – an undeserving people receiving God’s forgiveness.
We are told elsewhere in Scripture that there is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. If there is rejoicing in heaven, there should certainly also be rejoicing on earth amongst God’s people.
Pray: Lord, forgive us when we see some people as being beyond salvation. Help us not to be like Jonah, who had decided upon the fate of the Ninevites from his own perspective. Help us to see that your grace, freely offered, is available to all who repent and believe in your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen