Jonah was mad.
Not at being swallowed by a fish. He wasn’t peeved at being wrapped in seaweed. He makes no marked mention of being surrounded by smaller fish, decaying in the belly of the much larger fish. He isn’t notably upset about the smell or the feel of stomach acid that was miraculously touching him but not consuming him. When Jonah left the fish, he wasn’t angry about being stranded in a fish; he was simply happy to be alive.
Nor was Jonah seemingly mad about having to go to Nineveh. As we discussed briefly last week, Jonah’s trip to the belly of the fish didn’t change his attitude about going to Nineveh. Make no mistake, Jonah wasn’t happy about going to Nineveh. The same threats and problems that existed the first time God told Jonah to go to Nineveh still existed when God told him the second time. The people of Nineveh were the same when Jonah got there as they were before. But Jonah wasn’t mad about going to Nineveh as far as we know.
Jonah was mad at God’s compassion.
God spared not just one or two people, but a whole city of people. He showed them mercy. They were to survive, to see sunsets, to watch their children grow up, to look back – look around – and see God’s grace every day after that, and that really made Jonah mad.
Are you ready to pick up stones and throw them at Jonah? I was.
I’m a pretty loving and accepting person. If someone lives his or her life differently than I live mine, that’s all on him or her. It’s his or her right and none of my business. The way I see it, and from what my Bible tells me, it is merely my place to love them. Because of this, the only people I really judge are judgmental people. So, yes, I was more than ready to hold this against Jonah.
“So [Jonah] complained to the Lord about it: ‘Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.’” (Jonah 4:2-3. NLT)
This is the same man who survived being inside a fish for three days. He’s the same man who prayed and sought God with what he thought to be his dying breath. And God saved Jonah. But now we see Jonah telling God to kill him if He plans to extend that same grace to the Ninevites. Jonah’s opinion of the Ninevites was low. So low, in fact, that Jonah thought them undeserving of God’s love.
But a murderer is just as undeserving of God’s love as a prophet who turns away from God. A person who tortures others is every bit as unworthy of God’s love as a man who would rather die than not see God’s wrath poured out on someone else. Was Jonah more worthy of God’s love and forgiveness that Nineveh? No, but Jonah thought so.
God’s reply to Jonah is what made me drop the proverbial stones I had gathered and was poised to throw at him. “The Lord replied, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about this?’” (Jonah 4:4, NLT)
Jonah goes to the eastern part of the city and makes a shelter to sit under while waiting to see what God would do. God makes a large, leafy plant grow that shields and shades Jonah, and Jonah is happy and thankful for it. God has a worm come overnight and eat the plant to the point that it withers. The next day, with no plant to cover him, Jonah endures harsh wind and sun, and he wishes again to die.
“Then God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?’
‘Yes,’ Jonah retorted, ‘even angry enough to die!’
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 4:9-11, NLT)
The plant that grew wasn’t planted by Jonah or tended to by Jonah. It was a gift of grace from God. Being a plant, it came and went quickly. So if God is giving from His immeasurable heart, and if He’s the one who’s working on or toward something, shouldn’t people who are capable of eternity be of a much greater concern?
Jonah was trying to tell God how to be God. And no one is better at being God than God is. That’s why love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy are extended to everyone. It doesn’t matter who you are because God loves and cares for everyone equally. What we define ourselves and others by means nothing to God. God only sees people in need of Him, people to love – prophets and Ninevites alike.
By Carrie Prevette