Jonah 4:2 – 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.”
When I was young, before I started studying the bible for myself, I thought that the story of Jonah ended at chapter 3. When I first came across chapter 4, it was quite a shock and I wondered why I’d never heard this part before. I guess that ending with the city repenting and God’s forgiveness makes the story nice and neat and gives us the fairy-tale ending of, ‘and they all lived happily ever after.’ We all know of course, that this is not what always happens in real life. When you begin to understand that this little book is not focused on the message but on the messenger, you have to include the last chapter.
Jonah is a real person, with real struggles, who longs to follow God’s ways but has an inner turmoil that affects his focus and his emotions. Jonah had a real problem in understanding God’s desire to reach the people of Nineveh. In modern day language, they were terrorists who killed people for the advancement of their own cause. Sound familiar? This type of tyranny is of old and continues to this day. Do those who orchestrated the 7.11 London bombing, the Omagh bombing or the Remembrance Day bombing deserve God’s salvation? Does the German Reich? For Jonah, the answer was ‘no’ and we can assume from the text that part of him hoped that the city would indeed be overthrown. When he proclaimed the message and the people repented, Jonah was furious with God for granting forgiveness, (read the verse at the top again). The extent of Jonah’s anger was such that he would rather die than see these people forgiven.
God challenges Jonah’s anger and asks him if it is right for him to be so but Jonah just walks away and sits outside the city. Jonah was so blinded by his hatred that he couldn’t see the similarities in his own sin. This city was built by Noah’s descendants so they would have known (at least back then) what God could do to a rebellious people but through time, they had done just that and abandoned God’s laws. They turned their back on God and went their own way.
- We have Nineveh’s rebellion – we have Jonah’s rebellion.
- We have Nineveh’s repentance – we have Jonah’s repentance.
God’s compassion and forgiveness was extended to both. Both accepted. Nineveh may have been in rebellion for hundreds of years in comparison to Jonah’s hundreds of hours but time is of no consequence to God. All that matters is the response to God’s mercy. The story of Jonah ends with a question from God – “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left?
I would never want to be excluded from God’s salvation so I don’t have the right to wish others to be excluded and to question God’s pity. We will never fully comprehend the Father’s capacity for compassion and mercy but we can be forever grateful that it was extended to each and every one of us.