7 July 2015Jonah 3:10 – 4:11
“But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.” (v. 1)
Psalm: Psalm 37:12-29
Jonah is hardly the sort of character one warms to!
Having finally obeyed God's command to go to Nineveh and warn the city of God's impending judgement on it, we might expect him to be elated at the response he provoked. After all, despite preaching one of the briefest sermons on record (Jonah 3:4), and doing it half-heartedly, his hearers all reacted immediately, repenting and turning to God in droves. Through the witness of just one man one of the largest cities in the world had been converted overnight.
Yet far from being grateful to God for God's mercy toward the city, or even being tempted to indulge in a bit of misplaced pride in his own success as an evangelist, Jonah got angry and suicidal! He even tried to justify his original decision not to go to Nineveh on the grounds that he knew God always intended to let those wicked people off the hook anyway (verse 2).
There are many things we could say about Jonah's behaviour, one being its comical lack of perspective. When God provided him with some shade, he is described as "happy" (v. 6), something he never felt about the salvation of a whole city. Yet when God took away the shade (verse 7) Jonah got suicidal again, prompting God to point out that his priorities might be slightly skewed.
Even more worrying is Jonah's resentment toward God for being gracious to the inhabitants of Nineveh, when he himself had been rescued by the same God from a watery grave! His attitude to God when he finds himself in the belly of the fish (described in chapter 2) could hardly be more different from that when he is safe again on dry land. Staring death in the face he is a model of contrition: once out of the mire he is sulky and bitter.
Jonah's attitude to God is not one we should hurry to emulate. A better model is found in the book which follows Jonah in the Old Testament. "What does the Lord require of you," the prophet Micah writes, "but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8).
- Have you ever been tempted to wish that someone you thought deserved God's judgement had actually received it?
- Are there occasions when, looking back, you realise that you have failed to keep a sense of perspective about what is just and what is unjust?
- In each of these, what happened? And what did you learn about yourself and God?