Today: [Jonah 4] God Shows Mercy to the Undeserving. There are times that God will show mercy even to people who have done you much harm. In Jonah 4 the city of Nineveh is spared and Jonah is exceedingly angry. He camps outside the city and hopes that God will change His mind and go ahead and destroy his enemies. When that does not happen, he despairs even of life and asks that he might die. God corrects his thinking through an object lesson and makes the case to Jonah for the sparing of the city.
[Jon 4:1-11 KJV] 1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. 2 And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, [was] not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou [art] a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. 3 Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for [it is] better for me to die than to live. 4 Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry? 5 So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city. 6 And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made [it] to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd. 7 But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. 8 And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, [It is] better for me to die than to live. 9 And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, [even] unto death. 10 Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: 11 And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and [also] much cattle?
At the conclusion of chapter 3 we see God showing mercy on the city of Nineveh and sparing them from the prophesied destruction in 40 day’s time. Jonah was deeply disappointed and very angry. The reason why he fled to Tarshish was then revealed. He knew that God was a gracious and merciful God that would refrain from destroying the city if they repented. In exasperation, Jonah despairs even of life and asks that he might die, rather than live in a world where a city such as Nineveh would receive mercy from on high.
Every one of us has an internal sense of social justice. Are there times that we would feel gratified or somehow more secure if ungodliness and evil were openly punished and made to suffer for their wrongs? What if, rather than destroying such people God showed clemency. What if God chose to deal kindly with the most difficult and exasperating person in your life? Would you be able to endure this, or would your response be like Jonah’s? There will be times that people around you will have their needs met, and their desires fulfilled all the while your prayers go unanswered and the heavens seem as brass. At those times we tend to make comparisons and wonder how could God do such a thing in the light of our own situation and circumstance? This is the elder brother mentality in the parable of the prodigal in Luke 15:11-32. The elder brother was angry at the attention and consideration shown to the prodigal in the midst of his own outward obedience toward his father.
God’s answer to us in such times is the same as His reply to Jonah: “Doest thou well to be angry?” Retribution and vengefulness is a strong character trait in the hearts of religious people. Preachers speak of the coming judgment of sinners and get standing ovations from their congregations. When we are disparaged and our faith is denigrated in the public square, something on the inside of us wishes to see some corrective action to be taken to right the scales. When those close to us turn and lobby against our hopes and dreams, delighting to make us uncomfortable and to suffer, we want justice. Yet the story of Jonah is a reminder of the teachings of Jesus in Matt. 5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy…” Is this only showing mercy to the worthy? Is this only showing mercy to those that we think deserve it? That kind of mercy is no mercy at all. Rom. 5:6 tells us that Christ died for us when we were yet ungodly. True mercy, refrains from judgment, and is disappointed when even the most egregious sinner suffers, even those who have personally pained and caused us to suffer as well. Jonah hated Nineveh because of the agony the people of this city had inflicted upon his own. Yet God showed mercy, and Jonah left the city, angry beyond words.
Outside of Nineveh Jonah makes a temporary dwelling place, a booth of branches and natural material and sat down, waiting upon God to change His mind and go ahead and fulfill the destruction of the city. God causes a gourd to grow over Jonah’s head to shade him and give him comfort. Even though Jonah was showing no mercy to the Ninevites, God was still taking responsibility for his comfort and still looking out for him. Yet, Jonah in his anger did not see this as occasion to repent. He was glad that God was sheltering him, but still hopeful that the city of 100’s of 1000’s would yet be destroyed along with every last man, woman and child.
Finally, God causes the gourd to die and Jonah’s shelter is removed from him. The heat of the sun, and a bitter, east wind berate Jonah and once again he cries out to God to let him die. His own physical discomfort, and the continuance of God’s mercy toward the city of Nineveh, were too much for him and he no longer wishes to go on living. Once again God asks Jonah if it is a good thing to be angry because He showed mercy to Jonah’s enemies? Jonah’s answer was bitter and vicious:
“I do well to be angry, even unto death!”
Can you imagine answering God in such a manner at any time, let alone after the trial of being 3 days in the belly of the whale. Even though Jonah had experienced major deliverance in his own trials, yet his hatred burned still toward those who had persecuted his countrymen. This is where we tend to compartmentalize our thinking where our relationship with God is concerned. I have seen people who wept tears on the altar and saw many miracles of grace, provision and healing, yet would rejoice and see it as a blessing that their enemies suffered and went through difficult circumstances. This kind of Christianity is no different than Islam that teaches that the faithful deserve blessing but that infidels must be aggressively punished. Unfortunately, the Evangelical community is rife with this level of duplicity almost to the point of complete inability to see the contradiction of their thinking with the teachings of Jesus.
The chapter concludes with the Lord chiding Jonah for having pity on the gourd that comforting him, but being perfectly willing to see the city of Nineveh to be destroyed. The Father challenges Jonah to see the Ninevites as He saw them, 600,000 persons without discernment who were as deeply in need of God’s mercy heart as Jonah was equally so. What about your own enemies? What about that abusive relative, or the employer or supervisor who has made things so difficult for you? What about the person that talked about you behind your back, or the individual that did you much harm and brought such pain into your life? Jonah’s anger was anchored in deep personal animus, yet God compelled him to look at things from a different perspective. Is your thinking more like Jonah’s or like God’s in your own situation?
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