Upon observing Jonah’s behavior throughout the book of Jonah, we get a glimpse Jonah’s resentment of God’s grace (extended toward others rather than himself, of course). It’s easy to see his hatred for the Assyrians and desire for them to experience just judgement.
He runs the opposite direction of God’s command, gets swallowed by a large ocean creature, cries out to God and worships Him, receives God’s gracious deliverance, carries out God’s command, and asks God to take his life when he observes the aftermath. The end might leave one wondering- does Jonah ever get it?
Jonah Knew His Times
Jonah wasn’t an ignorant man. He knew his times, his culture, the world around him, and his God.
Let’s face it, the Assyrians were ruthless. They collected heads, dashed babies on stones, and impaled people on stakes. Jonah knew this. Maybe he knew, maybe he loved some of those massacred by the Assyrians.
So, why did he run?
Jonah’s Reason To Run
Despite what many well-meaning Sunday school teachers have taught, Jonah wasn’t running because he was afraid of the Assyrians. The problem was- he didn’t like it that God was merciful and full of hesed (loyal love). That is- specifically related to the Assyrians, whom God had sent him to pronounce judgement on.
Jonah did not want the Assyrians to be forgiven. Period.
That’s why he went in the opposite direction from where God sent him. That’s why he watched so diligently for God to smite them.
He knew that if he proclaimed judgment, it would give them a chance to repent. And he did not want them to repent, because he knew God would do the unthinkable- forgive them.
This is just what happened. Here is Jonah’s response in Jonah 4:1-3:
But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 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. 3 Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
The book ends with Jonah seeming to not get it. He’s suicidal over a vine that God made flourish and wither in a day; while God was concerned about a whole people group whom He had made (Jonah 4:8b-11).
He wanted to die,and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”
10 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. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh,in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
It certainly paints Jonah in quite a negative light. You have to wonder as the scene fades out on Jonah’s sulky, sun-scorched face if his life ended in bitterness and resentment.
So, did he ever get it?
Well, we wouldn’t be reading it if he hadn’t. Jonah was the prophet God sent.
He is the one God used to write the book so that we can read it now.
Haven’t You Ever Wandered?
Have you ever gotten off of God’s path? Ever wandered but returned? Or maybe you know someone who has?
Those who haven’t always been on the straight and narrow are often used greatly by God to encourage others not to wander. They have tasted the agony of addiction, the shame of ill-gotten gain, the guilt of rebellion, the ruthlessness of rage, the punishment of pride, and the loneliness of selfishness.
Intense eyes brim with tears as they warn those they love to never wander as they have. Like Jonah, many of them can be self-deprecating in the way they deliver the stories.
Jonah knew what he had done. He had time to reflect and to return. His writing was watermarked with a warning to respect and revel in the loyal love and grace of God (and to not rebel against Him).
I don’t know about you, but when I look back on seasons when I’ve wandered from God’s will, I wonder at the waste I’ve created. I don’t want to create more seasons of waste, and I don’t want those I love to waste their lives in ways I have.
When I look in my heart and see bitterness and resentment that needs dealt with, I think: “Man, I’ve got to work through this!” I don’t want to end up like some older folks I’ve known that seem to seep and ooze bitterness out of ever word, expression, and gesture.
I sincerely want a heart free to revel in God’s loyal love and to extend it freely- even to those who have brought great suffering to myself and others.
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