Last week, we saw how Jonah’s (reluctant) mission to Nineveh, in Assyria, was more spectacularly successful than he could possibly have imagined.
Every single person there, from the poorest up to the king, believed in God and repented. Plus, this now meant greater safety for Jonah’s own people, who’d suffered terribly at the hands of the Assyrians.
So was Jonah delighted? NO! He was furious! I can almost see him standing there, shaking his fist at the skies and shouting at God:
“I KNEW this would happen! I knew it! That’s why I ran away. I KNEW you were a loving, compassionate, saving God! I KNEW it! Now I would rather die.”
How odd! Why would Jonah not want to have been successful, after all he’s been through? Why wouldn’t he want people to repent and be saved? Why wouldn’t he be glad that he’s safe? Why wouldn’t he be glad that the punishment of Nineveh was averted? Or that his own people were now safer?
Because Jonah was human—very human. He was probably an angry and bitter person before called to Nineveh; he’d already preached to his own people, who had ignored him. And he simply became more bitter and angrier as things went on. He probably felt that the Ninevites deserved everything they had coming, and wanted them to get what they deserved. He must have been mad that the ‘evil’ Assyrians listened when his own people didn’t. Perhaps he felt powerless in the face of God’s control.
Jonah was so cross that he didn’t even go home right away. He headed east, instead, and sat down to watch what happened to the city (surely still hoping for its destruction). However, it was very hot… so God caused a leafy plant to grow and shade him. Jonah was pleased about this. But then God introduced a worm, which ate the plant—and a hot wind, which made Jonah feel faint. Again, he was furious with God, and again wanted to die.
I can only conclude that Jonah is not the smartest of men—and possibly even a hypocrite. He wants the Ninevites to get what they deserved, even though Jonah got what he didn’t deserve: God’s compassion and mercy on him when he was disobedient. He was the bringer of the word of God, yet didn’t like what God achieved. He thought he deserved all the good things which happened to him, but none of the consequences of doing wrong. And, having had his life recently saved by God, he now abused that gift, saying he wished he was dead.
The book of Jonah is a reminder to us that God loves everyone—not just the ones we love. And while anger can have its place, it is not our place to be angry about God’s plans for the world, or to tell him what to do, or to be mad when his purpose is achieved.
Most of all, though, Jonah is a story about getting what we don’t deserve—or not getting what we do deserve. As humans, how much do we recognise the cry, ‘It’s not fair!”?
But God isn’t fair. He is more than fair; that’s why he sent his son Jesus, to save us—even though we don’t deserve it.