Jonah: Fearing God’s Grace
Have you ever been worried or concerned that something nice was going to happen for someone you didn’t think deserved it? Jonah has been there. When we left Jonah, he was praising God in the belly of a fish. God saved Jonah from drowning, and Jonah prayed a prayer of praise and dedication to the Lord. In Chapter 3, Jonah decided to listen this time, and he went to give the people of Nineveh God’s message. Do you have someone in your life you know needs to hear the good news but you are convinced they will not receive it? Jonah was probably sure of how he thought the people of Nineveh would react to God’s message, but once again, Jonah was wrong in his assumptions.
The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow (Jonah 3:5). The king ordered everyone into mourning, he removed his royal robes and wore burlap, and he ordered everyone else to do the same, even the animals! He told everyone to pray earnestly, turn from their evil ways, and stop their violence. In verse 9 the king says, “Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.”
“When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.” (Jonah 3:10)
We should never assume an outcome. If God tells us to go and gives us a message to deliver, we should deliver it. God always knows better than us!
Nineveh was filled with a great faith! Jonah soon began dancing in the streets and singing praises to God for sparing the city and all the people in it. He praised the Lord for the people of an entire city turned to God! WRONG! In chapter 4, we find that this change in God’s plan upset Jonah and he was angry! In verse 2, he explained why he didn’t want to go to Nineveh in the first place.
“So he complained to the Lord about it: ‘Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.’” (Jonah 4:2)
Jonah made his full confession. The reason he left was because he knew God would be merciful and compassionate toward Nineveh. This was God’s chosen prophet of the time! He wanted God to be vengeful and angry; he wanted to see fire rain down; he wanted to see the enemy destroyed. Has God’s grace ever angered you? Have you ever withheld sharing God’s message because you knew God would turn that person’s life around and they would not get what you thought they deserved? If you have, clearly, you are not alone.
“'Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.' The Lord replied, 'Is it right for you to be angry about this?'” (Jonah 4:3-4)
Whoa! If you’re not going to destroy Nineveh then just kill me. This is quite a different reaction to grace than what Jonah had when grace was extended to him in the belly of the fish: from a prayer of praise and dedication to a plea for death. The Lord must have been angry, and surely he would give Jonah what Jonah had coming, right? WRONG! We do not find that God was angry with Jonah or that He was vengeful or lashed out at Jonah’s pride and whiny attitude. Instead, God responded with a gentle and simple question that put Jonah in his place. Who are we to be angry with God? Who are we to question what God does or to whom He shows His grace?
Jonah sat outside the city and pouted; while Jonah pouted in the heat, God caused a plant to grow next to him to provide shade. Jonah was grateful for the plant. But then God sent a worm to eat away at the plant. The sun got hotter and God sent a hot wind to blow on Jonah. Then Jonah cried out that death would be better than this!
“Then God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?’ ‘Yes,’ Jonah retorted, ‘even angry enough to die!’ Then the Lord said, ‘You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?’” (Jonah 4:9-11)
You feel sorry for the plant, I feel sorry for Nineveh. God used Jonah’s feelings about the plant as an example for how He felt about Nineveh. A plant is such an insignificant thing, and yet Jonah felt sorry that it was destroyed but did not feel any sympathy toward Nineveh. God created the city of Nineveh; he made all of the people. Of course He was compassionate toward it! Of course he cared!
When Jonah wanted an angry, vengeful God, he was met with a God of mercy, grace, and love, one who is slow to anger and one who is always willing to teach us. When God’s grace was extended to Jonah in the fish, Jonah praised the Lord, but when God’s grace was extended to Jonah’s enemies, Jonah asked for death. Remember that God’s way is always right and we should always answer His call. We are the servants, He is the master and His grace is for all people.
“For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.” (Titus 2:11)
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.