By Robert Olsen, Ph. D.
Associate Professor of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
Jonah obeyed God and preached to the city of Nineveh, telling its people to repent or God would bring judgment. The people of Nineveh listened and repented in sackcloth and with fasting.
Instead of rejoicing at the Ninevites’ behavior, Jonah was angry.
He was angry because God decided to relent and not bring judgment upon a city of Israel’s enemies. He knew God was gracious and would therefore extend grace, even to the enemies of God’s chosen people. Jonah didn’t want to see these people get saved; he wanted them to die.
This section has two important lessons. First, it shows us God cares for all people, even those who seem far from Him.
Second Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.”
God has always been a missional God, wanting Israel to be a priest to all the nations and His representative. This should motivate us even more to be concerned with all the peoples of the world, supporting missionaries and ministries that reach all people, here at home and abroad.
Second, this shows we can become hardhearted toward those we see as God’s enemies. I am sure Jonah wanted to see these people punished for their wickedness.
It is easy to be a modern-day Jonah when we choose to not offer grace to others. It is easy for us to want to see God punish evildoers, especially ones who have wronged us. Elisabeth Elliot could have held a grudge against the Auca men who killed her husband and his companions, but instead she returned to do missions work that ultimately led to the salvation of the very men who murdered her husband.
Jonah sat down east of the city to wait and see whether God would destroy it. While Jonah waited, God made a plant grow up to give the prophet shade, which Jonah enjoyed. God then caused a worm to eat the plant and kill it so the sun shown on Jonah’s head.
This made Jonah angry, so much so that he wanted to die. God confronted Jonah about the vine, reminding him how he had done nothing to make the vine grow and asking why he was so angry about it.
Jonah was angry about something God had created and destroyed. Does God not have the right to do what He wants with His creation? Yet Jonah was angry about the plant, but not about the people God had created.
How many times do we fall into the same trap? God is gracious; He provides for His creation, yet often we act as if we have a right over creation. We get angry with God when things don’t go the way we want, as if we have a right to dictate to God how things should work out for us. We often take advantage of God’s grace and abuse it.
God confronts Jonah about his attitude toward the plant. God sees the inconsistency between caring for part of God’s creation, but not caring for other parts. The book finishes with God telling Jonah He cares for the 120,000 people in Nineveh as well as the animals.
This lesson reminds us that we should care for all people. We may look at some people like criminals and politicians and think they are worthy of God’s condemnation. We have to remember that all of us were God’s enemies at some point (Rom. 5:8), and if not for God’s grace, we would all stand condemned.
Because God offered grace to us, we offer grace to others to demonstrate God’s love to them, and we hope God uses us to bring others into His kingdom. Instead of being sour and bitter like Jonah, we should be joyful when we see others come into God’s kingdom, even if they were our enemies.