Attitude of Mercy or Judgement? A brief study of Jonah

I’ve always loved the story of Jonah.  From a young age, it was one of the first stories of the Bible that I remember as a young child.  It’s easy to remember the story and teach it to young children.  Here is my remembrance as a child.  God asks Jonah to do something, but he didn’t want to.  God get’s mad and sends a whale to swallow Jonah.  Jonah spends time in the belly of the whale and says he’s sorry.  God hears his prayers and the whale spits him out….The End.

But there is so much more to the story than that and it wasn’t until a few years ago when I used Jonah as the subject of a talk about the men of the Bible for a small study group I was in at the time, that I realized the wealth of wisdom that comes from that book.  I happened to be flipping through the Bible this morning and stumbled upon the very end of the book of Jonah and realized that I didn’t remember how the book ended.  So I read through Chapter 4.

Quick recap

God had asked Jonah to go to Nineveh and deliver a message of judgement on them.  After the whole large fish incident, Jonah eventually makes it to Nineveh and delivers God’s message that the city will be destroyed in 40 days.  But amazingly the people of Nineveh, even too the king, repented.  God saw this and had mercy on them and did not carry out his judgement.  This is where I picked up the story.

Jonah becomes angry with God

Jonah says to the Lord;

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 were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.  I knew how easily you could cancel your plans for destroying these people.  -Jonah 4:2

The the Lord replies:

Is it right for you to be angry about this? -Jonah 4:4

I find that truly interesting.  Jonah knew that God was merciful and loved these people and would cancel the destruction of this city if only they would repent.  That made Jonah angry, because he saw the evil that these people were doing and he wanted judgement.

And perhaps even more importantly, Jonah had quickly forgotten God’s own mercy for him when he was inside the fish.

Another key point that we sometimes miss comes to us in Jonah 4:3

Just kill me now, Lord!  I’d rather be dead than alive because nothing I predicted is going to happen.  Jonah 4:3

Why does he say that?  Well remember Jonah was a prophet.  He just went into a large city and proclaimed that in 40 days the city would be destroyed.  What would happen to his reputation if that didn’t come true?  If God had mercy on Nineveh, that would make Jonah’s prophecies untrue.  Not something you want to have happen if you are a prophet…you usually want your prophecies to come true.

What does that tell us about Jonah (or about us)?  Jonah was putting his own glory ahead of Gods.  Having mercy on the people of Nineveh gave all the glory to God.  Jonah, I think was feeling he would be embarrassed and discredited by that and that was his primary concern.

When we see people doing evil, and we’ve seen a lot of it in our times, we are quick to ask for judgement on them.  And God will shower his judgement on people, just look at Sodom and Gomorrah.  But God is a loving, merciful God who wants to show his mercy.  Showing his mercy gives God greater glory than sending his judgement.  Yes the judgement shows his almighty power.  But showing his mercy and grace shows that he is a truly a just and loving God, one who can forgive us, even though we deserve every punishment sent our way.

My takeaway from this:  To thank God and remember that God desires that all come to him, trust in him and be saved.  God feels compassion for the sinners we want judged and he has a plan to bring them to himself.  We may be part of that plan, as was Jonah.  I’m going to try and become more open to God’s plan and less quick to cry for judgement.

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