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.
This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. 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. 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 3:10-4:4
Men’s Bible Study:
I wish that I could share some kind of recording from my Wednesday evening men’s small-group Bible study. Of course, the whole confidentiality thing would nix that idea in its tracks, and then there’s sifting through an hour and fifteen minutes of conversation to find the particular nuggets of insight that I found so powerful. So instead I’ll highlight some of what God taught me, and pray that it brings some inspiration to you.
Our reading was the Book of Jonah; the whole thing. It’s a great story, just four chapters long and readable in a few short minutes. The setting is that time in the eighth century BC where Israel is divided into two kingdoms. The Assyrians have become the dominant regional power.
God tells Jonah to travel from his home to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh (located in current day northern Iraq), do the prophet thing, and predict the city’s imminent destruction. Jonah responds by boarding a boat that’s headed 2,000 miles the exact opposite direction, to Spain. But God is creatively insistent, and Jonah eventually and reluctantly walks into Nineveh, where he delivers a perfunctory one-sentence sermon and the entire city turns to God.
GRACE ISN’T PROPRIETARY: Instead of rejoicing – and this is where our reading picks up above – Jonah gets angry. Bottom line, it was exactly God’s predilection to grace and mercy that made him want to stay away from Nineveh in the first place.
“God’s not even requiring them to become religious Jews,” he thought. “Why would I want to share God’s saving grace when they don’t fit into my judgment of ‘the right kind of people?’ What about us? We follow the right rules, and we worship in the right way. I thought the covenant was supposed to be proprietary?”
It seems to me that Jonah was more about promoting a religion than a relationship with God; more interested in calling down judgment than witnessing reconciliation; more concerned that Israel receive God’s favor than God’s children know their creator; more motivated to see people he deemed sinners suffer than to share the Good News of God’s saving grace.
Jonah was motivated by anger. God is motivated by love.
“What right do you have to be angry?” God asks.
“What right do you have to extend your love and mercy?” Jonah implies.
ANGER IS ALL THE RAGE: We live in a religious/political climate where anger is omnipresent. It’s apparent that many people associate anger with emotional credibility. In other words, you’re not really passionate about an issue unless the voters see your blood boil!
I can well imagine God looking at us – not just the politicians but the angry Christians too – as we stand outside the city walls of our favorite “God-needs-to-destroy-these-sinners” issue, saying “Why are you so angry that I love these people? Why are you incensed at the idea I may extend my mercy and grace? What makes you so sure it’s not you who deserves the full force of my wrath and indignation?”
- “Why are you so angry that I love these people?”
- “Why are you incensed at the idea I may extend my mercy and grace?”
- “What makes you so sure it’s not you who deserves the full force of my wrath and indignation?”
Well of course we’re all sinners, and we all fall short in every way. But God reaches out the hand of mercy and welcomes us home. All of us. Even those we would rather consign to the fires of eternal punishment.
And Jonah pouted. How about the rest of us?