Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Jonah 4:1-4

Jonah's Displeasure Rebuked

1But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry.

2He prayed to the LORD and said, "Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.

3"Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life."

4The LORD said, "Do you have good reason to be angry?"

When we read or hear testimony of true repentance, does it not give us pause to consider our own lives and God's goodness upon them? The story of Nineveh in the time of Jonah is one of those remarkable testimonies that deserves personal reflection. Jonah--whose emotional reactiveness is starting to resemble a young Peter, to me--does not share in this enthusiasm, however.

"But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry." (vs 1)

This seems a bit unbelievable to me today. But, honestly, if I look back a few years on my Christian walk, perhaps I can see myself exhibiting Jonah's mindset. Jonah's response comes from the depths of his heart--a heart that understands exactly who God is, yet a heart unwilling to see that God's big picture of love and grace is for everyone.

"...I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity." (vs 2)

Jonah's characterization of God is one that God Himself handed down to the Israelites back in Exodus, and it's one quoted throughout Old Testament Scripture. Jonah knew this of God in his heart, yet he was not willing to believe that God could extend Himself to nonbelievers, such as the Ninevites, and certainly not to the point of their receiving such mercy! In Jonah's mind, this just wasn't fair. Put on your whiny voices and shout, "They're getting away with it!"

Did Jonah have a point? A question was raised after last week's post concerning God's position in looking at the sins of Nineveh. How could God let sin go unpunished? In Jonah's mind, seeing Nineveh, a Gentile nation, poised to receive mercy from God, yes, even salvation from God as part of His bigger plan, was so overbearing to him that he, 1. fled to Tarshish to escape God's presence and 2. became angry with God to the point of asking for his life to be taken.

Let's, again, look at the word Jonah uses in describing God's actions. 'Relent' in the Hebrew is a very complicated word. What makes it even more complicated is that it is very often translated 'repent' as in "...and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not." (Jonah 3:10, KJV, emphasis mine) I did some digging after last week's post and found this nugget in Strong's that helped put some perspective on things:

"To adapt language to our understanding, God is represented as repenting when delayed penalties are at last to be inflicted, or when threatened evils have been averted by genuine reformation. (Gen 6:6 [Noah]; Jonah 3:10).... God's heart is grieved at man's iniquity, and in love He bestows His grace or in justice He terminates His mercy. It indicates the aroused emotions of God which prompt Him to a different course of dealing with the people."

Even in absorbing all of that meaning regarding character, a friend pointed out something else very critical regarding the facts of God:

"A Holy God demands justice - therefore, sin always has a price. Perhaps He relented and gave the Ninevites mercy because for the Ninevites (much like other OT believers), justice was simply "delayed." Justice was still coming. And in that judgment, nothing was held back. The wrath of God for our sins was poured out fully and completely on His Son. Atonement was completely and fully accomplished in Christ - so that we could receive forgiveness - and not only that, His righteousness."

A pastor confirmed my friend's thoughts on delayed judgment. The sins of those who would come to believe in that day would be nailed to the cross with Jesus, just as the sins of those yet unborn at the time of Christ also were. That doesn't mean that God wasn't grieved by the sin, nor does it mean that God's mercy wasn't available to those who had truly repented. [And, lest you think Nineveh emerges as a Christian nation after all this, realize that Nineveh is destroyed some 150 years after its time of repentance, which the prophet Nahum prophesied.] I have found all of this reflection and study very filling!

So, back to the text, God says, "Do you have a good reason to be angry" (vs 4), Jonah--the called prophet of God, saved out of His mercy, given a second chance to do His will yet questioning that very will (again)? Not so much.

Were Jesus at Jonah's side, He might share the parable of the laborers: men who worked all day for a denarius balking at those who received the same wage yet were called in to work at a later time.

"'Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?' So the last shall be first, and the first last."

--Matthew 20: 14-16

Though these Ninevites received God as their Lord later in time than Jonah and under completely different circumstances, did not God--being the Lord--have the ability to grant them mercy and salvation?

Or, perhaps Jesus would re-frame the story of the prodigal son for Jonah:

"And he said to him, 'Jonah [Israel], you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours, Nineveh, was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.'"
--Luke 15: 31 & 32 (my paraphrase)

I continue to be amazed that the insights of this short book and the ripple effect it brings to my life and ministry. Also amazed at the way the Holy Spirit is working through this blog to bring forward thought-provoking questions and the promptings to return to His Word for wisdom. Thank you, friends!

Jonah and the plant.... 'Til next Wednesday!


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Next week: Jonah 4: 5-8

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).