Greetings in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1)
One day God appeared to Jonah, and told “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.” But Jonah ran in the opposite direction to get away from God. He found a ship leaving for Tarshish, and bought a ticket. He went on board, hopping to escape from God by sailing to Tarshish because Tarshish is located at the opposite direction of Nineveh.
But the Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threated to break the ship apart. The sailors did everything they could – calling their gods, throwing the cargo overboard to lightening the ship. Nothing worked. But all the time, Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold. The crew found Jonah and woke him. They continued their effort to save the ship, but the situation was getting worse. Finally, the crew cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. The people on the ship asked Jonah about who he was and why he was sailing to Tarshish. Jonah told about his sinful behavior against God. Jonah asked them to pick him up and throw into the sea. Initially, they were reluctant, but they had to do. As soon as Jonah was thrown into the sea, the sea became calm. The people were amazed, and Jonah thrown into the sea. God prepared a big fish, and swallowed Jonah.
Jonah was in the belly of the fish. In his distress, he humbly called out God, while earnestly putting his hope in God. Yes, he was hurled into the depths of the seas. Seaweed was wrapped around his head, but he looked up God with faith that God would bring Jonah up from the pit. Then Jonah cried out “Salvation comes from the Lord.” God heard his prayer. God commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. Jonah was saved from the death, and he got a second chance.
Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” (Jonah 3:1)
For this time, Jonah obeyed the word of God and went to Nineveh. Although Jonah ran away from God, God patiently loved Jonah. God put Jonah in a situation that he could not do anything but crying out for a help to God with his humble heart. God answered his humble prayer. Jonah experienced God’s great mercy.
Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. As commanded by God, Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” To a surprise to Jonah, the Ninevites immediately heard his message, and they believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. Even the king rose from his throne, and took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. He issued a proclamation to the people in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 3:7-8)
God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways. God did not carry out the destruction that God was about to bring in. God is always full of mercy and grace, and slow to anger. Thus, God did show the same mercy on Jonah to the people of Nineveh.
However, to Jonah’s eye, God’s mercy seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:2-3)
Jonah was really angry. He prayed to God to complain, not to give thanksgiving to God for His mercy given the people of Nineveh. His prayer (actually complaint) revealed Jonah’s true heart. Jonah did not want God’s grace and mercy on the people of Nineveh because Jonah hated them. Jonah wanted a justice, not a mercy because Jonah with other Isarelites did not like the people of Nineveh. They worshiped idols, and they were the greatest threat to the people of Israel at that time. To anyone in Israel, it was unimaginable of the people of Nineveh to receive God’s mercy and grace that they were getting. They mistakenly thought that God’s grace and mercy were only for the chosen people, the Israelites. Thus, they never had a desire of sharing God’s grace and mercy with those who were idolaters and a great threat to them.
In his anger and his own rationale, Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see what would happen to the city. Despite Jonah’s stubborn heart, God was patiently merciful to Jonah. In His love, God prepared another opportunity for Jonah to realize how much off his heart was. First, God prepared a leafy plant to grow and provided a cool shade on Jonah. Jonah was very grateful for the plant. Then God prepared a worm to eat through the stem of the plaint so that it withered away. The following morning, as the sun grew hot, God arranged for a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. Jonah could have withdrawn from his wicked motivation, and could have gone down from the hot and high place to a cool and low place. He insisted his own thought and complained about the plant and his own justice till reaching his own limit of growing faint.
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 4:10)
The LORD is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.
The LORD is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made. (Psalm 145:8-9)
Praise the Lord, who is merciful, gracious, and compassionate! He is slow to anger, and full of love. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
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