“The change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry” (Jonah4:1)
Another familiar bible story from the Old Testament. The man who became dinner for a giant fish. Once in the belly of the fish Jonah prayed and God commanded the great aquatic animal to regurgitate Jonah on dry land. Now you might think that’s the happy ending of the story of Jonah. But truth is it is just the beginning of Jonah’s adventure. You see after Jonah was delivered from the fish, God told Jonah (for the second time) to go to Nineveh and preach. Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria, the enemy of Israel. That was why Jonah did not want to see them repent. He wanted to see God’s punishment rain down on them, not his pardon. “Get em, God!” However, this time Jonah obeyed, went to Nineveh, preached; and the people did indeed repent. Great outcome, wouldn’t you say? Not for Jonah. You see, Jonah got no pleasure out of Nineveh’s revival. Instead, Jonah was ticked. Now the question is, who so angry, Jonah?
The Hebrew gives us an interesting lesson about Jonah’s anger. First off, the people of Nineveh were evil. Their deeds were evil. Their lifestyle was evil. Their rebellion against God was evil. Their politics and policies were evil. Evil permeated these people and their city. So, God told Jonah to tell them that unless they repented, he would overthrow their city in forty days. Now, Jonah thought that sounded like a good idea. “Get em, God!” But here’s the thing. When the city did repent, God relented of the evil that he was going to bring on them. That’s when Jonah got really ticked. In fact, in the original Hebrew Jonah chapter 4 and verse 1 explains Jonah’s anger this way; “Nineveh’s repenting eviled a great evil in Jonah, and he was angry.” So, Jonah’s anger was as evil as the sin the city of Nineveh was committing.
Had God rained fire and brimstone down on Nineveh, Jonah would have been a happy camper. How many times have we wanted God to rain down fire and brimstone on someone? When we derive pleasure from bad things happening to other people it is slap in the face of a God who is “slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:2). We love and welcome God’s mercy and forgiveness when it is directed our way. But, when God shows mercy to those doing evil in our nation or our world, it can stir some sinful and selfish emotions inside of us. Our anger at God’s mercy is as evil as the evil deeds of those around us. God screams, “I forgive you,” when the world is screaming, “Get em, God!”
If we are grateful for God’s merciful love and grace toward us, we need to be grateful that he extends it to everyone. We should delight in other people’s pardon, rather than their punishment.