From movies to books to everyday life; it seems revenge is in and mercy is out. That was true for Jonah, too. Jonah was a prophet from Israel who was called to preach to the people of Nineveh – the capital city of the mighty Assyrian Empire. Assyria was threatening to swallow up tiny Israel and everyone in it, and Jonah wasn’t happy about his new assignment.
I. Jonah’s Refusal Shows God’s Patience (Jon. 1)
– The Order (v.1,2)
– The Objection (v.3)
Instead of heading for Nineveh, Jonah hopped aboard a slow boat to Tarshish – which happened to be in the opposite direction. But, God cared too much about both Jonah and the people of Nineveh to let him go without a fight.
– The Ordeal (v.4-17)
So, the Lord sent a storm that led the other sailors to toss Jonah overboard. Then God sent a large fish to snatch Jonah away from a watery grave.
II. Jonah’s Prayer Shows God’s Power (Jon.2)
– Jonah’s Despair (v.1-6)
– Jonah’s Dedication (v.7-9)
– Jonah’s Deliverance (v.10)
In God’s grace, Jonah was given a second chance to go to Nineveh and call the people to repent – and this time Jonah took it.
For most people, that’s where the story stops. But, that’s really only half the story!
III. Nineveh’s Revival Shows God’s Pardon (Jon.3)
– Jonah’s Commission (v.1-4)
– Nineveh’s Confession (v.5-9)
– God’s Compassion (v.10)
Jonah preached the mercy of God. And the people of Nineveh repented. And God, in keeping with His character, relented from carrying out the destruction He had threatened for that city.
Good news, right? Not for Jonah.
IV. Jonah’s Resentment Shows God’s Compassion Contrasted with Jonah’s Lack of Pity (ch.4)
– Jonah’s 2-Fold Complaint (v.1-9)
Jonah was actually angry at God for being compassionate and for sparing the city!
– God’s Manifold Compassion (v.10,11)
God stresses His concern for the people – & animals – of Nineveh.
How do you respond when you are threatened by others? Or even hurt by others? Do you seek revenge? Do you pray for God to do nasty things to your enemies? Jesus calls us to pray for our enemies (Matt. 5:43-47).
Since God has been merciful to us… and has given us the invitation to avoid eternal punishment for our own sins (Rom. 6:23), how can we wish anything else for others?
Few Old Testament personalities are as transparent as Jonah. We can see right through him. And most of what we see we don’t like. He reminds us too much our ourselves: fearful, selfish, spiteful, and proud.
Maybe Jonah thought – if he made things difficult for God – God would give up on the Ninevites… or would, at least, find someone else to take His message to them. But, Jonah underestimated God’s determination that Jonah would be the one to fulfill His mission.
God’s patience with us is amazing. Even though we run and rebel, He patiently corrects us and puts us back on course. Even so, we should not test God’s mercy. It is always better to do what He asks us to do the first time.
* God will do whatever it takes to give us the opportunity to come back to Him.
God’s love for a parched, sinful place filled with people like Nineveh stunned Jonah. Jonah didn’t want the people of Nineveh forgiven; he wanted them destroyed.
Jonah’s understanding of God’s love & grace & mercy was distorted.
Is it possible that our view is similarly wrong? We shouldn’t forget that God devoted Himself to us when we, too, were a lost and hopeless cause.
We all claim to want justice over mercy… until it comes to us.
* God withholds the justice we deserve so that we might receive the mercy we do not.
You can read Jonah’s story in the Old Testament book of Jonah.