This week we looked at Jonah 4, which contains Jonah’s response to God extending His mercy beyond the borders and people of Israel to Nineveh.
“And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God revoked His [sentence of] evil that He would do to them and He did not do it [for He was comforted and eased concerning them]. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly and he was very angry.”
(Jon 3:10-4:1, Amplified, emphasis mine)
Of all things, when studying for this lesson, I found myself wondering, “What is ‘it‘?” (i.e., “it” from verse 4:1). What was it that made Jonah so angry? Maybe it was what we talked about last week – how readily the people of Nineveh accepted his message and repented of their wickedness. I imagine Jonah getting all puffed up thinking about how much trouble God had gone to in order to get him to Nineveh. If this mission was important enough to send a storm and then hijack a great fish for 3+ days until Jonah cried ‘UNCLE,’ he had better be ready for grueling days in this pagan city.
I imagine Jonah entering “into the city a day’s journey” thinking, ‘This isn’t going to be pretty, but obviously there’s no other man for the job!’ (Jon 3:4, dramatization). Then Jonah opens his mouth having prepared himself for a hostile audience; instead, the king himself commands everyone (down to the cattle) to fast and mourn their sins by putting on sackcloth and sitting in ashes. To say their quick repentance was a let-down for Jonah is probably a gross understatement.
Can’t you just hear Jonah’s thoughts?! ‘If the people of Nineveh were so ready to receive and accept Your word, then why was it so important that I deliver the message?!’ If we look closely at the remainder of Jonah 4, it becomes apparent that Jonah’s calling was as much (if not more) about Jonah and his own relationship with God as it was about the people to whom he would minister.
Jonah’s journey to the city of Nineveh was just the beginning; God had another journey in store for Jonah. It was only eighteen inches more, but it was “the longest journey a man must take … the eighteen inches from his head to his heart” (author unknown). Jonah knew God – His nature, what He could (can) do (see Jon 4:2) – but Jonah’s knowledge of God held by the boundaries of his mind. As Jonah sat east of Nineveh waiting for what would or would not happen to that great city, God used a gourd and cutworm to lead Jonah those last eighteen inches.