This is the fourth in a four part series on Jonah.
The fourth chapter of Jonah is an odd one. The story would have wrapped up nicely with the end of chapter three, but Jonah just couldn’t let go of his vendetta against Nineveh. So he became angry at the LORD’s mercy.
“This is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning,” said Jonah, “for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” What a jerk! Jonah knew the character of God and that God would likely relent upon whatever the Lord had in store for Nineveh, so what did he do? He tried his hardest to prevent God’s mercy from ever reaching Nineveh!
The book of Jonah ends with God giving Jonah an illustration. The purpose in the illustration is to expose Jonah’s lack of mercy to the people of Nineveh. In the end, God asks Jonah, “Should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
God will not allow his will and compassion for Nineveh to be thwarted by Jonah’s contempt or narrow-hearted lack of compassion. Whether in the end Jonah understood God’s feelings towards the people of Nineveh or not, we don’t know. What we do know is that God was compassionate and slow to anger, with both the Ninevites and with Jonah.
May God be as patient with us as he was with Jonah and as merciful with us as he was with Nineveh.