Last night we wrapped up the study of Jonah for Summer Lite Worship. Most remember Jonah’s attempt to escape from God’s mission to Nineveh and how God sends his pet whale to retrieve him. What happens next is even more fantastic, because when Jonah finally reaches Nineveh, a city renown for sin, he preaches a one-sentence sermon and the ENTIRE CITY REPENTS, including the cattle, sheep, dogs and cats. It is a marvelous scene with everyone wearing ashes and gunnysacks, seeking the mercy of a God they did not know prior to Jonah’s arrival. And wonder of wonders, “God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them and he did not do it.” Jonah 3:10
The reader would think that Jonah would rejoice. After all, what preacher has ever had 100% positive response to her sermon? But not Jonah; he despairs! He wants Nineveh to be punished for what it had done to Israel. Jonah starts to argue with God,
“O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; 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. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah 4:2-3
The mercy of God causes Jonah pain because he sees others getting away with “murder.” Even though he received mercy when the great fish rescued him from the depths of the sea, he cannot stomach others receiving mercy. God’s mercy irks him so much that he wants to die.
So God asked Jonah a fateful question, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Almost all emotions involve some kind of judgment. We are sad when we are deprived of something that we valued. We are happy when we receive something we value. A Garmin Forerunner 410 as a birthday present could give joy to an avid runner and disappointment to a six-year-old.
God asks Jonah if his anger towards God’s compassion is right. Should God be merciful to all sinners, even the most horrendous ones? Should God be gracious towards those who have hurt you?
Lord Jesus, wash me in mercy, that I might be merciful.