- Jonah 4:1But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2And he prayed to the LORD and said, "O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live." 4And the LORD said, "Do you do well to be angry?"
5Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. 6Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 7But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, "It is better for me to die than to live." 9But God said to Jonah, "Do you do well to be angry for the plant?" And he said, "Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die." 10And the LORD said, "You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11And 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?"
See -- Jonah hated the Ninevites because they hated Israel. They were enemies of Israel, and made war on Israel. But when God said to Jonah, "you're my prophet -- go tell Ninevah that their time of judgment is at hand," what did Jonah do? He refused to go. He ran the other way -- headed out to Tarshish on the first boat he could find.
Now, those who have only passed through this book in their 365-day reading of the King James (or even the tNIV -- let's not be prudes about who misses this point) may have overlooked something in what Jonah does here. You'd think that Jonah, having heard from God that Ninevah was up for review, would have gone to tell the Ninevites that their day is done. Dudes: you have had your 15 minutes of fame smacking Israel around, but now God is going to flatten you out like a Persian rug under a heard of camels.
That's what I'd think if I heard the words (back in Jonah 1:2), "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me." Yes! Thank you, God! The battle belongs to the Lord! Let's go and take out some enemies of the Lord.
But that's not what Jonah thinks. See: when God tells Jonah, "Go tell Ninevah that their evil deeds are on my list," Jonah goes to other way. And here in what we call Chapter 4, Jonah explicitly says it is because he knows God, and God has this thing He does -- being gracious and merciful, slow to anger and ... steadfast in love. And that's the ESV, so let's not strain any gnats here. Jonah ran away from what God told him to do, and away from the Ninevites, because he didn't want them to hear or experience the steadfast love of God.
And let's be honest: he didn't preach to them the steadfast love of God, did he? "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" was what he preached -- only the judgment. But what he feared was that God would love them and show them love because that's what He does. That's who He is. The King of Ninevah declared a fast and a repentence, and even the animals somehow participate, and when God saw them repent, He spared their destruction.
Think about that: God loved these sinners. Jonah was angry becuase he knew God loves sinners. These sinners -- who we know factually went back to persecuting Israel. God loved them and spared them. Jonah disobeyed God because he knew God was going to show love to sinners.
That's not the end of this story, but I have to get ready for work. Stay tuned for more.