The Angry Prophet

AngerThen God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!” Then the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city. And the Lord God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!” But the Lord said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left–and much livestock? (Jonah 3:10-4:11)

The Angry Prophet

There are many ways for the Lord to work among men. In the book of Jonah an extraordinary story of a remarkable man is given of the providence of God working among the Gentile nations. Nineveh was a great city in those days. Founded during the time of the tower at Babel it would serve as the capital of the Assyrian empire in generations to come. In the book of Jonah we are told it took Jonah three days to walk its length and housed at least 120,000 people. The city was a Gentile city but God directed Jonah to go and preach to that great city. At first the prophet was reluctant refusing to go. As he fled to Tarshish he was cast into the sea and spent three days and nights in the bowels of a great fish. Receiving his second command to go to Nineveh Jonah went and preached the doom of the great city. Remarkably the king heard the message and sought forgiveness from God. Proclaiming a fast the Gentile ruler implored the whole city to turn to the Lord in the hope the city would not perish. God relented. This should be a time of praise and glory for Jonah but quite the contrary.

Jonah reveals why he fled to Tarshish in the beginning. As a preacher of truth his message to the people of Nineveh was powerful. Peter and the apostles were blessed to experience the new birth of three thousand souls on the day of Pentecost but the son of Amittai brought a whole city to its knees. It is easy to see why God choose Jonah to cry out against the wicked city. His preaching was the truth of the Lord and his presentation was like the brand of Amos. When the Lord told Jonah He had relented from His judgment Jonah was exceedingly displeased and he became angry. He fled to Tarshish (or tried to) because he did not want these people to be saved. His righteous indignation was hot against the wicked people. He decided that God did not know what He was doing so the prophet decided to go as far away to the ends of the earth as he could. The mistake of the man of God was to think he could ever go somewhere the Lord was not. He may have been an effective preacher of truth but his heart was not where it should be.

Jonah was angry. The Lord prepared the plant to cover Jonah and the prophet enjoyed the shade. When the plant died Jonah was again angry. When God spoke to Jonah the prophet replied to the Lord with anger. The book ends abruptly with the Savior of men reminding Jonah that as wicked as the people of Nineveh were; He, God,  had compassion on their hearts because they repented. Jonah could not see that. His plan was for the Lord to wipe out Nineveh in a blast from Heaven much like Sodom and Gomorrah. His anger blinded him from God’s grace.

Sin is ugly. It is easy for God’s people to hate the sinner more than the sin but while God hates sin He loves the broken lives of those who need guidance. The Lord never condoned sin because of His love for the sinner. Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more. What is revealed in that story is the hatred of men for the woman detesting what she had done rather than try to save her soul. The grace of God is measured by our own lives. What Jonah needed to realize is there was no difference between his life and the lives of those in Nineveh. He had rebelled against God refusing to go to Nineveh. The Lord wanted to save Nineveh and gave him a second chance to do what he was commanded. Why would he be angry if the Lord relented from punishing this great city? Mercy extended. Grace imparted. Love shown.

Sin is ugly in my life. I have been redeemed from the stain of sin. My sin is no different than the sin of others. All men sin. Jesus shed His blood for every sin and every sinner. All men need the grace of God no matter whether they are murderers, homosexuals, sexually immoral or tell a small lie once in a while. Grace comes from the blood of Jesus Christ. Jonah needed to have pity on the people of Nineveh. He should rejoice that a city as wicked as Nineveh could come to the Lord. There are a lot of Ninevites walking among us. Are you angry or are you ….

When thinking of sinners we shall never go wrong to include ourselves. (Aelred Graham, Christian Thoughts and Action, 1951)

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