Did you know that one of God’s very own prophets actually got angry because God kept His promise and showed mercy? Stick around and we’ll talk about it…here on 5 minutes of truth.
The story of Jonah is one of the most well-known stories in all of the Bible. It is one of those events that has some bit of recognition even outside of religious circles. I have heard mentions of Jonah from the Sunday School classroom to an Avengers movie. There are a large number of people who are at least tacitly familiar with Jonah’s adventures in the belly of a fish. But there is at least one aspect of the story that both Believer and non-believer are generally not familiar with.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In able to understand the end of the story, we must first make sure we are familiar with the first part of the story. It begins like this. God has chosen to bring His word of salvation and redemption to a city called Nineveh acknowledging, “their wickedness has come up before Me” (Jonah 1:2b). Instead of punishing their sin, God decided to send a prophet to the city to preach a message designed to get the people to repent and turn to Him. For this important task, God chose Jonah.
We are told that instead of being honored and humbled to be chosen by God, Jonah felt otherwise. Instead of heading for Nineveh with a message of hope, the Bible tells us that, “Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3a). Rather than obey God, Jonah ran from God to avoid this mission. We are not, at this point, told why Jonah made this decision. But we would find that out later.
After securing passage to Tarshish as he ran from the Lord, the ship Jonah was on was hit by a terrible storm. The storm was so intense that the Bible relates to us that, “the ship was about to be broken up” (Jonah 1:4b). Since wayfarers of the sea are often known to be a superstitious group, the ship’s crew decided that one of the people on board must be responsible for the wrath they were suffering. And while they were crying out to their gods, they decided to cast lots (similar to drawing straws) to see who the guilty culprit was.
Jonah drew the short straw, so to speak. Once they knew that Jonah had angered God by fleeing from Him, they looked desperately for a solution. Jonah had one. He told them that the only way they could escape God’s wrath for his shortcomings was to throw him overboard. Though they protested, they eventually capitulated. And they tossed Jonah overboard into the tumultuous sea. I believe you’re familiar with the rest.
Once in the water, God sent a “great fish” (Jonah 1:17) to swallow Jonah and to ensure that Jonah ended up exactly where God wanted Him in the first place, on the shore outside of Nineveh. Once Jonah spent three days in the belly of the fish, we might think he would be more than ready to accomplish the mission God had sent him on. We’d be partly right. He was ready, but he had his reservations.
In the meantime, of course, God was as good as His Word. Once Jonah went into Nineveh and began preaching God’s truth, an amazing thing began to happen. The Ninevites, from the greatest to the least, began to listen and heed the Word of the Lord. In fact, the Bible states, “So the people of Nineveh believed God” (Jonah 3:5a).
As a result, instead of punishing their sin which would have been a just thing to do, God instead forgave them. In the pantheon of stories related to the Old Testament prophets, this is one of the ones with the happiest endings. Too many times people ignored the prophets and experienced punishment. But here, the people listened and repented and were spared. And everyone was happy. Right? Not exactly.
The Bible states: “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry” (Jonah 4:1). Why, you may ask, was Jonah so angry when his mission had been such a success? Well, he tells us. Jonah was angry because he knew that God was merciful. He knew God would show that mercy to the Ninevites. And he didn’t want God to do as He had promised to do for Nineveh.
In fact, Jonah told God: “was not this what I said when I was still in my country? I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness” (Jonah 4:2). In other words, Jonah was angry because he knew God would show mercy to the Ninevites. He was angry because God is merciful. And he didn’t want the Ninevites to get mercy. We don’t know why. We don’t know the reason for his hatred for the people of Nineveh. But we know what he forgot. What we must never forget.
That none of us deserve God’s mercy. None of us. No matter what a person does, they do not fall outside of God’s willingness to forgive and show grace. We have all sinned and we all deserve God’s wrath. That includes Jonah. He forgot about that. He hated the Ninevites. He thought them worse than him. He felt they did not deserve God’s grace. He was right. But he forgot that he didn’t deserve God’s grace either. None of us do. And yet, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. How cool is that?
On behalf of myself, Robert Houghton and all of us here at Growth Project, keep reading God’s Word.
Dr. Purvis started Growth Project with Robert Houghton after spending 20 years on active duty as a Chaplain in the United States Navy. After many moves and multiple deployments, he settled in Winter Haven, Florida to do God’s will. A glutton for educational punishment Danny has a BA in English from Carson-Newman College, an MDiv from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; a ThM from Princeton Theological Seminary; and a PhD in Organizational Leadership from Regent University. He has been married to his wife Kimberly (whom he met when they were 6 years old) for nearly 30 years and they have four wonderful children.