Here are some items from this morning’s church activities, and also from last Wednesday’s Bible study. The focus was on Jonah 4.
A. God’s desire is to show people mercy. God looks for opportunities to do so, even going so far as to negotiate with Abraham over the fate of Sodom (Genesis 18). God does not demonstrate mercy to Nineveh because they repented, nor does God save people because they believe in Jesus; God’s heart is to show people mercy. God has set the table, and yet it is still up to people whether or not they will partake. God loved Nineveh because he created it, cared for it, and nourished it (Jonah 4:10). Yet, the Ninevites did not know their right hand from their left (Jonah 4:11), which means that they lacked wisdom and did not know God.
B. Jonah was upset with God because God showed mercy to Nineveh. God was extending to Nineveh the covenant blessing of mercy that belonged to Israel, according to God’s proclamation of his name in Exodus 34:6-7. Jonah also may have felt that God was placing his covenant people Israel at risk, since Nineveh was brutal; decades thereafter, the Assyrians would actually destroy Northern Israel. Jonah quotes to God only the merciful parts of God’s name in Exodus 34:6-7, while omitting the part about God’s law and justice; Jonah did so in criticizing God for letting off the Ninevites. While the pastor believes that God’s innate, preferred action is mercy, whereas God’s judgment is something that God does reluctantly, the pastor’s point here may have been that Jonah’s conception of God was incomplete. God is merciful, but God also cares about oppression and executes justice.
C. God provided a gourd for Jonah to deliver him from his evil, according to Jonah 4:6. The pastor interpreted that to mean that God was trying to make Jonah more compassionate and forgiving towards the Ninevites, when Jonah’s attitude was anger and unforgiveness; God did so by making Jonah comfortable as God shielded him from the harsh, scorching, desiccating wind. Jonah had built himself a booth, the same word that is used for the Feast of Booths. The Feast of Booths was a time for the Israelites to lay aside their usual pursuits, to remember God’s provision when they were in the wilderness (Leviticus 23:43), and to reflect on the word of God (Deuteronomy 31:9-13). Jonah in his booth, however, was not interested in hearing God’s voice but rather in airing to God his (Jonah’s) angry sentiments. God caused the gourd to die to teach Jonah a lesson. As Jesus does in many situations in the Gospels when people ask him a question, God asks Jonah a question, for that can give Jonah an opportunity to talk and to reveal what was in his heart. The Book of Jonah does not tell us Jonah’s ultimate decision, whether he held on to his bitterness or chose to forgive. Maybe he decided to forgive on the long road from Nineveh to Northern Galilee. Or perhaps he held on to his bitterness and vanished in the dust, bereft of God’s grace. If the latter is the case, that is one more way that Jesus was greater than Jonah: Jesus forgave (Matthew 12:41; Luke 11:32).
D. The youth pastor had a skit in which Jonah attributed his unwillingness to forgive the Ninevites to his lack of belief that God had forgiven him. Jonah felt like a screw-up, in short. In class, however, we got a slightly different story. Jonah experienced God’s forgiveness and deliverance from peril and even sang a beautiful song about it (Jonah 2), yet that did not make Jonah more merciful towards the Ninevites. Jonah also was angry with God. By itself, that is not sinful, for children often are angry with their parents because they do not recognize their parents’ wisdom; similarly, we do not see God’s big picture. But anger with God can become sinful, perhaps when one persists in it.