So he complained to the LORD about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, LORD! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” Jonah 4:2-3 (NLT)
Before I had the skills to read it for myself, I had heard the story of “Jonah and the Whale” at least a dozen times. It was usually taught from the perspective of what can happen when you run from the calling of God. In reality, the story wasn’t really about Jonah or the “great fish” at all, but was instead written to show the lengths God will go to show compassion upon the wicked—using the most bitter of servants—because He can!
Nineveh’s wickedness was infamous. No greater benefit could come to that region than to have it wiped from the face of the earth—or so Jonah believed. Yet, for reasons known then only to God, He chose one of the most avid Nineveh haters to change its destiny. Having no desire to participate in God’s plan, Jonah boarded a ship bound for Tarshish to carry him as far from Nineveh as possible. He concluded that if he could run from God’s calling to share the message of repentance, then Nineveh would eventually succumb to God’s judgment for it clearly was not worthy of His grace.
Jonah’s knowledge of the Lord’s tendency to respond with overwhelming compassion toward genuine repentance had been firmly established. What he did not know was the extent that God will go to accomplish His will in the lives of all those involved. Though he was less than cooperative in God’s plan for Nineveh’s redemption, he himself experienced God’s pursuit as well in that was used to bring salvation not only to Nineveh, but also to those innocent bystanders on the ship who were innocently implicated in his “escape plan.”
Jonah’s bizarre journey to avoid being part of Nineveh’s transformation reveals a sobering truth about how God views both wickedness and bitterness. God reminds us, in no uncertain words, that no one has the right to sit in judgment of another in terms of who is worthy of His grace. If Jonah had EVER prayed for Nineveh to turn from its wickedness, it is not reflected in his actions before, during or after he had watched it occur. Bitterness blinded him from the Nineveh miracle!
There are still times when the Lord sees us bound by our bitterness and He will ask again, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?” Will our words reveal the Holy Spirit’s influence and our trust in God’s grace or will they show that we are merely blinded by our bitterness.