Jonah 4:1-11 / ヨナ４：１−１１
The last time we visited Jonah, he had been thrown overboard during a terrible storm and the Lord saved him by sending a large fish to swallow him. Chapters 2 and 3 tell us that Jonah was spat back out on a beach, and sometime later, God called out to Jonah again, to go to Nineveh and proclaim God’s message. Apparently, Jonah had learned his lesson, so this time, he goes to Nineveh
We’re not told what message God wanted Jonah to proclaim, but once in Nineveh, all Jonah said was, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Kind of a strange message, since there was nothing about repentance or how they could avoid the disaster. It’s possible that since Jonah hated the Ninevites, he wanted to minimize the chance of them repenting and being spared.
However, to Jonah’s extreme displeasure, the people of Nineveh heard the message, repented of their ways, and reached out to God, asking for mercy. From the king, all the way to even the livestock, all wore sackcloth and fasted. The people prayed, even though they knew that it might have been too late for God to spare them. Even worse, from Jonah’s perspective, God saw all this and decided to spare them.
So in chapter 4, we find Jonah pouring out his anger to God. Jonah said that he knew that if he preached in Nineveh, they might repent and that God would not destroy them, and that’s the reason why he went in the opposite direction when God commanded him the first time to go to Nineveh. Jonah can’t comprehend that God might spare the wicked people who are outside of His love and the Law, to endanger the future of God’s chosen people, Israel. Jonah is so angry and confused that he asks God to kill him, but God spares him.
Jonah then goes out of the city to wait to see what would happen when the forty days were past, probably hoping against hope that the people will revert back to their wicked ways and get destroyed after all.
God causes a plant to grow and give shade to Jonah, and Jonah loves it – The plant made him very happy. But then God sends a worm and hot east wind that kills the plant, and once again, Jonah is angry enough to die. At this stage, Jonah cares more about the life of a plant than the lives of 120,000 people.
God’s lesson for Jonah is clear – if Jonah cares about a plant that he didn’t even plant, how could God not care for human lives (and animals) who were going to perish, if they kept going the way they were going?
For us Christians, it’s easy to think that as we mature in our faith and become more obedient to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, that God is more pleased with us. And when we see people who openly are defiant towards God, and learn about their wickedness and depravity, we can’t help but think that God is really displeased with them. From these kinds of thoughts, it’s a short hop to believe that God loves those who love him and hates those who hate Him. And in turn, we find ourselves loving those who love God and hating those who hate God.
That’s where Jonah was – he hated the people of Nineveh because he considered them enemies of God. Jonah wanted to see them destroyed, and even felt more sympathy towards a plant than he did towards the Ninevites. But through this experience, God made it clear to Jonah that although He hated the people’s sins, he loved the people – He was ready to destroy them if He had to, but more than that, He cared about them and wanted the best for them.
This world has turned into a very “us versus them” place. I see people being “unfriended” over differences in which politicians they love or hate, whether to wear masks or not, whether sports teams and military bases should be renamed or not, etc.
Most likely, we too have strong feelings about some or all of these things, and we equally have strong emotions about people who we agree with or disagree with on these matters. But before we “unfriend” them, or say/write unkind things about them, we should realize that God loves them. In fact, that person or organization that you consider as the #1 enemy of God – God actually loves them just as much as He loves us. God didn’t send His only begotten Son to the cross just for those people who were going to love God back. It is also clear from our Lord’s teachings that even towards the people we hate, God expects us to treat them with love – “Love your enemies”.
I am confident that after these things happened, Jonah became a better prophet of God, understanding that even the people he hates, God loves. In today’s environment, it is also important for us to learn this lesson, so that we can be more effective Kingdom workers.