But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? …for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.
Jonah 4:1-2 ESV
Very few people that grow up in a Christian-prevalent culture will not know the story of Jonah.
The story is always told the same. Jonah was a prophet of God, but when God called Jonah to prophesy against the great city of Nineveh, he was afraid and ran from God. Jumping on a boat, Jonah goes in the opposite direction of Nineveh. However, God brings about a great storm upon the sea, which causes the sailors to throw Jonah overboard in order to let God spare them from wrath. In the water, God sends a large fish to swallow Jonah, which is perhaps the best-known aspect of this story. Jonah spends three days in the belly of the fish, crying out to God in repentance and brokenness. Finally, the fish coughs Jonah upon the dry land, and he stops fighting God and goes to Nineveh. As Jonah proclaims the word of God in Nineveh, the people react by believing the message and repenting. The end.
Jonah’s fourth and final chapter often gets left out of the story because it muddies the waters of an otherwise fairly straightforward narrative. You see, after Nineveh repents and God relents, Jonah gets angry with God, angry enough to call death upon himself.
Why is Jonah angry? The fish or the travel to Nineveh have not made Jonah angry; instead, Jonah is angry at the grace of God. In these verses, Jonah reveals why he did not want to preach to the city: because he knew God’s character. He knew that God would have mercy on them, but Jonah wanted Nineveh wiped off the map.
Jonah knew God. He was a prophet that heard and declared the very word of God. There was no way that anyone could prove to Jonah that God did not exist; he had spoken with Him after all! Therefore, the problem was not unbelief, which today we often see as the ultimate problem, but instead God did not act as Jonah wanted. Why else would Jonah get angry because God is “merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love”? Jonah’s hatred against the people of Nineveh clashes with God’s love and grace, even upon a people as wicked as the Ninevites admittedly were.
The book of Johan concludes with a question that God proposed to Jonah and, consequently, us as readers:
And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”Jonah 4:10–11
Are we, as God’s people, ready to extend grace to whomever He gives grace? Are we prepared to welcome repentance from ones that we thought were too far gone?
As receivers of grace, may we also be givers of grace.