“When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it. But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.” (Jonah 3:10 – 4:1)
Jonah was a very effective preacher. The people of Nineveh, from the king and his court down to the simple folk, repented and turned/returned to the Lord God. Apparently Jonah was ready and eager to see the calamity that he had preached about – come about. After all, he might have reasoned, when you preach gloom and doom – there should be doom and gloom!
“He prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” (Verse 2)
If I was of a mind (which I am not) I would go back and fact check to see what Jonah’s initial objection was to going to Nineveh to preach. When I was young (oh so very young, beloved reader) I though Jonah’s time in the whale cured him of his bitter attitude. But, it did not.
“And now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Verses 3 – 4)
Now the psychologist in me good make so perceptive guesses about Jonah, and why he is so put out. But I do not think, beloved reader, you want me to take the time to parse apart Jonah’s psyche. Let us read on in the story.
“Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city. The LORD God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” (Verses 5 – 8)
Jonah was having a miserable time! First, he was called by the Lord God (yes, chosen too) to go to a city some distance away and preach. For whatever reason, Jonah did not want to. So the Divine had a large fish “choose” him for a meal. Jonah suffered through that. And then once free, was compelled again to travel where he did not want to go. So, he may have determined, if he had to suffer so should the people of Nineveh. And in very clear terms Jonah described how much and how long they would suffer; so clear that it deterred the whole city. Now Jonah apparently was eager and waiting for the crush and crash to come upon the city. Both to vent his spleen and to give truth to the words he spoke. But . . . nothing happened to the people. It made Jonah feel like he had been made a fool of by the compassion and mercy of the Divine. Yes, Jonah had problems.
“But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the LORD said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” (Verses 9 – 11)
The very mercy that Jonah pleaded to the Lord God for, (yes, I went back and looked and Jonah said nothing about it being a mote point to proclaim doom when the Divine would just end up forgiving them) Jonah wished to deny the citizens of Nineveh. You should read the prayer attributed to Jonah when he was in the large fish. Not mention the realization of the power of the Divine the sailors on the boat that Jonah tried to run away on. In the end, it seems that Jonah could not authentically grasp the faith in the Lord God that he inspired in others – his prayer notwithstanding.
Hope rises when we hear the call of the Divine, and we fall it. Hope falls when it does not go as we plan. But hope can arise again when we place our truest faith in the Divine and live according to the word of the Lord God. May the faithful remnant learn this lesson. Shalom & Selah!