The prophet Jonah disobeyed God and was swallowed by a big fish when he tried to run away from the mission to which God appointed him. After his repentant prayers, Jonah was given a second chance by God to go to the city of Nineveh to preach a message of repentance so that the city might be spared God's wrath. Jonah's preaching was successful, the Ninevites repented, and God showed compassion and did not destroy them for their previous evil ways.
But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."
But the LORD replied, "Have you any right to be angry?"
Jonah 4:1-4 (New International Version)
Readers of the book of Jonah may find it rather curious that we initially do not know why Jonah is resistant about being obedient to God's call for him to go to Nineveh. The initial reaction is that he was afraid. Nineveh was an enemy of Israel and we might assume that Jonah was afraid of personal harm or even death if he were to go there and start preaching a message from the God of Israel. However, like most books of the Bible, Jonah needs to be read and reread in order to begin to understand what is going on. In the fourth chapter we finally learn that Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh because he was angry that God would show compassion to the Ninevites.
This Book of Jonah is one of paradoxes and parallels. On one hand we have this prophet of God, Jonah, who is in the service of God and should be obeying him and on the other we have the wicked city of Nineveh that is going to be destroyed unless they turn from their wicked ways. God is willing to give the Ninevites a second chance if they turn to Him and the prophet who is appointed by God to deliver this message to the Ninevites tries to turn away from God in rebellion. At this point it seems like God should just smite them all. However, we know, as Jonah knows, that God is patient and loving toward his children.
The Book of Jonah is all about second chances. The sailors of the ship on which Jonah tries to flee are saved from destruction when they turn to God; from inside the big fish God hears Jonah's prayer and gives him another chance to complete his mission; and God gives the people of Nineveh a second chance when they call on Him for forgiveness and mercy. Jonah should be rejoicing that his God is all the He said He is and is an everlasting loving God. And yet Jonah is sullen and angry.
We look at all the times in history that humankind deserved destruction and the times that God has actually exerted His wrath. They were deserved times indeed. We can look at ourselves and wonder why we have been so deserving of His mercy and blessings. The second chances keep on coming. If God has been able to so often show patience and understanding toward us, what right does Jonah have to be angry? God has not only protected Jonah from harm, He has given Jonah a talent to reach others to bring them to salvation. And after all he has been through, Jonah asks God to let him die because he is so upset.
One might ask what kind of small, selfish, ungrateful man was Jonah? Yet even Jesus refers to Jonah as having a reputation of greatness. There are times when we all must want to question why God allows certain things to happen. We may think we are living good lives, being generous and kind, giving ourselves to others, and trying to be as upstanding as we can be, and still face bad health, financial problems, and terrible life situations. Our natural inclination is to question God, but we should accept what comes our way. We can lament the bad, but we should rejoice and praise God for all of the good. Anger toward God should never be in our hearts when He has done so much for us that is good.
Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."
Exodus 34:5-7 (NIV)
We might remember how the Israelites in flight from their captivity in Egypt were continually blessed by God even though they repeatedly complained, rebelled, and fell into sin. After each blessing, the Israelites would later blame God for their plights. They often lost faith and turned away from God. They were also continually given chances to come back into God's favor. God gives us second chances, but there are consequences to our sin that will not be exempted. The consequences of our sin may not be seen by us, but they may be passed to subsequent generations. Sin can be forgiven, but a price must be paid. Getting angry about this does not help. We must humble ourselves before God and trust in Him. When we give ourselves over to God we will reap his compassion.
The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
Psalm 103:8-10 (NIV)