The section of Jonah that we consider here is perhaps the most important to the point of the story. It speaks of a prophet whose success angered him precisely because of divine grace which not only rescued him, but was also set on saving the enemy. Through ironic twists the story unforgettably surrounds us with a sense of God’s grace for all people. What are these ironic twists? How do they contribute to the point of the story?
Relevant Biblical Passages
- Read through the entire book of Jonah.
- Jonah 4:1 – Jonah’s anger at God’s repentance. The people (chapter 3) repent of their evil (ra`) so that God repents of the evil (ra`) he intended for Nineveh; this was a great evil (ra`) for Jonah (4:1). God has abandoned the heat (hrh) of his anger (3:10), while Jonah’s heat (hrh) begins to rise at the idea (4:1).
- Jonah 4:2 – Jonah’s prayer and God’s character. Jonah’s first prayer (chapter 2) was of gratitude to God for delivering him from the certain death of drowning in the dangerous ocean. His other prayer also has to do with deliverance, on two counts: deliverance of the hated Ninevites, for which Jonah was not at all grateful, and deliverance for Jonah from the pain of it all – let me die! What more can we learn from a comparison between the two prayers of Jonah? At the heart of Jonah’s frustration is a remarkable portrait of God’s character. Its first expression appears in Exodus 34:6-7, a divine self-portrait worthy of a life-time of study, reflection and application. The main divine attributes: merciful (rahum < rehem “womb” – compassion for one’s own children); gracious (hannun – generous to a fault); slow to get angry; abounding in steadfast love (hesed – loyalty to commitments) and faithfulness (emet – steadiness, firmness, truth); forgiving (nasa – to life and carry away) all types of sin; but still holds people accountable. Besides in Jonah 4:2, this same self-portrait appears in Pss 86:15, 103:8 and 145:8 and Joel 2:13. Check out these verses as well as a good Bible dictionary on the terms used to describe God.
- Jonah 4:3-4 – Jonah’s death wish and God’s response. We have death wishes from other Bible characters like Jeremiah (chapter 20), Job (chapter 3) and, to some degree, Ecclesiastes (4:1-3). How should we understand these feelings? Were they serious or was all of this for rhetorical affect?
Contributions to the study of Jonah
- So, what is the purpose of the story of Jonah?
_____ God will save everyone universally
_____ Jonah should learn not to complain
_____ Love is more important than following the rules
_____ People are more important than principles
_____ Mercy stands over retributive justice
_____ Universal love should override group loyalty
_____ Greater evangelistic success attends unintentional efforts
_____ Repentance is more important than fulfillment of prophetic predictions
_____ Publish (God’s summons to repentance) or perish
_____ Publish (God’s summons to repentance) and perish
_____ Divine mercy transcends human moral responsibility
Lessons for Life
Are there times when it just doesn’t seem right for God to be so gracious? To us? To others?