Jonah 3 v10 – 4 v11 (NIV)
Jonah’s Anger at the Lord ‘s Compassion
10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 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. 3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
4 But the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”
5 Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?”
“I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.”
10 But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”
I reflect that it is easy, in these polarised times, to end up just like Jonah – wanting judgment over our enemies, taking secret delight in their perfidies and cursing them in our hearts. What a difference between our attitude and the Lord’s attitude as seen in 2 Peter 3 v9:
9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Judgment may come, but that will not be our doing, as vengeance belongs to the Lord. Better then that we have a heart close to His, a heart that brims with sorrow for the lost and foolish sinner bound in wickedness. How long has it been since we were there, how long has it been since we realised the immensity of our salvation? That we were no less lost, foolish and sinful, but that we were found by the Great High King and Shepherd of our souls. How long has it been since we looked on at the depths of our ruin and loss, and wondered at the love that would bear our burden?
Therefore, knowing this, how can we wish to deny others, even those lost and fast bound to their sin – hating the redeemed, and by extension their creator – how can we deny them the hope, the only hope there is, that they too may be found and rescued, even in the extremity of their distress?
But so often this is how it is – in the heat of battle and in standing against the enemy, that our hearts become hardened, our tone scornful, and we forget that they also bear the image of God, no matter how distorted and darkened. We lose our compassion as we confirm ourselves as the righteous, forgetting the heart of the one who made us righteous, the one who would shrug off the fancy arguments and religious formularies of His day, to rescue one lost sheep along the way.
His heart burns in the unquenchable fire of judgment against sin, the deepest offense against holiness. But this selfsame heart is filled to the brim and overflowing with a burning, extravagant and outrageous love for His people, who follow Him, however imperfectly. This love does not willingly judge and condemn, though these things must come, but goes to the ends to woo one sinner back home.
This love was the love that compelled Jesus to the cross, there to pay the ultimate sacrifice for all our sin, to death and separation from His Father. Can we understand the depth of this sacrifice or the outrageous love that prompted it? I think we are doing well if we catch but a dim reflection.
I am convinced that in Gods economy, mercy crowns judgment. For, friends, the same heart that burns in judgment is the heart that grieves in love. If our eyes could have their scales removed, we would see it.
My prayer is that our hearts would become more and more like His. Where we are dulled and lacking compassion; where we do not grieve over the lost; where we condemn and delight in the incipient judgment of those that raise themselves up against You; Lord have mercy.
May my heart become one with yours Lord, a heart of outrageous love – burning in holiness against those who would desecrate your kingdom, and burning in love and grief for those who are lost, wandering in the darkness.
Maranatha, Lord have mercy!