«But the Lord said [to Jonah], ‘You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?’ » (Jonah 4:10, 1 1).
WHEN ONE READS ABOUT THE GREAT ANGER Jonah felt when God forgave the wickedness of the Ninevites, what account in the New Testament comes easily to mind? Obviously, the parable of the prodigal son.
Let’s imagine these two scenes. In the well-known parable, the eldest son becomes angry when the father receives with open arms the son who has squandered the family inheritance; and when the father throws a party to celebrate the return of the one who was lost, then the eldest, outraged, refuses to take part in the celebration.
In Jonah’s case, he is first «displeased . . . exceedingly» because God has forgiven the Ninevites (4: 1—3); and then we see him taking shelter under a plant, «till he might see what would become of the city» (v. 5).
How interesting! If Scripture says there is joy in heaven when a sinner repents, why did these two «party poopers,» instead of rejoicing, become angry? Without making apologies, James R. Edwards explains their anger in this way. Imagine that when we reach heaven, we encounter the salesman who ripped us off, the lowlife who cried for us to lend him money and who never paid it back, the co-worker who slandered us in order to acquire the promotion we deserved. Wouldn’t we be a little offended to see in heaven people of this «ilk»? Is it not offensive, perhaps, that God forgives the thief, the murderer, the adulterer . . . ?
It is «offensive,» of course, according to our sense of justice, but not to the God who, in addition to being just, is also merciful; to the God who does not want any of His children to be lost but yearns for every one of them to repent (2 Peter 3:9). This is precisely the lesson that reminds us of today’s text: If we love God, how can we not love the souls for which Christ died, whether they are Ninevites or Israelites?
How interesting is the fact that, according to Edwards himself, the word «pity» in Jonah 4:11, in Hebrew is chus, which means «eyes filled with tears.»‘ Why shouldn’t the God who sheds tears for you and me not shed them for the sinner who is perishing?
Help me, dear Father, to love You more and more every day, as well as those who don’t seem to deserve to be loved. Please help me understand the great truth that Christ died for them as well.