“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly and he was angry.” What’s that you say? The “it”, the repentance of Nineveh and the relentance (not a real word) of God. The thing that generally makes us rejoice (and that we find ourselves part of not all that often) has pissed Jonah off. It all comes together here. Up to this point, we haven’t been told why Jonah fled from God’s command. He doesn’t mention it on the boat, he doesn’t mention it in his prayer and it doesn’t come up as part of his explanation of what happened in the city. Up to now, we just have a dude who heard God and thought he’d do the other thing. Now he speaks.
“That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” Ah, this seems outlandish, but as with the rest of the story, I think there is more here for us than perhaps we first note. You see, at its core this is a gap between our sense of justice and God’s. It’s a gap between what we think people deserve and what God does. You might not be currently plotting to flee Christ to deny a major city God-offered salvation, but it’s possible that there are certain people who you think deserve the full force of whatever justice God has coming because of how they’ve treated you. It’s possible that you are surrounded by one or more people who are inept, selfish, lazy, stupid, evil, deceitful, rude, hurtful, prideful baboons (or any combination therein) and you can think of nothing better than they receive their comeuppance.
I’m not saying that any of those adjectives don’t accurately and adequately describe these people that are around you. However, picture that person or persons in your mind. And now imagine what it would be like for you to approach them straight on with an offer from God for all of their ineptness, selfishness, laziness, evilness, pride, deceit, etc. to be forgiven. And as part of that, realize that they won’t get the comeuppance they truly deserve. They will not feel the weight of the hurt they have caused others, they will not suffer for their foolishness, they will not “learn their lesson”. In short, in your eyes, justice will not be done.
Will you make the offer? Will you take the good news to this baboon who doesn’t deserve it? Who, if all was right in the world, would face the consequences they have earned? And before you answer, consider whether that is true of your life. You have sinned against man and God. Every deceit, every harsh word, every dirty thought, all of it. The cost of this is death (I know, you think it’s harsh, but all of these degrade a perfect creation, one God has intended to live forever. This sin has tainted it, separating you from a perfect Creator and trashing the perfect Creation around you with selfish things that are intended to either serve or protect you and you alone at the expense of those around you.) So you deserve death. That’s just. It’s right. It’s the truth.
But you, follower of Jesus, will not die. Because you did something to redeem yourself? No, we both know you haven’t done anything that could put all that you’ve done wrong back to right. You couldn’t do it even if you wanted to, and if we’re honest, you don’t spend all that much time wanting to and even less time actually trying. No, you will live forever because at some point, through someone or some circumstance, you came to hear of the good news; the news that Jesus came to pay the penalty for all that you have done. That Jesus came to deny you your comeuppance, to refuse your enemies the satisfaction of everything you’ve done wrong piling upon your head and squashing you unto death. That, if you would trust him and pledge fealty to the Him as your King, he would declare you “not guilty” and insist that everyone in His Kingdom treat you as such.
Did you deserve that? Of course not, you deserved to be buried under the weight of all you’ve done to jack up a perfect world. But God disagrees. He says justice is the offering of forgiveness. He says justice is the chance to repent and be redeemed and to have your offenses forgiven forever. That’s what God says is just. Do you agree with that for you? Do you agree with God’s justice when it comes to those inept baboons? And do you agree with God’s call that it is likely you personally who is to take the good news of God’s justice to those very baboons? Now you understand Jonah’s position better. It’s still ridiculous, but perhaps how you view those around you shares a bit of that as well.
Back to Jonah. He proposes that because God has shown mercy to the Ninevites, it is better that he die. And the Lord casually asks whether his anger is really appropriate. No answer from Jonah, who heads outside of the city, prepares a tent for himself (that’s the booth), and hangs out to see what would happen to the city. He seems to still be hopeful that God will destroy it, otherwise why wait and watch? Perhaps he thinks God’s question about anger to him is rhetorical, like, “don’t overreact Jonah, you know I’m going to lay waste to these posers anyhow. West Coast!” (I hope we would all agree the Lord would not react like a Cali gangster.)
In response to this, God calls nature into action. He “appoints” this plant just like he “appoints” the fish to get Jonah from the sea. The Lord has this thing under control. Anyway, he creates a giant plant to give Jonah shade while he waits. Jonah is “exceedingly glad” for this personal comfort (mirroring his “exceedingly angry” reaction to Ninevah’s repentance.) Then, God puts the plant under siege by a worm, exposing Jonah to a harsh east wind and sun. Jonah then returns to the thought that death might be the right answer given how uncomfortable all of this is for him.
God asks him the same question as before, except for this time it’s directed at whether it seems ok for Jonah to be angry that the plant has been destroyed. Giving up all pretense, Jonah affirms that he indeed is right to be angry, even unto death!” This is what you look like when arguing with God about justice as well.
God makes a pretty reasonable argument in response. Basically, you pity the plant that you had no part of creating or sustaining and that was only around for day. It’s perishing is enough to anger you so that you think dying is the right reaction. Yet, God shows pity on over 100,000 folks who were blind to knowing the true God and you’re upset at that? Perhaps the presence of a bunch of cattle could at least rile up from sympathy from you?
And the book ends with no answer from Jonah to God’s question.
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