Lessons from Jonah: You’re Not an Only Child

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“You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.”
(Jonah 4:2)

If we had any doubt about Jonah’s motive in fleeing to Tarshish, chapter 4 makes it perfectly clear. He didn’t run because he was afraid like Moses (Exod. 3:11) or because he felt unworthy like Paul (Eph. 3:8). No, Jonah ran because he wanted Nineveh to experience God’s wrath, not His grace. The Lord’s command to “go to Nineveh…and cry out against it” (1:2) didn’t strike him as a final proclamation of judgment, but as an invitation to repent. So Jonah, who would rather have died than see Nineveh saved, did everything he could to ensure their destruction.

I can’t help but wonder how one person could be this selfish. It’s one thing not to buy a cake at the missions bake sale; it’s quite another to set up camp just outside of Nineveh in hopes of a fire show (4:5). How could Jonah be so hateful as to shamelessly complain about God’s grace and mercy? In answer to this question, the NIV Study Bible Notes offer a helpful perspective:

“Jonah was angry that God would have compassion on an enemy of Israel. He wanted God’s goodness to be shown only to Israelites, not to Gentiles. To Jonah, God’s mercy to the Ninevites meant an end to Israel’s favored standing with him.”

It’s not that Jonah was a compulsive people-hater; he simply wanted Israel to be God’s favorite. When God’s willingness to forgive non-Jews became apparent, it interfered with Jonah’s delusional “I-matter-most” theology.

Jonah wanted Israel to be God’s favorite.

This sort of selfishness sounds repulsive to us (and so it should), but traces of it may be found in our own hearts as well. Do we feed our pride with the thought that our personal walk with God, our denominational affiliation, or our Scripture memory routine makes us superior to other Christians? Do we feel especially qualified to lead a prayer, to teach a class, or to share an insight? Perhaps the better question is, do we feel a little bit annoyed when God uses someone else to do something when we’re sure we could do a better job? Like Jonah, our problem isn’t that we don’t believe in God’s mercy, but that we don’t realize just how much we need it.


Feel up to a challenge? Consider memorizing Jonah! Scripture Memory Fellowship has a great program to help you learn all 48 verses in 16 weeks. Click here to check it out.

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