Grace is something we have no claim to. When you say you have a right to it and it is owed to you it stops being grace. It becomes an obligation. Grace is only grace when kindness, favor and blessings are given even though wholly unearned.
In chapter 4 we see Jonah sulking. Verse 1 says, “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.” He’s mad. The word for “displeased” literally means “hot”. Jonah is not distraught, perplexed, disappointed, or worried. Jonah is burning with anger. He’s fuming. We might say he is “red-hot”.
Why is Jonah red hot mad? Two reasons. First, because Nineveh has been spared. That last verse in chapter 3 said, “When God saw what they [the Ninevites] did and how they turned from their evil ways, He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened.” Jonah was hoping to see God go all “Sodom & Gomorrah” on the city of Nineveh. But He didn’t. So Jonah was really angry about it.
Now to understand why Jonah was hoping for their destruction you have to understand how bad Nineveh was. They did not observe any restraint when they went to war against another nation. They did awful things to the bodies of the soldiers they defeated and they were arrogant and proud about how cruel they were. Their reputation was fierce and many nations surrendered before Assyria ever that even was known in heaven. Nahum chapter 3 gives us a vivid description of the atrocities Nineveh committed. God Himself speaks to them and says things like “Woe to the city of blood…never without victims…many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over corpses…I am against you declares the LORD Almighty…the fire will devour you, the sword will cut you down…Nothing can heal your wound; you injury is fatal; everyone who hears the news about you claps his hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty.” (v1, 3, 5, 15, 19)
Jonah wanted to clap his hands at the fall of Nineveh. Israel has felt the endless cruelty of that vicious nation. It was personal to Jonah. We must not be condescending towards Jonah when observing his anger. We must not think that Jonah is somehow void of mercy and tenderness that we think we would all have so easily and naturally in his situation. We must sympathize with Jonah humbly.
We must also see here how tenderly God deals with Jonah. He rebukes his prophet, yes, but, not harshly. He is, after all, a compassionate God. Not just towards Nineveh, but, also towards His servant in a very difficult circumstance. Jonah was not being restored to a perspective he had and then lost. God was growing Jonah’s character further into likeness to His own. Jonah’s personal understanding of God’s mercy was expanding, but that’s not all. God wanted to not only be understood for His mercy, but, resembled. We are reminded of Jesus: “Be holy as your Father in Heaven is Holy”…. “Forgive as your Father in Heaven has forgiven you” The process of building our character is always to make Jesus more clearly visible in us.
Which leads us to the 2nd reason Jonah is mad: Jonah is mad is because he knew this would happen. Notice verse 2, “….” This is a very important verse for two reasons. One, it shows us that Jonah’s refusal to go to Nineveh in the first place was not because he was afraid of what might happen to him. I think its a common misunderstanding that Jonah was trying to save his own skin – I just heard it again from someone a couple weeks ago. But Jonah was not afraid of what the Ninevites would do to him. He was afraid of what God would NOT do to them – He was afraid God would hold back from destroying them. He refused to go in an effort to thwart God’s mercy from coming to Nineveh. He refused to go in an effort to seal their fate and see them destroyed. He refused to go so that they would in fact get what they deserve.
But the second reason this verse is important because it gives a beautiful description of what our God is like. We are told about our God’s own heart. Jonah says God is gracious and compassionate. Gracious refers to His favor towards the undeserving.
The ancient Greeks in NT days had a great concept of grace but it was limited to friends. Out of the existing friendship and affection for someone you already had an act of grace would be some act of kindness towards your beloved friend that was impulsive. Impulsive meaning you were not trying to pay them back for some nice thing they did for you and you did not expect or want them to pay you back. You just out of the generosity you felt towards them that was inspired by your good relationship you simply wanted to express that in a nice act.
In a way that is earning grace from others – your established reputation with your friend is inspiring them to be kind to you. We say it like this: what goes around, comes around. More blasphemously it is referred to as “good karma” – blasphemous because karma is a concept of justice without God in the picture. There is a general notion among people that sees God’s grace as something that must be earned by good living and devotion to God. Hear me clearly: that is not grace. Grace is something we have no claim to. When you say you have a right to it and it is owed to you it stops being grace. It is no longer grace. Grace is only grace when kindness, favor and blessings are given to someone who does not deserve it in the least.
This is God! Gracious – meaning the kind of God that God is is a God who loves to be kind towards the undeserving. His capacity to show favor towards the wicked is far larger than we can imagine. “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!”
Then the other word here, which so often in the Bible is coupled with gracious to describe God, is compassionate. Compassionate is God’s tender and merciful affection towards people. The image is that of a mother towards her nursing baby. Think of the look on her face as she gazes at her little child – there is a tenderness in a mother’s smile that you can only see in those moments. There is a constant thoughtfulness of the needs of her child – those needs seem to bring out a tender and loving pity for the helplessness of her infant. She can’t feed herself…she can’t changer her own diaper…she can’t get herself a new outfit…she can’t sit up when she wants to see what’s going on around her…she can’t do lots of things without her affectionate and attentive mother standing by to help each time. That is compassionate – that is God.
Then Jonah says God is slow to anger. “God is patient, not wanting anyone to perish but all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). God’s anger is not like ours. He doesn’t flare up selfishly with temper-tantrums. He doesn’t sulk. His anger isn’t like Jonah’s, or yours, or mine. God is patient, long-suffering, holding back His anger for a very long, long time. If you are the kind of person who thinks God is always watching you with a lightning bolt in His hand, waiting for you to screw up so He can zap you on the spot, then now you need to change your perspective. That’s not what God is like at all. You need to stop seeing Him like He’s a human being and start seeing Him for who He is: a patient, gracious and compassionate God.
Then Jonah says that God is abounding in love. I love that phrase. It means exceeding, abundant, plenteous. Here’s what it means: God’s love towards you is far, far greater than you think it is. It also means God doesn’t quit you. The Hebrew word for love specifically refers to God’s loyal love, His faithfulness to a covenant. Think about that: God’s love is a faithful, loyal love. How can God love creatures like the Ninevites? And if we’re honest and sensitive enough to our own ways, we can ask the same thing about ourselves: God, how can You love someone like me?
- O the Deep Deep Love of Jesus Vast unmeasured, boundless free, rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me. O the deep deep love of Jesus love of every love the best …O the deep deep love of Jesus tis a heaven of heavens to me
- What Wonderous Love is This, O my soul, o my soul; what wondrous love is this o my soul!
- And Can it Be: “He left His father’s throne above, so free, so infinite His grace; emptied Himself of all but love and bled and died for Adam’s helpless race! Amazing Love How Can It Be, that Thou my God shouldst die for me?!”
These songs are written because the authors came to understand God.
Two questions: Did Jonah understand who God was and what He was like? The answer is yes. Second question: Was Jonah like God in those ways?