By Benjamin H. Liles
As I sit here tonight I was looking at the text of Jonah 4 and it dawned on me, God's compassion knows no bounds. We make this big to do thing about how hateful God is, and yet there are fifty-one instances of God being "gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness" (Jonah 4:2). One of the first times we see that God is called this is by Himself, to Moses: "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion" (Exodus 33:19). I believe it is this that makes Jonah angry. He already knew of God's unfailing love.
Jonah knew this full well of His God. For God is not like any other god in this world. In fact, there is none other than God. If God wanted His wrath to be on the people of Nineveh He would not have called to Jonah to go and give them that message of His intentions (see Jonah 1:1-3). The people of Nineveh broke down, believing the God of Israel would do this thing to them. He not only relented from doing them harm due to their faith in Him because of their repentance caused them to be humble and broken hearted towards Him.
So, Jonah was fully angry that his God wouldn't do to Nineveh as He said He would do. And I love the response from God to Jonah: "Then the LORD said, 'Is it right for you to be angry?'" (Jonah 4:4, New King James). I take the words of God here to mean that Jonah has no real reason to be mad at Him for His choice. After all, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion" (Exodus 33:19b).
So, even after that God extends His compassion on Jonah, which he did not ask for or even deserved. We read this of Jonah, "So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city" (Jonah 4:5). What does God do? "The Lord God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant" (Jonah 4:6). Jonah was grateful for something that God does even though Jonah did not to cause the plant to be a shade for him. He didn't water the plant, nor did he plant it himself. God caused it to sprout, supernaturally.
The point is that God is telling Jonah he has no right to be angry over anything at all. 1) God wanted to see Nineveh come to repentance, seeing their sin as being sinful, and to put their faith in Him; 2) God's compassion is for everyone who is broken over their sinfulness. I love God's response to Jonah after he throws one heck of a pity party: "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 4:10-11, New King James).
And I think that's the whole point of Jonah's ministry, that God is compassionate and will give and extend Himself to those who do not know anything between their right hand and left. God will give justice, but more than that God is slow to anger; He abounds in His love toward us. Paul wrote, "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:32).
God gave us His compassion and love through His Son Jesus Christ who bore our sin-sickness on Calvary's cross. Should we look to Him who died in our place, reconciling us to Himself while we were His enemies, He will heal us and forgive us our trespasses, for it is written, "But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life!" (Romans 5:8, 10, Holman Christian Standard).
To conclude this then we see that God, in His kindness, gives us a way out from under His wrath and justice. He desires for each one of us to see Him as He truly is--loving, kind, compassionate, enduring, and graciously merciful. His love is a testament of His power and nature and it should do something to and for us as to how we are. I want to finish off with Paul's words here: "Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:18, 20, New American Standard). The result is we ought to live our lives in the same manner, allowing His word to make us His messengers of His love and grace to others. I pray this helps and heals your heart and life in the name of Christ Jesus. Amen.