By Randy Dillon
1¶ But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. 2 So he prayed to the LORD, and said, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. 3 “Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”
The Old Testament book of Jonah is best known for the large sea creature which swallowed Jonah. This short book, of only four chapters, reveals God’s grace toward an undeserving people. In some ways it is a foreshadowing of God’s grace, in Christ, in the New Testament. At the conclusion of the book we see an aspect of Jonah which is somewhat puzzling but so very much reflective of our own behavior at times. Jonah was despondent because of God’s mercy towards the city of Ninevah, a great city of the Assyrian Empire; a people at enmity with the Israelites. Jonah finally did what God commanded him to do by preaching about the coming destruction that was awaiting the city because of their great sin. The king and people repented of their sins and were saved from destruction. While he did as commanded, Jonah was also apparently angered because he hated Ninevah more than he appreciated God’s salvation of its 60,000 souls.
In the final chapter we find Jonah so despondent that he asks God to take his life when he says. “Oh Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.” God replies, “Doest thou well to be angry?” or in contemporary language, “Is it good for you to be angry?” Jonah then went outside of the city, built a booth for shade and observed the city from afar. Perhaps he hoped that God’s judgment would follow even their repentance. God caused a gourd to grow overnight to further provide shade. This pleased Jonah. But the next day God caused a worm to attack the gourd and wither it. He also sent a strong, hot east wind on Jonah. It was so severe in its heat that Jonah fainted and wished himself to die as he said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” For a second time God asks, “ Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?” Jonah replies, “I do well to be angry, even unto death.” For a third time Jonah wishes for death rather than acknowledge the mercy of God upon a sinful people, but he also defends his anger at that same mercy.
What can we learn from this episode? At one level, we find God’s mercy and grace exceeding by a far measure that of Jonah and often that of ourselves. But we also see how our anger, even at God’s mercy and grace, can harm those things which are in our best interests and the interests of those we love. How often do we hate so deeply our enemies in life that we desire their destruction instead of their salvation? How often do we fail to realize that God sends to us His mercy, like Jonah’s gourd, because we are so focused on our own hate? Interestingly, we do not know of Jonah’s fate. While his actions met God’s command, his heart was obviously not in concert with his actions.
God’s final word on the matter is our lesson as well as Jonah’s. Have pity on underserving sinful mankind. Rejoice when God sees fit to save our enemies. Be thankful when He provides for us even the smallest kindness, like the gourd; and even for the shortest time, like a day. Hatred is self-destructive. It does harm to us more than to those we hate. In fact, they may never know of our hate. Thus, hate is too often only a vanity that we embrace. It is like a cancer that slowly eats away at the soul. When we allow it to grow we do more harm to our maturity than will ever be inflicted upon another. We become free of our hatred when we release it land exercise faith that God will execute both judgment and mercy/grace as He alone determines.