Jonah 4:1 - 2
ESV - 1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, "O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? 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.
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This question cannot be adequately addressed without appreciating the historical background of Nineveh and the geo-political dynamics that informed the relationship between this Assyrian port kingdom and Israel. The political, socio-cultural and the moral predisposition of the Ninevites is more clearly revealed in the book of Nahum 1-3. It was an extremely evil and violent society (Notice the appalling description given in Nahum 3:1-4). At the time of Jonah, scholars believe that the Ninevites were the arch-enemies of Israel. They were famed for their extreme cruelty including the torture and skinning of their enemies alive! The fact that Jesus mentions Nineveh in Matthew 12:41 is instructive of their infamy. The Assyrians were therefore rightly perceived by the Jews as enemies of God (Nahum 1:2). Some scholars have estimated that the city of Nineveh held a population of about 600,000 people at that time of Jonah's ministry and the 120,000 mentioned in Jonah 4:11 may have been innocent children whom God sought to spare. It may also suggest that the Ninevites were ignorant of good and evil because of their lack of divine revelation on God’s moral standards. They were also blatantly evil so that the 120,000 may have been the total number of people including children. When God sent Jonah to deliver his warning of imminent judgment on Nineveh, Jonah was perhaps convinced that the time for the destruction these enemies of Israel had come. Jonah had hoped that that God would not forgive the Ninevites though he knew that He was a gracious God (Jonah 4:2). Three possible reasons may explain his flight to Tarshish (Jonah 1:1-3). First, Jonah perhaps sought to evade the opportunity to deliver the message so that God would eventually destroy them. Secondly, his flight may have been informed by the fear for his safety. This was a legitimate concern but we know that God preserves His people wherever He sends them. He may also have been driven by his personal prejudice and hatred for the Ninevites who were rightfully counted as the enemies of his people. At the preaching of Jonah, the Ninevites did the unusual thing. They all repented of their evil and God graciously forgave them and for this reason, Jonah was exceedingly bitter with God. His anger betrayed his deep seated hatred for the Ninevites. Notice his lament in Jonah 4:2. Jonah knew that God as a forgiving God and yet he did not want to see His mercy extended to the enemies of Israel. When Jonah prayed that God would take his life, God rebuked him for his evil attitude and it is hoped that Jonah’s ministry changed for the better after this encounter with God. So why was Jonah bitter and angry? Jonah was shocked that God could deal with the Ninevites in the manner He did. His anger perhaps represented that of the average Jew! This story also teaches us that God loving and forbearing. It demonstrates His universal sovereignty over all humanity. Unlike us, God is not vengeful. He loves the redeemed and the lost alike and seeks their redemption in Christ (2 Peter 3:9). God was taught his prophet (and us) an important lesson that perhaps jolted his ministry focus forever. The story of Jonah carries prompts us to confront our deep seated prejudices for people we perceive as our sworn enemies. God doesn't share that conviction.
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