3:1The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2“Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
6When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. 8Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. 9Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”
10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
4:1But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2He prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. 3And now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4And the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” 5Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.
6The LORD God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. 7But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. 8When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
9But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10Then the LORD said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
The ancient city of Nineveh is part of the present city of Mosul in northern Iraq. Mosul is famous now as the headquarter-city of ISIL/ISIS. I share this fact because of the obvious historical resonance between Nineveh and Mosul, between Assyrian atrocities and ISIL atrocities.
The ancient Assyrians were formidable warriors and purveyors of unimaginable terror, so much so that the word 'Assyrian' became a byword for cruelty and atrocity. They would skin their enemies alive, impale them on stakes, cut off body parts, and behead their enemies creating mounds of skulls.
I do not need to tell you what ISIL has been doing to its enemies. ISIL's modern day atrocities come pretty close to equaling their ancient counterparts.
Given Israel's maltreatment at the hands of Assyrians, Israel's fear and hatred of Assyria were therefore well-founded. And so when Jonah was called by YHWH to go to this wicked city to preach repentance, Jonah was beside himself. Jonah could not understand why the God of Israel would want to show mercy to a people who did not show mercy to Israel.
We know the story: Jonah finally relents and preaches. And much to Jonah's dismay, the Assyrians repent and save themselves from YHWH's judgment. Jonah is not at all happy about this outcome. Jonah wants the enemy judged and destroyed, not forgiven and restored. The mercy of YHWH offends Jonah.
Jonah's sense of justice is completely overturned by YHWH. Jonah's sense of what's important is destroyed by God. (Jonah's anger about the bush only serves to illustrate Jonah's misplaced sense of priorities. Jonah is upset about a bush while he cares not a whit about the 120,000 souls in Nineveh [and Nineveh's animals].)
Jonah is so engulfed by his hatred of Assyrians that he cannot see them as fallen human beings who might nevertheless be objects of God's love and mercy.
And many of us are prone to be engulfed as well by our hatreds. (On Monday I saw the movie "American Sniper" with Suezan as our date movie. Suezan was disturbed by the movie: she concluded that war destroys people's souls. I, on the other hand, enjoyed the movie agreeing with Chris Kyle, the sniper, that he was killing "savages" and the only regret he had was not killing more "savages." Such sentiment fed my fleshly, angry, jingoistic self. But I knew my attitude wasn't really Christian. So, I mildly repented of my attitude.)
It feels right to hate. It feels good to see our enemies demolished and degraded, to see them ground down to dust, literally. But the enemy really isn't flesh and blood at root. The enemy is demonically inspired ideology, it's demons fueling benighted people, it's the evil of hatred and destruction, it's the reign of terror masterminded by Satan -- these are the principalities and powers of darkness that we are fighting that Apostle Paul talks about in Ephesians 6:12. Our enemy is Sin, Satan, and Death. Our only Hope is God, Mercy, and the Cross of Jesus.
Let's pray: Father God, have mercy on us, have mercy on me. As a sinner I am no different than any other sinner, be they Iraqi, Syrian, Russian, or whatever. But as a forgiven sinner in Christ, I know that without your mercy and grace I stand darken in my understanding, not able to discern the difference between true knowledge of God and false knowledge that comes from man-made ideologies. Without your mercy and Spirit, I would simply be blind. But you've opened our eyes. You've opened our eyes to see ourselves as you see us. And you've opened our eyes to see others, not as eternal enemies but as fallen human beings who need your mercy and grace to have any chance of getting out of darkness and into your marvelous light. So we pray for our enemies, whoever they are. We pray for your mercy and grace to reign in those regions of terrible conflict and atrocities. We need your help like never before! In Jesus' Name, Amen.