Debra Isenbletter, PastorChristian Assembly, Springfield, Missouri
Jonah 4:2—”And he prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.”
This is the second time that Jonah prayed and his attitude is completely different than the first time. His first prayer was from the fish’s belly, it was from a place of suffering, sorrow and defeat and he prayed with a broken heart. Jonah’s second prayer is from a different place, instead of the worst place it is the best place. It is a place of victory, he stands on resurrection ground but he has lost sight of that great truth. He is no longer in a confined place, he is not restricted and constrained except by the Word of God. Jonah has experienced the Lord’s deliverance and he has seen that deliverance shown to others. That is a wonderful place, it should be a joyous place. The problem is that his heart is no longer broken, he prays with an angry heart. The attitude of the heart makes all the difference, instead of a submissive heart, we see a rebellious heart, which is how he started out. In Jonah’s first prayer he asked God to save him and in his second prayer he asks God to kill him. What a startling contrast! Jonah stands in a place of victory but he sees only defeat, he is not seeing clearly. This is about feeling and not faith. This is about his view and not God’s view.
But Jonah does pray, the problem is he prayed not as a prophet but as a man. As a prophet, he would have prayed moved by God’s Spirit but as a man he prays moved by his own spirit for the wrong reason, with the wrong attitude. He should have rejoiced over the repentance of the city. I wonder if the city rejoiced when they were spared. I wonder if Jonah heard shouts of joy or saw the people rejoicing. Jonah prayed unto the “Lord,” to Jehovah, to “the One who reveals Himself” but he does not see that the Lord has revealed Himself to Nineveh. He revealed His mercy, but the Lord had also revealed Himself to His prophet but Jonah does not see this. He may not see this because he thinks he already knows the Lord. Jonah does know God’s attributes because he lists them but that is head knowledge and not heart knowledge. There is a lesson here showing that there is a continual revelation that the Lord gives to His people, it is ongoing, it never stops. We never reach a point where we know it all. Jonah does not realize that he needs a deeper revelation of God’s character and that revelation is revealed through His mercy to the Gentiles. This is what bothers Jonah, that same attitude can be seen among the Jews when Paul preached his gospel to the Gentiles and they received it.
Jonah’s prayer is a plea, a petition, is has an urgent tone to it. “I pay thee, O Lord” or “I beseech thee; Oh now!” Jonah knows Who he is praying to and he knows he has a right to pray and he knows his prayer will be heard. He knows all this and he takes it for granted. His prayer is a complaint and not a compliment about God’s character, about God’s mercy. But the very fact that Jonah can complain, can talk to the Lord this way should have told Jonah that mercy works both ways. The Lord let Jonah talk the way he did and did not stop him.
Jonah’s complaint: “was not this my saying when I was yet in my country?” Was this not “my thought” or “my feeling.” The problem is that what Jonah thought about the Lord was right concerning his character but he could not reconcile that character with his own feelings about the Gentiles. What Jonah thought and felt about the Gentiles is not what God thought and what God did would show Jonah this. Here we see where Jonah was when he was called to preach to Nineveh. Here we see what Jonah felt when he was called to preach to Nineveh. Did Jonah tell God what he “thought” and “felt” about the Gentiles? Did Jonah tell the Lord this at the time he refused to go, that he knew God might show mercy? Even if he did not tell the Lord, the Lord knew Jonah’s heart. He might change Jonah’s mind about preaching but He still needed to change Jonah’s heart after preaching.
Jonah’s complaint about God’s character, is his justification for fleeing from God’s Will originally. Jonah says, “Therefore I fled unto Tarshish.” Therefore because “I knew” the type of God that you were. This is the type of knowledge that comes from both instruction and observation. There is a national knowledge, this is based upon the nation’s experience. The nation saw these wonderful traits of God’s character in the wilderness and in the promised land. The book of Judges is about, departure, discipline and deliverance. Jonah would recognize these traits he describes by looking back at how God dealt with the nation. Jonah also knows this through personal knowledge, this is based on his own personal experience. Jonah had also disobeyed, been disciplined and been delivered and seen God’s character in his own experience. But is seems that Jonah did not think that God’s grace and mercy applied to others. He is fine with the Lord showing these traits to Israel or to him personally but he is not fine with the Lord showing these traits to the Gentiles. Jonah has forgotten that the Lord cannot change Who He is. His character cannot be turned on for one group and off for another group. If He shows these traits to His people, He must show these traits to others. If Israel repents then the Gentiles can repent. If Israel is spared, then the Gentiles can be spared. Jonah knows these traits and lists them but he does not understand the full potential of their use.
So, what are these traits? Jonah names five and none of them stand alone, all work in harmony one with the other. Many are found together in the same references in the Old Testament. (Psa.86:15; Psa.103:8; Exo.34:6, 18-19). All are found in the Person and Personality of the Lord Jesus Christ. First: He is “a gracious God.” This word comes from “to stoop in kindness to an inferior” and “to grant.” That is grace. It is a gift given freely, it is not earned, it is not deserved. Second: He is “merciful” which means compassionate, it is often translated merciful. Third: He is “slow to anger” which also means longsuffering. That is God’s patience. Fourth: He is “of great kindness.” This is the fourth great in Jonah (great city, great wind, great fish, great kindness). This is a positive greatness also translated mercy, merciful and lovingkindness. It is hard to separate these traits, they are all connected, they work together. Fifth: God’s Fairness: “and repentest thee of the evil.” God felt pity, He had compassion, because He had a just reason, the people repented. Both Israel and those in Nineveh. God is always fair. He saw something, He felt something and He did something. Jonah knew this from Israel’s past and from his present. God does not change, this is Who He is and this is what the Gentiles saw.
This is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ; all of these traits were made visible and were unmistakable when He ministered. All of these traits are made visible in the gospel that was preached by His disciples and by His Apostles; by those He called originally and by those He would call later. All of these traits are seen in the wonderful gospel of grace preached by the Apostle Paul, it is what so many Jews, saved and unsaved struggled with and objected to, just like Jonah. But no amount of objection can change who He is and for those that see and embrace these traits, there is found a glorious liberty and wonderful joy.
To be continued