For the last few days, we’ve been on a roller coaster ride with our dear friend, Jonah. This prophet who had a heart issue, repented after pouting, and then obeyed God, takes a bit of a turn in the final chapter of his book.
Throughout this story, we see God’s immense power and compassionate heart displayed. He loved this unloveable nation that was primed for a revival in their land. The king’s heart was gripped by Jonah’s words and the nation was saved. Think about that for just a moment: an entire nation came to know God because of one man’s obedience. God wasn’t after just the king or the influential people in the city, he longed for all of them. The most brutal fighters, the lowliest criminal, the poorest peasant—all of them were worthy in God’s eyes. I wonder how many countless lives were saved because this one prophet was obedient when he didn’t want to be. I wonder how the trajectory of Ninevah was changed forever.
If the book of Jonah had ended with Chapter 3, it would be an immensely joyful book. We would see that God’s work in Jonah’s heart had lead to an entire nation being saved. We could believe that Jonah went on to stay in Ninevah and disciple this group of people who had to learn how to do everything differently now. Sadly, real life isn’t a Disney film and there’s one final chapter.
“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.” Jonah 4:1-5 (NIV)
What a tragedy!
This man of God who had spoken to the king and had been used by God to bring repentance and justice to a horribly misguided city wasn’t changed. His hard heart that was present at the beginning of the story is just as hard here at the end. We learn that his whole reason for running was because he didn’t want this group of people to be saved. He knew God’s gracious character and wanted everyone other than the Ninevites to experience his grace.
Then, sadly, Jonah repeats his behavior that we see at the beginning: he runs away and then sulks. While I do believe that Jonah’s repentance in Chapter 2 was genuine, I am reminded that we have layers and layers of pain and hurt that we have to sift through. We will think that we are free and free indeed until we realize there’s another level of freedom God longs for us to experience. Jonah had repented enough to obey for a moment, but missed out on experiencing a greater depth of grace, love, and forgiveness.
We live in a far from perfect world, yet we can choose a different story than Jonah did. Instead of choosing obedience for a moment, we can make it a lifestyle. Instead of running from God and sulking, we can run to him and allow him to do some heart surgery on us when we need it. Our stories don’t have to end in tragedy, but can be a proclamation of the goodness and grace of God in our lives.
My prayer, while reading through this book again has been that God would help me learn from Jonah’s mistakes so that I don’t have to repeat them. I am so grateful that I am able to learn from this disobedient prophet and, by God’s immense grace, can choose another path.
Do you see the end of the book of Jonah as a tragedy?
How can you practically apply lessons from this book to your own life?