Jonah, chapter 4
Jonah chapter 3 could have been a beautiful finish to the book. The prophet preached, God’s Word was effective, the Ninevites repented. But there is a chapter 4. And this last chapter reveals that the story was never about Jonah and the Ninevites all along. This is a story about God and his own people—about how God deals with his own angry children. God is trying to get his own people to see that they need his grace as much as anyone else.
At the beginning of chapter four, we finally find out why Jonah ran away back in chapter one. It wasn’t because he was afraid, but because he knew God is so kind and merciful. Jonah quoted the gospel-in-a-nutshell of the Old Testament, Exodus 34:6, and threw it back into God’s face as an insult. He knew God is so compassionate that he would find a way to forgive those horrible Ninevites. Jonah was so angry that he said he’d rather die than live with a God who forgives his enemies.
What happened next is a bit odd. God provided a leafy plant to shade Jonah from the sun, which made him happy. But then God sent a little worm to eat the plant, and Jonah got really angry again. What’s going on? God told Jonah the whole vine incident was an attempt to get through to him. Jonah got all emotional over a plant that was in his life for less than 24 hours. But, God asked, aren’t human beings a little bit more important than vines? Isn’t it OK if God feels the same emotional intensity and concern for the city of Nineveh?
And the book ends right there, with no record of Jonah’s answer. That’s because Jonah’s answer isn’t the point. The narrator is asking us to write our own ending to this book. How will you answer this question? Are you OK with the fact that God loves your enemy?
Be glad that God loves his enemies! God wants Jonah and the readers of his story to realize that we were at one time God’s enemies in our sinful natures. But God gave his enemies a great gift when he sent his Son into the world. When Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive my enemies,” he voluntarily took our punishment into himself. That day is called Good Friday because it was good for us that Jesus died in our place, showing us his great mercy. Today, God’s gifts to us continue, now no longer his enemies but his children, and he has promised us resurrection and eternal life. The Book of Jonah holds up a mirror to the reader, hoping to get us to recognize the gift of the enemy.