A God Who Loves His Enemies

Jonah 4:1-11

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 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. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”

Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

Why did Jonah run from God? Why did he get on a boat to Tarshish instead of journeying to Nineveh the first time? Why did it take three days in the belly of a fish to convince him to walk a day into the Nineveh and say five words? It might have been that he was afraid of the Ninevites, that would have been perfectly understandable. Who would want to walk into a city of men who skin their enemies alive and tell them that they were going to be punished for the evil they have done?

But here Jonah finally explains himself, and that’s not the reason he gives. The reason he gives comes right from God’s own words. When God agreed to pass over Moses at Sinai and let him see a glimpse of his glory, he also said that he would proclaim to Moses his name, Yahweh. And so with Moses hidden between the rocks, God descends in the cloud and proclaims, “Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-8)

It’s hard to overstate the importance of these few verses. It is the most extensive description God ever gives of himself anywhere in the Bible, and it’s quoted and referenced more by other biblical authors than any other part of Scripture, just like here in Jonah. The Lord, Yahweh, the One who is, is gracious, and yet unwaveringly just. He is abundantly merciful, and yet absolutely holy so that sin cannot stand before him unpunished. And yet, he forgives sins. Justice and mercy held in perfect tension. Grace and truth.

Jonah says, I ran away from you because I knew that you are merciful. Because he didn’t want Nineveh to be shown mercy. He would rather die than see them live.

And God asks, “Are you sure it’s good that you’re angry?”

Instead of answering, Jonah goes out of the city and makes a tent to sit under while he watches to see if Nineveh might be destroyed after all, and God makes a tree grow over his head to give him some shade. The next day God takes away Jonah’s shade, and makes the sun to beat down on him, and for the third time in only four chapters, Jonah wishes to die. God asks him again, “Is it really worth being angry over a plant?” And Jonah, says “Yes, angry enough to die.” “But doesn’t a city of 120,000 matter more than a plant?” And the question is left unanswered for a few hundred years, until Jesus of Nazareth speaks to a crowd of people on a mountain saying, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”

Jonah couldn’t bear that God would show love to his enemies, but I’m thankful for a Father in heaven who loves his enemies. Because before we were his sons and daughters, we were his enemies. "Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12-13). This is the story of Nineveh in the book of Jonah. This is the story of the church of Jesus Christ and the story of the whole Bible. Those who once were far off, enemies of a just and holy God, he has brought near. He once used a wicked and stubborn prophet to do it, but one greater than Jonah has come, and where there was enmity, he has made peace by the blood of his cross.

Reflect

1. On Monday we talked about how Jonah was book with a good guy who doesn’t seem very good and bad guys who don’t seem very bad. How does the way the book of Jonah overturns stereotypes and expectations speak to the way you view people and situations in the world today?

2. Is there someone you consider to be unforgivable? Maybe someone who has wronged you or done terrible things to others. Ask yourself the question God asked Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry?” Pray that God would help you to forgive as he has forgiven you.

Pray

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Taylor Whitson, May 15, 2020
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