“But it [God’s mercy to Nineveh] greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry. He prayed to Yahweh and said, ‘Please Yahweh, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. Therefore now, O Yahweh, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life,” Jonah 4:1-3.
How can it be that someone who knows the True and Living God desires that harm come to others in lieu of repentance? How can it be that groups of such people desire harm to others to the point where they are blinded to the Spirit of Jesus?
Moses knew that God was gracious and compassionate, and when Israel sinned Moses prevailed on the character of God, on God’s grace and mercy and compassion, to intercede for Israel (Exodus 34:6-9; Numbers 14:17-19). Jonah also knows God’s lovingkindness and compassion, his words mirroring Yahweh’s words to Moses in Exodus 34 and Moses’ words back to Yahweh in Numbers 14; but whereas Moses interceded for others based on God’s Word, Jonah sought to avoid God’s Word and allow judgment to descend on Nineveh.
How can it be that we can be so caught up in vitriol and prejudice and dislike for others, as groups and individuals, that we would rather die, as Jonah wished, than to see them come to the Light of Life?
We flee from the presence of God (Jonah 1:3) rather than allow God to deal with our hard hearts. We flee into self-interest, into tribal mentalities and attitudes, into parochial fortresses, in order to stop our ears from hearing the Word of God. We would rather die under the banner of a political or economic or social or ethnic party than live beneath the Cross of Jesus Christ for the blessing of others…including the blessing of those opposed to us. How can this be?
Perhaps as a mere human Jonah could justify his attitude; Nineveh was hardly a friend to Israel either politically or religiously. In fact, Nineveh and the Assyrians were a growing threat to Israel and Judah – all the more reason to desire God’s judgment on Nineveh, all the more justification to flee from the presence of Yahweh so as not to be an agent of His mercy. Oh how we seek justification for departing from the Spirit of Jesus, as the Sons of Thunder in the Gospel we want to call the fire of judgment down on others – we forget the Spirit by whom we are born anew, we forget that the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost, we forget that His mission is our mission. We would rather play the role of the Older Brother (Luke 15) than identify with the Father running to embrace the Younger Son who has squandered his inheritance.
James ponders these dynamics when he writes (James 3:9-10), “With it [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.”
We all have Ninevehs in our lives; those who our hearts are fleeing from are those whom we should be praying for and blessing. Jesus came for His enemies, which means He came for us (Romans 5:6-11), how can we do any less for those who do not yet know Him?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may show yourselves to be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous…Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matthew 5:43, 44, 45, 48).
What Ninevehs are we fleeing from today? Will we allow our Father and Lord Jesus to search our hearts? Will we lay down our lives in Jesus Christ for the salvation of others? Are we running away to Tarshish or are we loving Nineveh?