God's Grace And Mercy

June 15, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Jonah 4:1-11

Summary Of The Story

1. Today we read the last chapter from the book of Jonah. Jonah was angry. He was terribly angry. The Lord says to Jonah. "You are angry, but is it righteous?"

2. Let's look over the plot of the story. The narrative begins with the word of the Lord having come to Jonah. "Come on, go to the great capital Nineveh and announce this. Your sins have come before my presence," (1:2). Jonah the son of Amittai appears in Second Kings. The time period is the eighth century B.C.E. It was the reign of Jeroboam II. Jonah was commanded to go and preach to Nineveh the capital city of Assyria the superpower that used to rule over the Orient in those days.

3. However, Jonah refused to obey the Lord, and "Trying to flee from the Lord," he boarded a boat bound for Tarshish. Impossible as it is to run from the Lord, the boat he boarded was fated to run into a raging storm. The people said to each other, "Come on, let's draw lots. Let's find out whose fault it is, that we have come upon this misfortune." So when they drew lots, it fell upon Jonah. Jonah confessed that he had been fleeing from the Lord's presence. And, Jonah said to the people, "You should grab me by the hands and feet and throw me into the sea. After you do that, the sea will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has visited upon you," (1:12). Nevertheless, they cannot bring themselves to throw Jonah into the sea right then and there, [and so] the crew makes an effort to avert this crisis somehow. But, the sea becomes more and more tempestuous, they get to the point where they are absolutely helpless, and at last they throw Jonah into the sea. Whereupon, the angry and raging sea becomes quiet.

4. Meanwhile, having been thrown into the sea, Jonah is swallowed by a huge fish, and he is set to spend three days and three nights in its belly. After three days, the fish vomits Jonah out upon the land. We know from the words of the prayer that is recorded in chapter two what Jonah had experienced in [the fish's] belly. Jonah felt that he had been banished from the presence of the Lord for ever, but he had discovered the mercy of God during his suffering. In a way, he had received his life back again from God's hand of mercy.

5. Having been granted his life by the Lord, the word of the Lord came again to Jonah. "Come on, go to the great capital Nineveh, and announce the words that I speak to you," (3:1). This time he immediately heads for Nineveh according to the command of the Lord. And he let them know that the judgment of the Lord was to visit the sin filled capital. He said, "After forty days, the city of Nineveh will be destroyed." After that, through the preaching of Jonah, repentance took place in the city of Nineveh. Regardless of one's position in society, even including the king, they repented and sought for the Lord's forgiveness. So after that, what did the Lord do? The scripture says, "God beheld their works, that they had separated from their ways of sin, and he changed his mind, and discontinued his decision of the disaster that he had announced," (3:10). Everything I have said so far is a summary of up to chapter three.

His Excuse For Refusing To Go To Nineveh

6. So, the passage we read today is where Jonah gets angry. Why in the world was Jonah dissatisfied even though it says his preaching yielded forth fruit? Why was he angry? But though, before we touch on why Jonah was mad, let's try to consider why he refused to go to Nineveh at the beginning in the first place.

7. Nineveh was a pagan capital. We can imagine how that announcing judgment from the Lord to that big city and preaching a message that required repentance might certainly include great danger. However, Jonah was not hesitant to go to Nineveh out of fear of persecution. As we know from reading chapter one, he was quite a brave soul. When even the sailors had panicked during the storm, he was cutting a cute figure, all composed, down below in the ship. He knew the storm was caused on account of his doing, and he did not implicate anybody else in it, but took the responsibility, offered himself, and said, "Throw me into the sea." We cannot possibly think of such a prophet as having fled to Tarshish because of being afraid of going to Nineveh or losing his nerve.

8. In fact, he was not afraid that he would face hostility or that the people of Nineveh would not accept the word of God. Much rather, he was afraid that the people of Nineveh would accept the word of God. He feared that his preaching would have fruit, that the people would repent, and as a result they would be saved. Does it sound strange that he feared the success of [his] preaching? But, it shouldn't.

9. As I mentioned earlier, Assyria was a superpower back then. Its existence was a constant threat to its neighboring countries. Naturally, it was true for Israel too. (As a matter of fact, it is recorded that after Jeroboam died, in no time at all, the Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser III had attacked.) The people who had believed in the Lord were probably praying please protect Israel from the hand of the Gentiles. Even the prophet Jonah must have strongly requested in prayer for that. To say please protect Israel is, in short, to say please destroy Assyria by the Lord becoming Israel's ally. The very request of Jonah was that the sin filled capital city of Nineveh be destroyed by the Lord.

10. But instead, of all the commands to be given, Jonah was given the command from the Lord to go preach to Nineveh. Of course, it is a prophecy of judgment that he will relate. It is the words, "The city of Nineveh will be destroyed." But, Jonah knew something. He knew that the Lord did not want to destroy Nineveh. If the Lord had intended to destroy Nineveh, he would destroy it quietly, and not tell them, "I am going to destroy you!" Since he doesn't want to destroy them, he gives the prophecy of judgment. As you know, even in other Old Testament passages, a lot of dreadful prophecies of judgment are written, but all of them, you could say turned inside out, are a manifestation of the love of God. In fact, the prophet named Ezekiel in a later time relates a word of the Lord like this to Israel. "I do not enjoy sinners dying. Much rather, I enjoy when a sinner turns from that way and lives. Turn, turn from your wicked ways. Oh house of Israel, why should you have to die?," (Ezekiel 33:11). This is the heart of the Lord, his will.

11. God is having mercy upon the sin filled capital city of Nineveh. It is precisely because Jonah understood this fact that he fled. He fled because he was afraid that they might repent and be saved. He fled because God's mercy extended to the enemy. In the passage read today, [we] heard Jonah say, "Indeed, oh Lord, isn't it just as I said when I was still in my country? That's why I have fled before for Tarshish. I knew it would come to this. You are a God of grace and mercy, longsuffering, rich in compassion, and would change your mind and discontinue [your] decision of disaster," (4:2).

12. Today's sermon has the title of "God's Grace And Mercy." Don't you think "God's Grace And Mercy" is a good thing to say? However, to say that God is a "God of grace and mercy" at times incites very negative feelings. In fact, what if God had shown grace and mercy to persons who had given very cruel treatment to you? How about it if God were to proclaim forgiveness and salvation [to the perpetrator and then tell it] to the [victim] who feels, "I could never forgive that guy!?" It just might be possible that you would get angry like Jonah, wouldn't you? Jonah went so far as to say, "Oh Lord, please take my life, won't you?! It would be better [for me] to die than to live," (4:3). Jonah is so angry that he wants to die. But, the Lord answered Jonah in the following manner. "You are angry, but is it righteous?"

You Are Angry, But Is It Righteous?

13. God doesn't say, "You're wrong." God asks Jonah a question because he must think for himself. Jonah does not answer God but walks off. And leaving the city he sits down and mopes on the eastern side. From there he sees the city of Nineveh. He sees the city that has escaped catastrophe. What did he hope for? Of course, he was hoping that the catastrophe would fall [upon the city]. Even though the city of Nineveh had repented, it should not have been left untouched. It should not have been that the people living there who were as if not knowing between left and right had escaped the catastrophe, had faces as if it were nothing, and went through it happily. That's how it seemed. Jonah would never ever be satisfied unless they had reaped a catastrophe upon themselves. Boiling with anger as ever, Jonah was "ready to see with his own eyes what will happen to the city."

14. For Jonah in this condition, God built him shade with a castor oil plant. However, when the next day came, the plant was devoured by an insect and withered away! The sun rose, and a hot east wind blew against [him] mercilessly. Jonah was violently enraged that the nice castor oil plant that had provided him the much appreciated shade until yesterday had been miserably eaten and had withered. The Lord again asks Jonah a question. "You are angry over the castor oil plant, but is that righteous?"

15. "You are angry, but is it righteous?" Finally, Jonah answers God's repeated question to him. Jonah said, "Of course it is. I am angry enough to want to die." At that the Lord said, "You are concerned over a plant that you didn't toil over or raise on your own ; it grew up over night and then over night it was destroyed," (verse ten). Where it says, "concerned over," it is the term "feel sorry for, pity." Jonah was grieving in his heart over a castor oil plant that he never raised. "Therefore, I am the same way," says the Lord. "Therefore, should I not be concerned over (feel sorry for) the great city Nineveh? Because it has in it more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not even know between left and right, and countless cattle?," (verse eleven). God was also grieving in his heart. Had Nineveh been destroyed, the ones in it were like people who did not even know between left and right.

16. How was Jonah supposed to hear this statement? Jonah must have been reminded by it of something important. In this way Jonah must have been reminded that he, too, had been granted life now as a prophet for the very reason that the Lord is a "God of grace and mercy" who had grieved in his heart for Nineveh. And that Jonah had not been banished eternally from the presence of the Lord, but remained in his presence for the very reason that God grieved in his heart at Jonah being destroyed. I [also] must call to mind the fact that I, likewise, am saved by a "God of grace and mercy."

17. The book of Jonah ends abruptly with this statement from the Lord. Not only Jonah, but even we readers are left behind at these words from the Lord. Standing there before [them], we too must answer [the question]. "You are angry, but is it righteous?" The first readers of the book of Jonah were the Israelites after the captivity. It was the people who were left just because of the mercy of the Lord after having experienced being in the belly of the fish, that is, the Babylonian captivity. Through this story, they were surely being asked the question of "How should we see the peoples of the many nations that surround us?"

18. In addition, we, too, who are assembled together by the mercy of God having been forgiven of [our] sin just because of the cross of Christ, are being asked the question of "How do we see the people around us?" What the Lord wills is the we, who have had a share in the Lord's mercy, share the Lord's mercy [with all peoples]. And we need to learn to see people, no matter what kind they are, as persons under the mercy of the Lord. That's right. The person whom you must consider as loved by the Lord in this way may just be the person nearest you.