“I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” Jonah 4:2
Jonah going to Nineveh was not a typical missions trip. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the world’s current superpower and a nation that had been oppressing Israel for some time. This was like a Jew feeling led to preach in Berlin during World War II. Receiving this call must have terrified Jonah, but this is not the reason he gives later for why he initially tried to run.
When Jonah finally obeyed God, he preached a message purely of condemnation: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). Incredibly, this was enough to make the entire city repent, but rather than celebrate when God relented from destroying the city, Jonah was angry. He prayed, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish” (Jonah 4:2). Jonah knew God was gracious and compassionate, willing to save anyone who turns to Him, but Jonah did not think the Ninevites deserved this second chance.
Behind the mind and will of God is the heart and compassion of God, but Jonah detached them from one another. Jonah knew God’s Word, but he did not share His heart, and as a result, he grew legalistic about doing God’s will. Obeying became burdensome and distressing. In fact, Jonah ends the book so opposed to God’s heart towards Nineveh that he says he would rather die than live (Jonah 4:3).
Jonah’s cold heart was the total opposite of another Old Testament prophet. God commanded Hosea to marry a promiscuous woman who was an adulteress and he married Gomer who prostituted herself even after they were married. Hosea’s heart was broken, and he wanted to divorce Gomer, but God told him to take her back, “though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods…” (Hosea 3:1). Because of his broken heart, Hosea could speak with conviction and authority about God’s compassion and unending love in ways Jonah never could.
God’s response to Jonah’s anger was to ask, “And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh?” (Jonah 4:11). It is the easiest thing in the world to judge and condemn, but this is not God’s heart. The reason God sent Jonah to Nineveh, and the reason He sent Jesus to us, is because His heart is to reach out and save. As believers, this is our mission, and though it may take breaking our hearts to get on board, having our hearts synchronized with God’s heart will make us become more tender and compassionate, enabling us to love as God loves.
PRAYER: Gracious God, break my heart for what breaks Yours. Remove the desire to condemn from my heart, replacing it with Your love and compassion for others. Thank You, Lord.