He prayed to the LORD, “Come on, LORD! Wasn’t this precisely my point when I was back in my own land? This is why I fled to Tarshish earlier! I know that you are a merciful and compassionate God, very patient, full of faithful love, and willing not to destroy. At this point, LORD, you may as well take my life from me, because it would be better for me to die than to live.” Jonah 4:2-3
We have here, an angry prayer and a sinful prayer. Recall the prayers that came out of Jonah when he was trapped in darkness, facing a certain death. They seemed so pure, but were they just pious scripture quoting by a man in desperation?
“Anger is a short fit of madness.”
It is a bit shocking that he would get angry with God, when something wonderful is happening! What kind of a model is Jonah for someone that God called to the highest level of Old Covenant ministry?
But Jesus does not shy away from Jonah’s prophetic preaching ministry, but endorses it. We are seeing here again, that this man is very flawed. God uses cracked pots.
Jonah’s prayer is negative intercession. He is interceding against what God is doing. Nineveh has attracted God’s mercy. God’s mercy is coming to Nineveh. But Jonah is seeking to block it. But he can’t block it. So, he lectures God on how this was a mistake.
In these verses we find out the “back story” on what was in Jonah’s mind that caused him to flee from God’s assignment to him. He knew how good God is and that, given the opportunity, that the Ninevites would respond to God and become God followers and God seekers, like Jonah’s own people were; and Jonah did not want that.
Jonah was choosing to forget that all of mankind were created by God and God loves the whole world. Maybe he didn’t know this. Jonah wanted to keep God for his own people and let other people groups be damned. Jonah had the delusion that Israel owned God. This would be like a church group that only welcomed their own family members, while the surrounding community and the whole world were not welcome, with the exception of lost family members that lived far away.
As we read Jonah, we have the luxury of the author telling us that God changed his plans for destroying Nineveh. To someone who heard of Jonah’s prophecy against Nineveh, that did not come true, Jonah would seem to be a false prophet. Did Jonah fear that his reputation would forever be stained as either a false Prophet or as the Prophet who messed up so bad he helped Israel’s enemy find mercy from God?
Jonah reminds me of the older brother in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal sons. The older brother was offended by the younger brother’s repentance. Sometimes, from our place of spirituality, we unconsciously or consciously view ourselves as superior to “sinners” who are far from God in our view. While we do this, we are actually resisting God’s work in our lives, while we busy ourselves with religious activity. When a pagan comes to Christ, lock-stock-and-barrel, no-holds-barred; we are shamed, because we are not following God whole heartily.
Jonah’s desire for his own death, while Nineveh is coming to life, is more evidence of his temporary insanity. Jonah was so over committed to an opinion contrary to God, that the only solution, in his mind, is for God to take him out. The man who spoke for God found himself in complete disagreement with God.
Jonah had somewhere confused his thoughts with God’s thoughts, his opinion with God’s opinion. Preachers, teachers, prophets, and all who speak for God always are vulnerable to giving their opinions as God’s truth. They start with God’s word, but as they preach on it, their opinion, prejudice, bigotry, sectarianism, and theological bias can pollute the word. Even patriotism can pollute God’s word if we allow it to.
The positive side of Jonah’s, “it’s not fair”, reaction to God’s mercy is that he prayed to God about it this time. Jonah’s anger got the best of him, but he took his thoughts to God in prayer. Jonah’s prayer may have been misguided and off-the-wall, but he did go to God in prayer. He did not run or turn his back, but expressed his displeasure. It is better to express ourselves to God when we disagree with God than to run or turn our backs or stonewall.
Like Jonah, we may find out that we have a strong opinion that also involves God’s will. When we are shown, by God, that we were wrong; it might be very humiliating. What if we have built our life on what turns out to be a lie? Like with Jonah, good news feels like bad news, because if we were so wrong, we feel bad or ashamed. In our shame, we want to “flip the board” (or flip the bird), on life. We feel like dying, we feel like we are dying; but we are not. God actually cut out a big cancer from our lives, and now we can live. That thing that we thought was a part of us was actually death itself and God just got rid of it. We are confused. Why didn’t God take that thing out sooner? Maybe God has been working on that issue for years, but we resisted.
The key for Jonah and each one of us, faced with an eye opening paradigm shift, is prayer. When faced with confusing circumstances and then choosing anger that opened him to the irrational, what did Jonah do? “He prayed to the LORD”. It wasn’t a model prayer. He was angry and in pride he sinfully told God what he thought, but he prayed. We can pray as well when we are not doing well with God and our circumstances. God will respond. What will God’s response be?
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