#6 - Forgiveness "Should I not have compassion on Nineveh?" - Job 4:11
Jonah is a popular story. We tell it to children all of the time. A man did not listen to the call of God and he was swallowed by a giant fish. That is about the extent of what most people know about the prophet Jonah. However, I believe the main point of the book of Jonah has to do with the compassion and grace of God upon both Jonah and his enemy.
Jonah was given a commission by the Lord, "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me." [Jonah 1:2] Jonah avoided this commission and fled the opposite direction.
Few know why. The reason is because Nineveh was the chief city of the chief country that was the enemy of Israel [Jonah's country]. Jonah did not want to bring God's Word to Nineveh. He reasoned to himself, "they might repent...and then God may not destroy the city...and then I will have to live with them!!!" So he ran away.
It was then that he hopped a vessel and a storm arose; he jumped out of the boat and he was swallowed by a giant fish. There he spends three days and nights. He cried out to God for mercy - the Lord heard him - and he was vomited on a beach and given the commission again. "Go to Nineveh." He went. And he preached against the city. His message was simple, "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown by the Lord!" And guess what happened? The Ninevites listened. [This is simply my conjecture. It is not implicit in the text of Scripture. However, I have often wondered what the digestive juices of the fish would have done to Jonah's skin and complexion. He probably looked very strange. His look, along with of course the Spirit of God, may have made the Ninevites pay attention to him; thus his disobedience was used by God to do the very thing he did not want to happen - their repentance....I don't know - just a thought] They acknowledged their sin. They turned from wickedness - from the greatest of them to the lowest - and God forgave them and did not bring the promised destruction upon the land.
Jonah is the most successful [if we're judging success by converts...which I'm not sure is what we should do; but I think you get the point] of all the Old Testament prophets; but he is also the most negative Nelly. Nineveh's repentance does not please Jonah. He is upset by it. He goes outside of the city in the hopes that God will change his mind and perhaps still destroy Nineveh. So he plops down out of the city and looks at it.
A plant grows up and gives Jonah shade. This makes him happy. Then a worm eats the stem of the plant and the plant dies. This makes Jonah angry. Then God speaks. "You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work, and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. And should I not have compassion on Nineveh, that great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?"
God was making a point to Jonah - "you like compassion and grace when it is given to you...just not when it is given to those you do not like. But Just as I love you - should I not love them too?"
Jonah is a story about God's amazing grace and how He desires to give it to anyone; and how He desires that we are used by Him to offer that grace to everyone - even those that have hurt us. You see, the simple fact of the matter is that God loves us. He loves us very much. If God had a fridge our picture would be on it.
But we must keep something in mind - God loves the people you and I do not like too. He wants to have compassion and grace upon them just as He has had on us.
Jesus died, rose again, ascended to heaven, and will come back for you. But not only you. For all who trust in Him; and He wants all to trust in Him. Therefore we need to realize that God did not see something good in us that made Him say, "oh....look at Chris...he's so special and cute..I think I'll save him!" No - He said something more along the lines of, "whoa....look at Chris....he's pretty nasty...I better save him!" Your enemies and my enemies and ourselves all have something in common. We equally need saving. And Jesus wants to save them.
During this time of Lent, forgive. Offer grace as it has been offered to you. Amen.