The Jonah narrative would have been complete if it ended in Chapter 3 verse 10. The goal was to get Nineveh to repent and be saved, right? Not really. The story is not so much about Nineveh as it is about Jonah—and the people he stands for, that is Israel as a chosen people vis-à-vis the character that God expects of them, demonstrated by the example he sets.
If Pharisees would have existed during Jonah’s time, Jonah would have made a classic one. Pharisees of Jesus time knew all about God’s law and all about God’s judgment, even about God’s mercy—intellectually. They engaged God with the head, not the heart. They recognized their special place as a chosen people and reveled in it as though they had a special preserve of God’s favor. They were quick to see how God would judge and destroy the wicked, but were hard-pressed to feel compassion for anyone they considered evil. And they got grumpy when Jesus showed mercy to sinners and tax-collectors, so grumpy that they plotted how to kill Jesus and succeeded. Well. Jonah was so eaten with anger at Nineveh’s salvation that it took all the pleasure out of living. He literary prayed to die.
Sounds far fetched from today’s Christians? How often do we harbor ‘righteous anger’ at those we consider to have wronged us or those we think are doing evil? How often do we pray that God would teach ‘those people’ a lesson? What we do not admit is that if we were in God’s shoes, we would cause something bad—evil—to happen to them. We would seek revenge.
Jonah 4 teaches us an important lesson. No matter what wrong people have done, it is never, ever our prerogative to curse or will evil on them. That prerogative belongs to God and even he desires that everyone should repent and be saved (Ezekiel 18:23). As quoted by Jonah he is full of mercy, slow to anger and rich in love. To curse and seek revenge is to be in league with the kingdom of darkness, and there is already enough suffering in the world on the devil’s account. Those that do evil are in bondage to Satan; often they are not even aware of their bondage. So the least we can do is to compassionately pray for them. Deut 32:35 says, “Vengeance is mine…the Lord will vindicate his people” “Beloved, never avenge yourself, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘vengeance is mine, I will repay…if your enemies are hungry, feed them…for by doing this, you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12: 19-21).
This reflection comes back to us—Christians. The outburst of your ‘righteous anger’ or whatever form it may take is actually a revelation of who you have been all along. It tells a great deal about the depth of your transformation if there is any transformation at all. You may have been a Christian for a long time, converted, going to heaven, but if heaven is not in your heart, you will not get as many people as possible ready to go to heaven because your life testifies against your witness. If you are to be a credible witness, your life needs to embody a certain character, the character of Christ.