Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. – Jonah 2:8
God told Jonah to take a message far beyond the borders of Israel, to Nineveh, one of the greatest cities of the ancient world. But Jonah didn’t want this assignment, for reasons which only become apparent later. We assume it’s fear which made him board a ship heading in the wrong direction. But it’s not.
After being thrown overboard and swallowed alive by a huge fish, Jonah prayed from within its belly. He praised God’s compassion in rescuing him – even though it couldn’t yet have felt very much like deliverance (2:5–6). Jonah realised that God is at work since his new circumstances were clearly miraculous. More importantly, he understood that God is gracious, even towards those who deserve his anger.
Ironically, this was precisely his problem with his mission. He recognised that his announcement of judgment on pagan Nineveh was conditional on his hearers’ response. Jonah knew that, if they repented, God would show them grace and relent from destroying them. But Jonah clearly resented the idea of pagans receiving mercy and was furious when that is precisely what happened.
Jonah claimed to know God, who is ‘gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love,’ yet there seems to have been little sign of these qualities in his own life. He tragically failed to comprehend that the very reason God had blessed Israel was for that blessing to extend to every nation.