“The God of the Old Testament is to full of wrath.” I hear that statement more than I would like to admit. Everyone loves the God of the New Testament because He is so full of love and peace, but we tend to separate him from the God of the Old Testament. We think he either grew up and changed his ways, or that he simply no longer has a reason to have wrath now that Jesus came. Let me first say that God still has wrath. People still got killed form God’s wrath in the New Testament. God still shows his wrath today. However, that is not my focus today. I want to point out that God has never changed, and the compassion we see in Christ is also found in the Old Testament. If anything, we as humans are the only ones guilty of pointless wrath.
When God gets a bad reputation for His wrath I always point to Jonah. It is sad how little we really know of this book. The only thing we know of this book is that Jonah was swallowed up by a giant fish, and that he eventually decided to obey God. Do we recall what God wanted him to do? Do we recall that even in obedience Jonah defied God? Do we recall how depressing the story ends for Jonah?
Jonah was sent to a city called Nineveh. I don’t think I can really exaggerate on how rotten this city is. Evil would be an accurate description in every sense of the word. They were a hateful people who performed unspeakable acts. They were considered to be about as corrupt as you could possibly get. The most interesting quality to them is the fact that they were not part of Israel. This was a city of Gentiles. They were not part of God’s people.
We know the middle part of the story. Jonah refuses to obey God. We believe it is out of fear. Jonah is wrongly portrayed as a man who is afraid to go into a hostile city that is full of evil. He does not want to face these wicked people because he likely fears for his life. He runs in the opposite direction, but God makes him go anyway. In the end, God got what he wanted even with Jonah dragging his feet.
In the belly of the fish Jonah seems to realize his error and agrees to do as the Lord wishes. He goes to the city. He gives God’s message. Nineveh is doomed. They should expect God’s wrath in forty days. Nineveh will be destroyed. They will become another Sodom. God will pour out his wrath on these evil people. They have forty days to wait on this wrath. Something happened that Jonah had expected though. These evil people were brokenhearted over their sin. They repented to the Lord, and turned from their evil ways. God saw this and spared them.
That is where we assume the story ends. We believe it ends in chapter three. There is a fourth chapter though. Jonah gets angry. He pours what he truly feels in his heart. Jonah never feared the wicked people of the city. Fear for his life was not what kept him from going to Nineveh. It was fear of their salvation that did so. “O Lord. Is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” Jonah did not wish to go to Nineveh because he wished to see it burn. In fact, he still hoped God would change his mind again so he sat outside the city and waited to see these people die from God’s wrath.
God gave him a huge wakeup call, and it is the same wakeup call you and I need to hear. Jonah sat in the heat so God made a plant grow to give him shade. The next day the plant died and Jonah was upset over the death of the plant. God then cut straight to the heart. “You care more about a plant than you do the souls of others.”
What does Jonah’s story mean for us? There are a few takeaways to keep in mind.
1. God is rich in mercy. He is patient and desires to see people turn from their wickedness. Anyone who says God shows no compassion in the Old Testament has never read it.
2. It is never too late to turn from your sin on this earth. Nineveh was facing judgment in forty days. They turned from their sin to seek God’s face. No matter what you have done in your life you can still turn back to God. He will welcome you with open arms.
3. We must have compassion for the wicked. Jonah failed at this. He did everything he could to keep Nineveh from hearing God’s message. We need to look inside our hearts and see if we are brokenhearted over the sins of others, or simply judgmental. A broken heart calls people out on their sin and seeks to have them redeemed. A judgmental heart condemns people in their sin and decides when their time is up.
4. God gets what he wants. God was going to have his message sent to Nineveh. He used a man he had no desire to get that message there. When God wants something He is going to make it happen. We can either join in with Him and delight in His message, or sit in the heat as bitter cynics waiting for the world to burn.
5. Unrighteous wrath is not what God is about. The Westboro cult worships a God of wrath and destruction. I still believe evil will be punished and destroyed, but I set my eyes on who the true enemy is. He just happens to have a lot of people chained up in the process. Jonah sat and waited for the city to burn. Evil will suffer wrath, but people can turn from evil.
6. It is the biggest cliché in the book, but its truth is timeless. God loves you and wishes to see you turn away from your sin. God wants to see you redeemed. Yes there is judgment as Jonah mentioned, but there is more to that message. Life can be found in the midst of judgment. Christ has come. Repent and seek God’s face.