Monday, August 06, 2007

The Pathetic Prophet Jonah 4

"God in the hands of an angry sinner" is how I heard Warren Wiersbe title Jonah 4. That title fits.

Only in the mind of pathetic, highly prejudiced Jonah could the grand description of Yahweh as "gracious and compassionate...slow to anger and abounding in love" be viewed as a flaw in God's character! What the Bible celebrates as the hope of the human race, Jonah fitfully spurns as a deficit weakness in God. "That's why I booked it to Tarshish because, whaaa!, whaaa!, you're that kind of namby-pamby God. I knew better. You embarrass me, God, by loving and sparing these stinking Ninevites. You've wasted your grace on the wrong people!"

What get's me is God's patience with Jonah. God just keeps asking, "Do you really have a right to throw a tantrum like this?"

"Yes, I do! Whaa! Whaa! I'm so mad and righteous, I just want to die!" He said this thinking that he was in the same league with his contemporary Elijah. I can just hear God saying under his breathe to the angels, "Jonah is no Elijah...just like Dan Quayle was no J. F. Kennedy."

The writer of this profound little book was a poetic genius. He draws us in, getting us to side with the captain and the sailors over against rebellious Jonah (chapter 1), getting us to admire the repentant king and the people of Nineveh and feel absolutely disgusted with Jonah (chapters 3-4). Then, whamo! The big conclusion: God humanizes Israel's greatest enemies of the time: the Assyrians.

Not only is that violent, pagan people humanized, they are being treated with compassion by Yahweh just as he treated Israel through the prophet Joel. God is no respector of persons when it comes to repentance! This really jerked Jonah's chain...and the first readers of this prophet and the people in Jesus' day. Remember Jesus' story about the vineyard owner who paid the guys who worked from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. (1 hour) the same as the ones who worked from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. (all day)? "Whaa! Whaa" That's not fair!!" God is free to "waste" his grace on whomever he pleases.

God is not fair. God is gracious. We should celebrate his loving, compassionate heart and affirm that God can express it when, on whom, and however he chooses.

Jonah had more "love" (or was it ugly self-interest?) for one plant--here today, gone today--than he had for an entire city of human beings. Pathetic.

Yet, let's be careful. A "Jonah" lurks in my heart and in yours, too. How many of us have wanted Al Qaida incinerated? How many have thought, if not outright said, "Nuke the Iraqis into oblivion?" We can only think that when we've dehumanized men and women and children who have been created in the "image of God."

Jesus never dehumanized Rome or Romans or Roman soldiers. As a matter of fact, he prayed, "Father, forgive them because they don't know what they're doing."

Is there more to "the sign of Jonah" than Jesus being in the grave? Could the sign of Jonah include an outrageous grace to "enemies"?



At 8/06/2007 3:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post. It is a good reminder for all of us, when we see all the injustices in the world around us, that we are living in God's age of unmerited grace and "with God there is no respecter of persons." It reminds us that we have also received this unmerited grace from God. For this, we should be truly thankful. Amen.

At 8/06/2007 4:09 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

I appreciate your affirming words. We are are living in what Scot McKnight calls "Embracing Grace."

At 8/06/2007 6:39 PM, Blogger Cindy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8/06/2007 6:42 PM, Blogger Cindy said...

sorry john- i accidentally included my password in that first comment. sheesh. i hate when that happens.

what i said was....

"Could the sign of Jonah include an outrageous grace to "enemies"?" an insight that deserves more than the last few words of your post, although the deepest thoughts often come with the fewest words in the least conspicuous places.

Thank you for this thought. I'm going to spend a lot more time thinking about it.

At 8/07/2007 6:18 AM, Blogger Greg said...

Outstanding John, thanks for your thoughts.

At 8/07/2007 6:49 AM, Blogger grace said...

Another great post and series John. It is funny to think that it might anger us if God is more inclusive than we are. I think there are people who will be disappointed to find out that God is not nearly as angry as they thought He was.

At 8/07/2007 7:10 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

as i reflected on the Jonah story and Jesus' words and actions of outrageous grace, the thought came to me that just perhaps the "sign" is the outrageous grace to enemies sealed by Jesus' death and resurrection, ie, the "three days and three nights" citation.

Thanks for mulling it over with me.

At 8/07/2007 7:10 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Thank you, brother.

At 8/07/2007 7:14 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

I can't agree more...certainly Jesus' stories and actions of inclusive grace did a number on the exclusivistic religious leaders.

I am pleased that you liked the Jonah series.

At 8/09/2007 10:34 AM, Anonymous jeremy bouma said...

Isn't interesting how God blows away the sandcastle walls we build around Him, His Truth, and His Community?

I love this comment GRACE: "I think there are people who will be disappointed to find out that God is not nearly as angry as they thought He was."

And probably a lot more who thought they were on the outside only to find the outstretched armes of the nail-scarred hands of a Restorer waiting for them...

great writing and thoughts, as always John...

At 8/09/2007 11:32 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

I think there are going to be so many awesome surprises when Jesus reveals his final "reckoning." Some will hear Jesus say "depart from me" and others who are about to slink away feeling rejected will be ushered to the chief seats!!

At 8/09/2007 2:34 PM, Anonymous Jay Piper said...

Look at the similarities between the story of Jonah and our present situation in Iraq:

1. Same place different time.
2. Ninevites (Moslems) sworn enemies of the Jewish nation.
3. Jews feared and hated the Ninevites (Moslems).
4. God sent Jonah to Ninevites because he had compassion on them. Hmm . . . Does God have compassion on the Moslems? Do we as Christians share that compassion?

At 8/10/2007 5:36 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Your parallels are does the CHURCH respond to terrorism? We know how the STATE does. Good, thought-provoking stuff.

At 8/21/2007 3:01 PM, Anonymous John - The One That Was Jonah said...


'The Sign Of Jonah' is now available to read at:

... in particular please check the article about 'Music' at:

Have a great day -


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