Jonah is unique among the Old Testament prophets. The other prophetic writings record the messages that the Lord spoke through that prophet. But Jonah is the story of a reluctant prophet. And the story itself is the message that God delivered to Israel. And to his people today.
Jonah was called to go and preach against the Assyrian capital city of Nineveh. But Jonah was unwilling to do so, afraid that they might repent and escape God’s judgment. So, he ran away, found himself in the belly of a great fish for three days, and was given a second chance to obey God. This time he went and preached to them. And his worst fears were realized. Nineveh repented, and God did not destroy them. The story’s last scene finds Jonah sitting on a hill, watching and pouting. God provided him with a shade plant and then killed the plant in order to help illustrate the point of the story.
But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”
But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:9-11 NIV)
The ending to Jonah seems rather abrupt and incomplete. But I believe these last few verses are the point of the whole story. It was not just Nineveh that God was concerned about. His love and concern extend to the whole world. Even to our enemies, those we think are unworthy of God’s love. But how often am I like Jonah? Are there those with whom I would be reluctant to share the gospel, preferring to see them experience God’s judgment instead? Or do I truly understand, and share, God’s love and concern for all people in the world? Even for those who mock and ridicule me, or cause harm to myself, my family, or those around me?