Do you know Jonah’s last words in the Bible?
“Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”[i]
Those are not words motivated by suffering or grief. Those are words that come straight out of the hateful heart of our anti-hero, a prophet who cannot bear that God would have compassion on a city he deemed worthy of destruction and upset that the God who provided a plant for shade for him would allow it to wither.
The compassion of God knows no bounds. He orchestrates the salvation of a city that every Jew would have longed to see the destruction of. A city that was not only a military threat to the Israelites, but whose pagan worship was a stench to those loyal to the one true God.
It is the Hero who has the final say in Jonah. These final words reveal God’s love and call us to this deep compassion:
“You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”[ii]
The book of Jonah closes with a glimpse of the compassionate heart of God. Within the final verses of Jonah we see some incredible truths about the depth and power of God’s love:
God’s love is attentive:
Like a caring spouse or parent, no detail is left uncared for by our compassionate God. God’s compassion for his stiff-necked prophet is so deep, he grows a weed up over Jonah to shade him from the sun even as hatred boils in Jonah’s heart for those God loves. God’s love is for the big things (saving a city of 120,000 from destruction), but it also for the small things: Jonah’s discomfort in the heat, and even for the animals. Isn’t that final statement “and also much cattle” beautiful? God cares not just for the people of the city, but for the cattle of the city. God’s love extends to his creation.
As I type, a Common Lesser Earless Lizard is sitting outside my window on a rock, pumping his arms in his speckled glory. God knows everything about that lizard and cares for it. Not as he cares for humans, made in his image, and for whom his Son died, but he loves the lizard nonetheless. Our infinite God’s love is not expended or taxed as our love is. God cares about the details of your life. The coffee you spilled on your lap this morning, the three lights you missed. And he cares about your neighbor you find so difficult. He is attentively compassionate.
God’s love is powerful:
God brings a storm up to prevent his wayward prophet from fleeing and then re-directs him in the belly of a fish. How is that for evidence of his power? Our God’s love was not held at bay because of our sin. It wasn’t held at bay because we couldn’t be reconciled through our good deeds. It wasn’t held at bay because reconciliation required God to become man. It wasn’t held at bay by death itself. God’s love is powerful. God’s love overcomes. Everything.
God’s love is persistent:
Upon receiving word that he was to call Nineveh to repentance, Jonah flees. But God is not thwarted. He will provide the opportunity for Nineveh to repent, and it will come through Jonah. Because he loves Nineveh and because he loves Jonah, his love persists in bringing about his perfect, sovereign plan. God’s love persists in spite of us. This morning I spoke with someone wrestling with the thought that they had expended God’s patience and that it was too late for them. No, friend. If it wasn’t too late for Jonah, it’s not too late for you. If it wasn’t too late for Nineveh, it’s not too late for me. God’s love persists.
Nothing is beyond the reach of God’s love:
Any Jew would have considered Nineveh beyond hope. Anyone who knew Saul as he stood overseeing the stoning of Stephen would have thought it ludicrous that he would ever follow the Savior he stoned Stephen for following.
Our anti-hero, Jonah, was not beyond the reach of God’s love either. What is the end of Jonah’s story? What happened with him? We don’t know. His final words are words of hatred.
But I have hope for Jonah.
How did we get this story? Who accompanied Jonah on his trek? Who sat with Jonah under the wilting weed as God shared his great compassion with the compassionless prophet? No one.
And so I have hope. Could God have supernaturally shared Jonah’s story with another author? Yes. But I have a hunch that a transformed Jonah wrote his own story. And like the apostles, who wrote their stories with brutal honesty about their own faithlessness, Jonah transparently shares his ugly heart.
It is not just the Ninevites who are not beyond the reach of God’s love. None of us are beyond his reach. Not even Jonah, the anti-hero. If he can transform Jonah, he can transform the most stubborn, arrogant, heartless person in your life. If God’s love can transform Jonah, it can transform me. If God’s love can transform Jonah, it can transform you.
Arise, go, speak, and love out of the overflow of God’s love.
Photo credit: Joshua Earle/Unsplash
[i] Jonah 4:9
[ii] Jonah 4:10-11