Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
3 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. 4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
6 When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
Having just been spit up from the depths of the sea and the belly of a sea creature, having just experienced God’s mercy and power over all of nature, and having finally come to terms with what God had told him to do in the first place, Jonah obeys God.
For three days, Jonah goes through the motions of proclaiming the message God had given them. For three days, Jonah walked through what probably seemed like the streets of Las Vegas, preaching truth to people he was willing to turn away from completely just a few days prior.
And, probably to Jonah’s amazement, the Ninevites/Las Vegans (is that what you would call someone from Las Vegas?) responded with fear of the Lord. Even the king embraced Jonah’s warning, which is amazing by itself when you think about what it takes to completely change the heart and mind of a leader.
God spared Nineveh. God reclaimed the people of Nineveh through Jonah’s obedience. That was His plan all along. And so it happened that way.
4 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
4 But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
5 Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant[a] and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
9 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.”
10 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. 11 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?”
Forget Jonah really changing after his Swallowed-up-by-Sushi experience. Homeboy is still bent out of shape that God made him go to the one place he did not want to go in the first place.
This is one of those Bible stories that leaves me hanging, every time.
Like, really God?? You couldn’t have made this story end more cleanly? I mean, we really could have wrapped up this chapter with a completely different ending:
(See Val’s alternative ending)
Verse 11 Jonah turned to the Lord and said, “Oh jeez, God. You’re so right. Silly me. I think I was allergic to that plant anyway. You always know best, Lord. You give and take away. And those crazy Ninevites? I’m happy they turned to you, and I’m even happier that You were You and showed them Grace. Now let’s go home, preferably not by way of a fish belly, please?”
Verse 12 And so Jonah never, ever ran away from God again. The end.
See how easy that was? But God let the story end differently. God made sure his plan for Nineveh came through, but He was willing to let Jonah pout.
Even while Jonah was so merciless as to sit outside the walls of Nineveh and *hope* to see God pour down His judgement on the Ninevites in some kind of spectacular, apocalyptic fashion, God was so merciful as to sit with Jonah and provide him with shade to comfort him.
And when God decides to take away the plant he provided Jonah, Jonah returns to his depressed state of mind, forgetting the One who has taken care of him all along in favor of the One who brought him to this darn-awful city in the first place.
(Hand raised high in the air) “I do that. I remember God like that.”
I remember Him as the One who brings me to places I don’t want to be instead of remembering Him as the One who keeps graciously providing for me every step of the way.
Dadgummit. The parallel of this story has reached full-circle.
I am *gasp* JONAH.
But I don’t wanna be Jonah.
I don’t want to struggle in my Nineveh. I don’t want to stay in the belly of my grief. I don’t want to resent God’s plan for this new season of life. And I don’t want to believe He FAILED me when He brought me here.
I want to be free from the belly, free from this state of mind calling out everything I see as part of my new ‘Nineveh’…
(I’ll get back to you on the freedom part. Until then, I have to wrap up with Lauren Daigle singing my current anthem:)
“Letting go of every single dream
I lay each one down at Your feet
Every moment of my wandering
Never changes what You see
I’ve tried to win this war I confess
My hands are weary I need Your rest
Mighty Warrior, King of the fight
No matter what I face, You’re by my side
When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move,
When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through,
When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You,
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You.”