3:10When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.
4:1But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry. 2He prayed to the LORD and said, “Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.”
Behind Jonah’s obvious disappointment is knowledge. Jonah knew that God was “gracious and compassionate…slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness.” It was for this very reason he diverted away from God’s commanded path. He believed that these awful Assyrians were unworthy of forgiveness. He probably even wished for calamity to strike down those wicked people. So when God called him to preach to them, he knew that if they repented, God would relent “concerning the calamity.” Jonah was right. But how did Jonah come across this knowledge of God?
Jonah’s comment revealed that he was a student of God’s word. Look at Exodus 34:6-7a, “6Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.” Jonah’s statement has a striking resemblance to this verse – but not just this verse. I wonder if when Jonah was saying this he had in mind Abraham’s conversation with God concerning Lot and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah – How God would relent to spare the righteous? I wonder if he had in mind Psalm 51 and God’s willingness to forgive His king, David, of such awful sin?
It was clear that Jonah had some knowledge of God – but not enough. He had forgotten that a key part of the promise to Abraham was to make his seed a blessing to all nations. Couldn’t Jonah have seen that maybe his mission was a part of God’s plan for the nation to bless other nations? Jonah had an academic knowledge of God but didn’t understand His heart. Otherwise, Jonah would have rejoiced at the repentance of Nineveh like the angels rejoice at the repentance of even one sinner (Luke 15:10).
If we are not diligent to learn and to know God’s heart, we may fail to understand His ways and it will surely take the joy out of ministry. If we don’t fully understand how badly he desires that all should be saved, we may fail in our mission to spread the gospel to the world. As Christians, we cannot afford to judge others, we must proclaim God’s message to this lost and dying world – this is where the heart of God is. And sometimes we Christians wonder why we feel like we are stuck in the belly of a fish.