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10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.
Have you ever read through the book of Jonah and been a bit confused as to how the prophet Jonah left on such a sour note? We recall that he was called and ran away, and then he rode on the boat though the storm and was eventually tossed into the water to rescue those on board in chapter one. In chapter two, he repents in the belly of the whale and is vomited forth to go back to Nineveh. In chapter three, he preaches the coming wrath of God and we see the subsequent repentance of the people. Note that they had no guarantee that God would relent of His wrath, though they recognized their sin.
I would like to take a moment to focus just on that principle alone, this concept of repentance without an assurance of wrath being removed. It’s very powerful if we think about it, because repentance is far more about recognizing what we’ve done is wrong and that God is right than it is about God removing His wrath from us. Sorrow without the guarantee of God changing His mind, but being sorry nonetheless, is really where repentance lies. Yes, God does forgive and it is on the basis of His grace and mercy that He does so, but how many people would truly be sorry if they knew their sorrow would have no effect on their eternal outcome? (As I say that, though, remember it’s not sincerity or sorrow that saves, but faith in Jesus Christ.) This may very well be the distinction of godly sorrow and worldly sorrow from 2 Corinthians 7:9-11:
Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.
The sorrow of the world is a sorrow concerned with alleviating consequences, whereas godly sorrow is a sorrow over actions taken and attitudes harbored; godly sorrow is concerned with the offense. Godly sorrow can face the consequences without running away, but worldly sorrow runs from the consequences if by any means necessary. Godly sorrow leads to repentance and turning to God, trusting in Him and while taking responsibility for one’s failures, recognizes that one cannot save themselves–it must come through faith in the perfect, sinless Son of God and His perfect sacrifice upon the cross in our place.
The Ninevites in the book of Jonah truly captured the essence of repentance, and then God relented. Remember that Jonah said “yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” in Jonah 3:4. We might surmise that this was the 40th day, for on that day, while God relented on a spiritual plane, in the physical world nothing happened that had been foretold. Yet again, isn’t it interesting that the Ninevites didn’t go back to their debauchery immediately if the only reason for repentance was destruction? On that day, it’s interesting that we find Jonah uncertain, too, about what would transpire.
Jonah preached a message that he did not originally want to preach. He saw the people repent, which he did not want them to do, because he wanted them to suffer. They repented, and then God did not destroy them. The lack of destruction, which no one could confirm would happen until the day it had been said (Jonah 3:4), threw Jonah into a place of anger and displeasure. Why? Once again, let us assume that it has something to do with the uncertainty of the coming wrath despite the Ninevites repenting, and perhaps his hope that they would still be destroyed–which is a sign of great bitterness, isn’t it?
It’s been mentioned in previous devotionals on Jonah, but one of the themes of this book continues to course its way through the story: God can do as He pleases. He can forgive anyone He wants to forgive, and He can call anyone He wants to call to serve Him. Additionally, God is right to do as He pleases, and that is one of the points of contention in this story, for Jonah does not want to agree with it even if He knows it’s true.
In very practical terms, today’s short passage addresses something in us as well: whose will are we about? Many things may happen that don’t go according to our plans, but have we ever asked if they were going according to God’s plans? Jonah could have rejoiced in the removal of God’s wrath upon the people; He could have rejoiced in God being exceedingly merciful. Nonetheless, because Jonah wanted his own ends for the people he had preached to, all that could be drawn out of him was displeasure and anger.
There are many times God does things that we are not on board with in the moment, but aren’t you glad He doesn’t wait for us to be okay with it in the long run? If God only did the things I was willing for Him to do in my life, I would never have learned the lessons He’s taught me or had things ripped out of me that really couldn’t remain if I was to grow in my relationship with Him.
Chapter Four of the book of Jonah is truly a heart check, and it’s not just for Jonah; it’s for us, too. Let God do the work in you that He seeks to do. Someone once said, “If we saw things as God saw, and were perfect like God is, we’d do things like He does, too.” The point was that we, as sinful humans, have very limited ways of looking at life, and though we may see what we think is right from our perspective, God sees everything and He does what is best, most loving, and most appropriate in every circumstance. Therefore, we’ll have to trust Him, and grow into trusting Him more.
Keep each other in your prayers. Many of us have or are fighting sickness and could use the prayers of one another. Thank you for your time.
God bless you wherever and however this may find you-
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.