Meet Jonah the Jerk

God is the God of second chances. And he’s also the God of third chances, and fourth chances, and fifth chances.

Case in point: Jonah.

Have you read the book of Jonah any time recently? It’s a surreal book featuring Jonah the Enormous Jerk and the God of Everflowing, Overflowing Grace.

God calls Jonah to go to Ninevah and prophesy their impending destruction. Jonah isn’t so keen on that idea and makes a break for Tarshish. The moment Jonah ran, God should have killed him. But he gave him a second chance. His mercy won’t let Jonah get away that easily.

God hunts down Jonah with a storm of epic proportions, which results in him be thrown into the sea by the ship’s crew (who, by the way, placed their faith in Yahweh). It would be right for God to let Jonah inhale the water and suffocate, but he doesn’t. Instead he appoints a fish to swallow Jonah and save him from drowning. Jonah is vomited onto dry land.

He goes to Nineveh, preaches, and 120,000 people repent in sackcloth and ashes. It’s probably the greatest revival in history and it certainly is every preacher’s dream come true. But Jonah is in no mood to celebrate. He stalks outside the city and sets up a booth to sit in, hoping that God will still bring the hammer down on Nineveh. God doesn’t and Jonah flips out on God. He’s angry that God would be merciful to such scumbags and now would like God to take his life.

Jonah should have been vaporized on the spot. But God gave him a third chance.

God sends a plant to cover Jonah from the sun. The plant is present for only one day, but it appears to be the best day of Jonah’s life. The next however, it’s gone, eaten by a God-appointed worm. Jonah has had enough. He again asks God to kill him on the spot. But God continues to extend compassion to Jonah, and gives him yet a fourth chance to turn from his wickedness.

The book of Jonah ends without telling us what Jonah did, but I think he finally got it. God just wouldn’t let go of Jonah. He loved him too much and wouldn’t let him wallow in sin.

God does the same with you and me. God always sticks with us. He should have dumped us long ago, but he is utterly faithful to the end, and will keep pursuing us with compassion.

Which makes me really glad.

  • Elaine

    Wow! What a jerk! And I am often surprised at how often your description of Jonah fits me to a T.

    Thank You, Father, for loving us and pursuing us with such faithfulness.

    Thanks, Stephen, for the encouragement; hopefully my internal "jerk" radar will be in high gear today.

    • http://twitter.com/stephenaltrogge @stephenaltrogge

      Hey Elaine. So often I'm like Jonah too. My sinful selfish nature kicks in and makes me only think about me. I need Jesus!

  • B. Minich

    What is interesting to me is the part where Jonah says “I knew this would happen! I knew you would spare Nineveh, for I know you are merciful. That’s why I ran!”

    Jonah admits that he didn’t run because he was afraid he’d be killed. He was afraid God would show mercy to people he didn’t like. A sobering story, really. I don’t want to be so unmerciful with a God as merciful as He is.

    • http://twitter.com/stephenaltrogge @stephenaltrogge

      Yeah seriously. The final chapter is almost comical. Jonah confesses that he was suspicious of God and that he didn't want God to show mercy.

  • Petra Hefner

    "God sends a plant to cover Jonah from the sun… it appears to be the best day of Jonah’s life." What a beautiful picture of God's great forbearance and grace to treat a jerk with so much kindness. It always blows my mind that God would treat me with similar kindness whenever I deserve to be vaporized myself! God does stick with us and He helps us to obey Him every step of the way! How can we not love Him??

    • http://twitter.com/stephenaltrogge @stephenaltrogge

      God's mercy to Jonah is very encouraging to me. God should have blasted him out of the water but instead he keeps pouring out mercy. Isn't God kind?

  • Caroline

    So true… Praise God for His merciful nature!!!! thank you for the reminder :)

    • http://twitter.com/stephenaltrogge @stephenaltrogge

      You're welcome!

  • http://www.facebook.com/alexjg42 Alex José Gonçalves

    How could you for one moment think that a man of God is a jerk? God does not give the gifts of prophecy to people who are unworthy.
    In fact Jonah had faith that I have yet to see in any Christian to date. When he was on that boat with the storm he instantly knew that the storm was from God and he knew that as soon as he left that boat the storm would calm down. That is pure faith.

    The scriptures does not state why Jonah gets depressed when God shows mercy but this is what I understood when reading it:
    Jonah, man of God, was most probably opressed and mistreated by those people who sin. Those people could have even murdered his family. Imagine for a second that your child gets murdered. The murderer appears in court and says "I'm sorry" and the judge lets him go, would you be pleased? Of course not. Jonah didnt want mercy, he wanted justice. And he knew that God would bring mercy(for it is written that it happened at all the other places where he had to prophecy). God's love for His people is far greater than what our love for people could ever be. If you claim that your love is equal to that of God then you claim to be His equal(we cannot be greater than our master).

    We should never judge people and defenatly never call a man of God a jerk. Jonah ,through his Faith, could turn entire cities towards God. Jesus even compared Himself to Jonah (Matthew12:38-45).

    Also on a slightly related note of calling anyone a jerk or idiot
    "If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the high in council"Matthew5:22 (It's just not worth it)

    Also please note. I might sound a bit harsh but I mean no offense towards the writter or anyone for that matter.

    • http://www.facebook.com/alexjg42 Alex José Gonçalves

      Jonah is actually my personal favourite book in the Bible.

    • kateg

      Every person on which God bestows any gift is unworthy.

    • http://twitter.com/stephenaltrogge @stephenaltrogge

      Hi Alex,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. By calling Jonah a jerk I wasn't singling him out in particular, but trying to show how God was gracious to Jonah and how God has been gracious to me. I wasn't intending to call Jonah a jerk in a mean way, but just show that he lacked compassion and so do I.

      I have to disagree with your interpretation of Jonah. The theme that seems to come through pretty clearly is that Jonah was not a man of faith. He ran from God, didn't care about the sailors on the ship, didn't want to preach to Ninevah, and was furious with God at the end of the book. Jonah's lack of compassion is meant to highlight God's compassion. That's why the book ends with God asking Jonah if he should be compassionate to Nineveh.

      Thanks for commenting!

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