Today, we remember the prophet Jonah, and we read a devotion from Concordia Commentary: Jonah.
Like Jonah, we may often struggle with extending God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness to those we deem unworthy. Though we are sinful and hard of heart, God is not. We thank God today for His great love and mercy, which breaks through even the hardest of hearts, offering forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Jonah experiences a resurrection from a watery grave and a miraculous ride home in a fish (2:1, 11 [ET 1:17, 2:10]). These gifts are unexpected and undeserved. For his own salvation Jonah gave thanks (2:10 [ET 2:9]). Then he receives Yahweh’s sheltering gift of the qiqayon plant, over which he rejoiced (4:6). How much more should he have rejoiced when the myriads of Ninevites believed in God (3:5), were spared from divine judgment (3:9–10), and received everlasting salvation through faith! On the Last Day they shall be raised together with all who believe in Christ and shall stand as witnesses against all who reject the only Savior: “The men of Nineveh will arise in the judgment with this generation and condemn it” (Mt 12:41).
All this love, all of these miracles, and Jonah expresses no gratitude to Yahweh. None! In 4:2–3 Jonah’s angry complaint filled a gap in the opening verses of the narrative (1:1–3). In explaining why he arose to flee to Tarshish, his prayer cites the ancient confession of divine attributes: “gracious and merciful,” “slow to anger and abounding in loyal love.” His prayer consisted of thirty-nine Hebrew words.
At the end of the chapter, Yahweh’s disputation (4:10–11) also contains thirty-nine Hebrew words. It fills the gap in content and structure from within the chapter itself. Yahweh relates in 4:10 what 4:7 omitted, that Jonah pitied the withered qiqayon plant. Yahweh then argues by analogy (a fortiori, all the more) for his own pity for Nineveh (4:11). Balanced in their respective locations, subject matter, use of direct discourse, contrast of speakers, and number of words, 4:2–3 and 4:10–11 counter each other as first angry Jonah berates merciful Yahweh, and then merciful Yahweh seeks to persuade angry Jonah.
Both passages surprise us. The filling of each gap discloses the unexpected in Jonah: first, his hubris in rebuking God for his grace, and second, his pettiness in pitying a mere plant (but not 120,000 people). The symmetry of chapter 4 shows that Jonah and Yahweh go “toe to toe” against each other. However, it is not a contest of equals. Jonah’s selfish rage is balanced by Yahweh’s patience toward his rebellious prophet as well as by his pity for Nineveh. Jonah begins the argument, but Yahweh has the last word. Because it is a question—and Jonah is given the opportunity to answer, but does not—there is no closure; the narrative thread is left untied.
In doing so, the book suspends the destiny of Jonah, leaving the completion of the prophet’s personal story unknown to us. The narrator’s strategy is to withhold the prophet’s answer to Yahweh’s question in order to leave room for us to provide our own answer. How do we regard God’s generous grace toward all? This is the narrator’s attempt to keep Jonah current for readers of every generation. It finally means that the narrative is about Yahweh and Jonah and us. Will we joyfully participate in God’s mission to bring his redemptive love to every lost and condemned creature? Or will we selfishly attempt to withhold God’s grace from those for whom Christ died, knowing that without faith in Jesus, they will perish eternally?
Shall God have compassion upon all people? Whatever Jonah’s answer may have been, in the fullness of time (Gal 4:4), “one greater than Jonah” appeared (Mt 12:41 || Lk 11:32): Jesus the Nazarene. He has spoken the definitive answer with his whole heart, written in his own blood. The life, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised second coming of Jesus are the Father’s yes—yes, yes, a thousand times and forever yes! St. Paul says as much. All of God’s promises are “yes in [Christ]; so through him the amen [is spoken] by us to the glory of God” (2 Cor 1:20).
Devotional reading is from Concordia Commentary: Jonah, pages 412–13 © 2007 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.