The Character of God
A Glance at God’s Compassion during the Life and Times of Jonah, God’s Reluctant Spokesman
Remember the synopsis of the book: God sends Jonah to warn Nineveh of his impending judgment; instead Jonah refuses and flees from God; God throws Jonah into the belly of a fish; Jonah changes his mind; Jonah goes to Nineveh to preach; Nineveh repents; Jonah gets mad.
The most important perspective to glean about the book of Jonah....
The book is not primarily about Jonah, the prophet; namely his love/hate relationship with God.
The book is not primarily about evangelism; namely going into the streets with God’s message.
The book is not primarily about the citizens of Nineveh; namely their wholesale turning from wickedness to God.
The book is primarily about God; namely his incredible and unexplainable mercy.
What might saying “no” to God look like? A hallmark of Jonah’s disobedience is running (Jonah 1:1-3)
Another hallmark is rationalization. It is found in NAU Jonah 4:2 He 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. So, in Jonah’s own words we learn what he was thinking.
Illust: As I contemplated what this verse teaches us about God, I ran across the following account of an event in President Calvin Coolidge’s life. “Years after (his) death, this story came to light. In the early days of his presidency, Coolidge awoke one morning in his hotel room to find a cat burglar going through his pockets. Coolidge spoke up, asking the burglar not to take his watch chain because it contained an engraved charm he wanted to keep. Coolidge then engaged the thief in quiet conversation and discovered he was a college student who had no money to pay his hotel bill or buy a ticket back to campus. Coolidge counted $32 out of his wallet -- which he had also persuaded the dazed young man to give back! -- declared it to be a loan, and advised the young man to leave the way he had come so as to avoid the Secret Service! (Yes, the loan was paid back.) Today in the Word, October 8, 1992.
He justified his decision to run based on Nineveh’s actual repentance
Note the “was not this what I said while I was still in my own country?” He is now in Nineveh. He has preached and people repented. He is now saying something like, “I was right in the first place;. I suspected this would happen and it did. I was right to refuse to come to Nineveh. I should not have given in to God. I should have stayed away.”
Why did this bother him so much? Probably he feared that the conversion of these Gentiles would infringe on Israel’s special place of privilege. The Assyrians, in Luther’s words, “had neither the word of God, nor the laws of Moses, nor the worship of God, no prophets, nor anything else, but rather strove against God, and His word and His people.” (source unknown).
Also, I wonder if Jonah may have been a tad bit embarrassed; and angry? Sounds an awful lot like Jeremiah’s complaint that God wasn’t exacting revenge (v12) as Jeremiah had promised, NAU Jeremiah 20:7 O LORD, You have deceived me and I was deceived; You have overcome me and prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; Everyone mocks me.
“…Whatever pleases God should please us, and, though we cannot account for it, yet we must acquiesce in it” (Matthew Henry)
He justified his decision to run based on His knowledge of God’s tendencies
The word “forestall” is a fascinating description of what Jonah had in mind by heading to Tarshish. It means to confront, as either an enemy or a friend – to march out in front boldly. The picture seems to be this – God, I know what you will likely do(change their hearts) and thus I intend to persuade you to change you ways. Perhaps Jonah was aware of God requiring Elisha to heal Naaman, a Syrian soldier who had participated in routine raids against Isreal (2 Kings 5:19; 6:20-23).
Jonah disagrees with God’s ways in dealing with people!!! He wants God to destroy the wicked and prosper the righteous. Anything else is inconsistent.
He justified his decision to run based on God’s well-known character
Jonah knew from personal experience with God (ידע) what most knew only from reputation. This is an incredible statement, a “wow” moment. Jonah had a unique relationship with God. Here is the problem – Jonah did know these truths about God and he knew of God personally, nonetheless, he shook his fist in God’s face anyway. He openly rebelled; and he justified his rebellion. His knowledge did not help him!
Illust: my encounter with a well-known Bible teacher who artfully twisted Scripture to justify his illicit relationship with another man’s wife.
Here is what Jonah knew. This is a mini theology lesson on the character and attributes of God.
God is gracious ( חַנּוּן )
All 13 occurrences of the term refer to God and describe him granting favor or doing acts of kindness that flow from heartfelt pity upon beggars. It is often coupled and nearly synonymous with “compassion” (TWOT 694d).
You should picture God in heaven with his hand outstretched as if to give something that is custom fitted to your need and that brings you blissful joy. You have been favored by the attention of the King!
God is compassionate (רַחוּם )
The term “expresses a deep and tender felling of compassion, such as is aroused by the sight of weakness or suffering in those that dear to us or need our help.” (Girdlestone, Synonyms of OT 108). Psa 103, “Like a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.” Also David in 2 Sam 24:14, “Let us fall now into the hands of god, for his mercies are abounding.”
This facet of God’s relationship with us really puts a smile on our faces. By his “tender mercies” he blots out our sins (Psa 51:1). “It marks the “tenderness with which God regards His people in their downcast condition.” (Girdlestone 109). If you are wondering what God feels, here it is!
Should we not cherish God for this, rather than snarl over it like Jonah? Should we not be glad that God extends compassion to others as well as us?
God is patient (אֶ֤רֶךְ אַפַּ֙יִם )
“Slow to anger” is a vivid idiom. “It reads "God is long of nose." When he is angry, his nose becomes red and burns…When he is compassionate his nose becomes long, so long in fact that it would take forever to burn completely.” (TWOT 01620)
A related image is “…that God takes a long, deep breath as he holds his anger in abeyance,... i.e. "the long of breath" (TWOT 133a).
Illust: how long can you hold your breath? 15 sec, 30 sec, 50 sec?
So, slow to anger means he often abides our foolishness a long, long time before punishing. In fact, for genuine believers his patience is everlasting!
God is merciful (חֶ֔סֶד )
The term generally signifies God’s loving-kindness. It is in the same family as grace and compassion. “In a word, mercy is the main characteristic of God’s dealings with man…” (Girdlestone 113).
However, passages like Psa 89 add another dimension to this divine trait. There and elsewhere, the term really connotes covenant loyalty; God keeps his promises. One can count on God! NAU Psalm 89:33 "But I will not break off My lovingkindness from him, Nor deal falsely in My faithfulness.
And it gets even better. He is extremely merciful; his mercy is more than adequate for any situation (abundant -וְרַב).
God is reasonable (וְנִחָ֖ם עַל־הָרָעָֽה )
He “relents”, that is He willing restrains his wrath if the circumstances merit. Thus it can be said that God “changes his mind” about venting his wrath. The KJV often translates “repent”. It may be based on a root that means “breathing deeply;” thus the idea of God emotionally reacting to the prospect of venting his wrath upon wickedness by changing his mind. He takes a deep breath and counts to ten! This is a wonderful quality, is it not. Our God is genuinely affected by the human condition. He does not take joy in punishing sin.
But as we rejoice in this quality, we are reminded of something else we know of God – he is immutable, that is he does not change. NAU 1 Samuel 15:29 "Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind."
“On the surface, such language seems inconsistent, if not contradictory, with certain passages which affirm God's immutability… When n¹µam is used of God, however…there is not ultimate tension. From man's limited, earthly, finite perspective it only appears that God's purposes have changed. (TWOT).
This is an anthropomorphism. It appears twice in 3:9-10 of God. It is a term filled with great hope! “He did not do it”!
Do these descriptions sound familiar? Our God has always been known for these traits. In fact this is precisely the way God revealed himself to Moses at Sinai, NAU Exodus 34:6-7 Then 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; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations."
Even David exalted in these truths about God, NAU Psalm 86:15 But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.
Have you heard about Pocket God? It was one of the top-selling apps for Apple's iPhone. Here's the game description found on iTunes:
What kind of god would you be? Benevolent or vengeful? Play Pocket God and discover the answer within yourself. On a remote island, you are the all-powerful god that rules over the primitive islanders. You can bring new life, and then take it away just as quickly.
Seeing that game options include throwing islanders into volcanoes, using islanders as shark bait, bowling for islanders with a large rock, or creating earthquakes to destroy the islanders' villages, designers seem to think players will only want to play the role of a vengeful god—which must mean they think that's the only kind of god players can ever imagine being real. Brian Lowery, managing editor, PreachingToday.com; http://www.apple.com/iphone/ (Pocket God entry) from Preaching Today accessed 8/26/09
Listen, our God is benevolent! And His character of God renders Jonah’s saying no to God absolutely insane!
© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2016. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.