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A Tender Mercy

The ending to the book of Jonah is perplexing.

The author doesn’t tell us what happened to Jonah. The author leaves us wondering: did Jonah repent of his anger toward God for not executing his justice and wrath upon his enemies, the Ninevites?

What kind of storyteller is this? How could he not bring some resolution about the main character?

And that, my friends, is the nub of the problem.

If we think Jonah was the main character then we’ve missed the point and purpose of the story. For the author, the main character has never been Jonah. The main character has always been God himself, the God who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster (Jonah 4:2).”

And as the main character, God appropriately has the last word in the book of Jonah. And his last word is a word of grace. So the story ends appropriately with the words of the main character revealing the compassion of the main character with these words and with this question:

“Should not I pity Nineveh?”

The author doesn’t inform us about Jonah’s response because what is important to this story isn’t whether or not Jonah responded appropriately. What’s important is how you and I will respond. By not informing us about what happened to Jonah, the author in effect puts this question to each of us. The author wants each of us to answer this question because the author knows that something of Jonah lurks in all our hearts.

The question settles upon each of us, “Does your heart reflect God’s heart of compassion for the lost and for your enemies or Jonah’s heart of selfishness and self-righteousness?” The book of Jonah is not a call to action. The book of Jonah is a revelation of the character of God. And so, this book asks each of us to evaluate ourselves: who do we reflect; who do we resemble. Is it God or Jonah?

We would be wise to consider in what way we might bear a striking resemblance to Jonah. Have we set up a booth in our hearts hoping and watching and waiting for justice and judgment to be visited upon our enemies? We bear a striking resemblance to Jonah whenever we are frustrated with God for not executing justice and wrath on others. And no one is exempt from this temptation; there will be those who sin against you and you will be tempted to desire for God—maybe even to ask God—to send justice upon them for what they have done. And when this doesn’t appear to happen you can be tempted to become impatient with God, even angry with God, just like Jonah.

Jonah has received nothing but mercy from God and yet he fails to show mercy to others. How often do we feel and act the same? Is there anyone you would prefer not receive the mercy of God? Who is your Ninevite? If there is someone like this in our lives the Lord would ask us, “Should not I pity this person? Should not I pity them, just like I pitied you and sent my Son to die for you and your sins?”

This post is adapted from a sermon I preached at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville entitled, “A Tender Mercy.”