“Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know [the difference] between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”
Jonah is a fascinating bit of a prophet. He preaches the worst evangelical sermon in history — 40 days and you are all dead! — and an entire city (120,000 converts from a single sermon!) repents in sackcloth and ashes. Jonah’s response to what is clearly the work of God? The prophet prays and says, “God, I told You this would happen, because You are gracious and compassionate and slow to anger and prefer to bless rather than judge. Since You have stayed true to Your character and I did not want these people to repent and be saved, just kill me now.” Mind: blown.
But is that really any different from some believers today? There are folks who look at the prisoners on Death Row and think that their (the prisoners’) crimes are so heinous that they do not deserve forgiveness. Truth is, none of us deserves forgiveness. There are those who look at terrorists and want them to die in their sins; want them to be killed rather than converted. True conversion would stop their terrorist actions just as effectively and would have bonus prizes attached in the form of a new member in God’s family and someone who understands the mind of terrorists who can try to evangelize them. The Assyrians, whose capital was Nineveh, were a brutal people in their day. Think an entire army of Vlad the Impaler and that is not far from reality. Would we want people who had a lot in common with the man who is the origin of the Dracula legend to be saved? For my own part, I cannot answer definitely. Take it one step further. Would we take God’s message of hope and forgiveness to those people?
Yesterday, I was reminded of the parallels between Jesus and Jonah and the whole idea of them not looking the same got caught in my head. Some commentators write that Jonah might have looked very much like he had been sent by one of the Assyrian gods to proclaim judgment and that is why the people of Nineveh listened the way they did. More, one of the Assyrian gods was a fish man and those same commentators think that Jonah’s entrance onto the scene — being vomited up by a fish — might have given him serious cred with the Assyrians if anyone was on that beach to see it. I cannot speak to either one — I am neither a history scholar nor was I there — but I can say that the message and the messenger were not pretty.
The message is simple. No matter how bad we might be, God wants to have compassion on us and forgive us and not have to judge us. We could be a nation of Vlad Drakuls and God would still want us to repent and come to Him. We could be the worst thing imaginable and He would still want us to repent and be forgiven. God is not willing that any should perish. God notes, in this morning’s verse, that the people of Nineveh did not know any better; that they do not know [the difference] between their right and left hand. Some of us know better. God wants those people to repent, too. God wants to have compassion on anyone and everyone. Do I have that heart in me?