So he complained to the LORD about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. I knew how easily you could cancel your plans for destroying these people.” - Jonah 4:2
We can choose our friends, but we must accept our relatives. And our enemies often appear on the horizon unexpected and unbidden. The question then becomes, Now what do we do? Enemies, like friends and relatives, rarely go away on their own.
The city of Nineveh was full of “people living in spiritual darkness” (4:11), which is why God sent Jonah to preach to them and to warn them of the consequences of their actions. The people responded and repented, and the Lord stayed his hand of judgment. And Jonah was furious. “So he complained to the Lord about it: ‘Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. I knew how easily you could cancel your plans for destroying these people’ ” (4:2). We should note that in the biblical languages slow to get angry means “patient.” Jonah was angry because God was not angry enough! God was too patient for Jonah’s taste. Yet God was not overlooking sin or ignoring unrighteousness. He was withholding his judgment to give the Ninevites the opportunity to put their lives in order. That is what patience does! But Jonah was so hostile to the Ninevites that he wanted them to be punished as they deserved. This attitude was understandable, given the Ninevites’ reputation for cruelty and their antipathy toward Jonah’s people, Israel. But this is where the patience of God and the attitudes of men part company.
God will eventually judge if people persistently turn down his offer of mercy. But our role when dealing with a nagging wife, an obstreperous boss, or even a recalcitrant teenager is to see that we do not deny them what God grants them—the opportunity to be forgiven and the chance to put things right. We need to recall God’s patience with us. Instead of hoping that people who make life difficult will “get theirs,” let us patiently encourage them to “get his”—his forgiveness. Those who get what is coming to them because of their misdeeds will find their lives blighted. Those who appropriate God’s patience as a golden opportunity for a new start will find their lives blessed. One mark of spiritual maturity is the desire to see enemies blessed, not blighted.
For Further Study: Jonah 3:1-4:11