God Speaks to Human Prejudices

MEMORY SELECTION: “Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored, … and should not I spare Nineveh, that great city?” —Jonah 4:10,11

SELECTED SCRIPTURE: Jonah 3:3-5; Jonah 4

THE story of Jonah illustrates the overruling providences of God in the accomplishing of his will through his servants. And it demonstrates God’s mercy and love toward the billions of the human race who now live in ignorance of him, as well as those who have so lived throughout the ages—in contrast to Jonah, who represents some who have had the privilege of knowing God, at least in a limited way.

The story centers on a prophet of God who was instructed to warn the city of Nineveh to repent if it was to avoid destruction. Jonah was reluctant to carry out the instructions because he had already formed a personal judgment about the Ninevites and their guilt. Jonah boarded a boat in an attempt to hide from the Lord. But the Lord caused a great storm to come upon the ship. The sailors were frightened, arm when Jonah was found, they determined, at his own suggestion, to toss him overboard in order the appease the sea.

The storm immediately passed over, but God “had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah 1:17) This part of the narrative has been the favorite subject for skeptics and critics of the Bible. They fail to note that it was not necessarily a whale, whose throat would not accommodate a man, but that God had prepared a great fish.

Archaeologists have discovered that the Ninevites worshiped a great fish as one of their gods. Therefore, when the great fish prepared by God deposited Jonah on the shores of Ninevah, Jonah’s credibility was immediately established, and, as the account states, the people and even the king repented in sackcloth and ashes.

It is worthy of note that Jesus used this experience in the life of Jonah as an illustration or type of his own death and burial and his subsequent resurrection. We read in Matthew 12:39-41: “But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the Prophet Jonas: for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s [Greek—ketos, ‘a huge fish’] belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.” Jesus thus admonished the Jews to accept him as their Messiah, who was able to deliver them and give them life if they would only repent.—Acts 3:19

Jonah was very much disappointed that the Ninevites repented. His own personal judgment was that God should have destroyed them all. And when he was mildly reproved by God, he stationed himself outside the city to watch. He was certain that his judgment was correct and that the Ninevites would soon return to their evil ways and he would be vindicated. But the watching was difficult because of the heat. So God in his mercy “prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.”—Jonah 4:6

But God took this occasion to teach Jonah—and us with him—a lesson as to the wisdom and mercy of God. He caused the gourd to die and he exposed Jonah to the harsh sun and wind to the point that Jonah was willing to die. Then God said to Jonah: “Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd: And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death. Then said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: and should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”—Jonah 4:9-11

The Ninevites, because they knew not God, had no standard of righteousness and therefore were not able to discern good from evil. But when their transgression was brought to their attention, they repented and therefore were forgiven by God.

Surely “The love of God is broader than the measure of man’s mind, and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.”

Dawn Bible Students Association
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