“People who cannot tell their right hand from their left” (v. 11) are clueless and confused. They don’t know which way is up. They couldn’t find their way out of a paper bag. They’re not sure of the phone number for 9-1-1.
Yet God loves them just the same! The Ninevites were not the chosen people. True prophets did not regularly bring them God’s words. They lacked the resources for moral and spiritual discernment. They were in no way deserving of God’s love, and in fact understood neither God nor love—but He loved them just the same! That’s a truth Jonah did and didn’t understand. He showed he did understand when he acknowledged, “You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love” (v. 2). But he showed he didn’t really understand when he became angry because God relented of His judgment. Jonah had seen incredible repentance and revival among the Ninevites in response to his preaching. Since they were Israel’s enemies, however, he wasn’t pleased by God’s merciful response (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4). Instead, he felt angry and depressed, and even used prayer to complain that he had seen this coming. He insisted on camping out and keeping an eye on the city in case God changed His mind.
To deal with Jonah’s stubbornness, God taught him an object lesson. Jonah felt happy when a shady vine grew up, but upset when it was taken away. “Is it right for you to be angry?” God then demanded, skewering Jonah’s lack of compassion (v. 9). What kind of person cares about a vine but not an entire city (v. 11)? What kind of prophet wants vengeance rather than mercy? Though no answer is recorded, it seems likely that Jonah repented and wrote this book.
Apply the Word
As the story of Jonah illustrates, Jesus’ command to “love your enemies” is really quite a difficult one. It’s easy to love family and friends, but enemies? People who would like to see us humiliated and defeated? People who are out to use and exploit us? Yes. In fact, according to Jesus, such love shows us to be true children of God (Matt. 5:43–48).