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  • Writer's pictureElpidio Pezzella

Jonah's Anger

'But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.'

(Jonah 4:1 NKJV)

Jonah's story is conditioned by resentment toward the Ninevites, which drives the prophet, sent to Nineveh to announce repentance, in the opposite direction to take a ship to flee to Tarsis (or Tarshish). His intention is to evade the divine mandate, because as we find out in chapter 4, he was certain that if he went to Nineveh and announced what the Lord commanded him, the people, out of fear, would be converted. Not only that, but he was certain that God at the sight of the conversion of the Ninevites would be moved to compassion and would not carry out what he threatened (4:2). And that is just the way it goes. God lovingly persecutes him and leaves him no chance to escape. First the wind, then the storm, and again fate; and just when the sea could end his days, a big fish swallows him up and vomits him ashore. Sometimes God leaves no escape.

From ship to city, the passage is short. Humanity of all times is waiting for a message of hope, albeit one of condemnation. Jonah's preaching merely announces doom; he does not ask for repentance or straightening of one's ways. Few words for little chance of redemption and little passion? Or because when God establishes a few human words suffice? The prophet's concise message is effective of transforming the life conduct of the recipients, inducing conversion and a change of both spiritual and moral condition and that concerning material decisions. An exorbitant number of words is not necessary for the message to take effect and produce a reaction. It follows that the ninivites are so touched and affected in their consciences that they extend the conversion process to animals, covering them with sackcloth and ashes, something that never happened in Israel. What was not thought possible has happened, and at this point Jonah's assumption comes true: God no longer condemns the city. The prophet worries about his credibility, is assailed by displeasure, and becomes so angry with God that he asks to die.

"Is it right for you to be angry?" Like a parent with his wayward child, God tries to reason with the prophet. He first lets him vent. Then he gives him an audience and replies. But when asked, Jonah is too angry. He does not respond. Rather he gets up, turning his back, he leaves. He climbs the hill in front of Nineveh and waits for developments. When they don't want to hear reason, when our convictions admit of no alternative, we retreat in a huddle and are no longer aware of what is happening. In fact, the prophet is sitting in the sun, while God quickly grows a castor tree behind him that covers him with cool shade. When the next day, almost as if to provoke him, God first causes the plant to dry up, then raises a hot wind that together with the beating sun saps and takes away his breath, Jonah returns to complaining and calling for death as deliverance. Again, with fatherly thoughtfulness, he echoes the question, "Does it seem right to anger you thus?" Anger clouds more than the wind, seethes more than the scorching sun, and makes one declare inappropriate things: "it is right for me to be angry, even to death" (v. 9). I am fascinated by God's pedagogical action toward his prophet. He does not leave him, he "torments" him. He does not abandon him; he prods and provokes him.

This devotional today comes precisely to provoke you, asking yourself whether it seems right, whether you are doing right to behave in this way. Probably what happened or in progress is testing your patience, and after all anger is human. The point is to control it. You are old enough for tantrums, you have enough knowledge to put your foot down with God. You are not the only one anyway. I admit that His actions are not always understandable, and that is also why He is Other than us. Wherever you are now, whether your head is in the shade or in the sun, bless His name, for He will not leave you in your condition.


Weekly Bible Reading Plan #30

July 17, Psalms 18-19; Acts 20:17-38

July 18, Psalms 20-22; Acts 21:1-17

July 19, Psalms 23-25; Acts 21:18-40

July 20, Psalms 26-28; Acts 22

July 21, Psalms 29-30; Acts 23:1-15

July 22, Psalms 31-32; Acts 23:16-35

July 23, Psalms 33-34; Acts 24

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