The Embarrassing Patience of God (19:6)

God’s incredible graciousness has even been an embarrassment to some of His people. Do you remember when the prophet Jonah was asked by God to go and give a serious message of warning to Nineveh? At first he ran away. Later, under considerable pressure, he went and delivered his message. He was hardly a “missionary volunteer.” Think of the pressure the Lord had to put on Jonah to get him to go to Nineveh and deliver a very serious message to a very dangerous people. Jonah walked the streets and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed” (based on Jonah 3:4).

Then he went out and sat down on a hillside nearby to watch the city come to its end (Jon 4:5). But it didn’t. The people of Nineveh repented, and the city was not destroyed (Jon 3:10). And Jonah complained angrily to God. He said, “God, that’s why I ran away. I knew You were far too kind to go through with that threat. You’ve made me look like a false prophet. I’m humiliated enough to die.” Imagine saying such words to God! Here’s how the biblical text puts it:

Lord, didn’t I say before I left home that this is just what you would do? That’s why I did my best to run away to Spain! I knew that you are a loving and merciful God, always patient, always kind, and always ready to change your mind and not punish. Now then, Lord, let me die. I am better off dead than alive. Jonah 4:2-3, GNB.

Think how well this man knew God way back in Old Testament times! Those are words Isaiah, Jeremiah, Moses, or Abraham would have been proud to speak. In fact, none of them used better words than that to talk about our God. But Jonah was ashamed. God’s kindness had embarrassed him. He was so humiliated, his reputation as a reliable prophet was so destroyed, that he was prepared to die!

God reasoned with frustrated Jonah. “Have you no pity for these people? Aren’t you glad that they have chosen to repent?” Jonah 4:4, 11. God even mentioned the cattle in the city at the end of the book (4:11). But Jonah was much more concerned about his own reputation. Moses, Abraham, Jeremiah, and Paul all announced themselves proud to know God as they did. They were proud of Him and proud of the good news. Jonah also knew God, but he was ashamed.