But What About the Punishment?

Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

The LORD God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the LORD said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:5-10)

People like stories where the bad guy gets his just deserts. That’s exactly what Jonah was hoping for Nineveh. Jonah hated it; the capital of an Assyrian Empire was cruel and threatened Israel. But God told Jonah to warn them that judgment was imminent. Jonah refused and boarded a ship going the opposite direction. He expected God would kill him. Jonah was fine with that, because lacking his warning, Nineveh would be destroyed. To Jonah’s surprise, God put him in a fish’s belly, instead. Three days later, God asked again. So Jonah obeyed. And what he feared most is what happened: Nineveh repented, and God forgave the Ninevites.

God showed Jonah mercy as well. As he sat outside Nineveh hoping that God would punish it, Jonah’s misery in the hot sun was relieved by a vine that gave him shade. When it shriveled and died, he wished he could die too. The story ends with a question from God: if Jonah can feel concern over a mere plant, then what should God feel for human beings? Jonah learned why God much prefers mercy to judgment.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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