The Prejudiced Prophet Meets the Gracious God

This post is part of a devotional series based on our 2019 Bible Reading Calendar.

So the Lord said, “You cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow. It appeared in a night and perished in a night. But may I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people…?” ~ Jonah 4:10-11

Jonah was a prophet of the Lord. Jonah was also prejudiced.

God told Jonah, a Jew, to travel to the Assyrian city of Nineveh and warn that judgment was soon to come upon their sins. It was a message that ultimately led to the repentance of the king and many of the people, sparing the city from judgment at that time. Hundreds of years later, Jesus even used their repentance to warn the religious leaders who were rejecting him, saying, “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at Jonah’s preaching and look–something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:41).

Yet, Jonah did all he could to avoid taking the message to Nineveh. He boarded a ship sailing the opposite way, seeking to run from God, and then asked to be thrown into the sea when God struck the ship with a storm.

And why was Jonah so desperate to get away?

After God withheld the disaster on the city, Jonah cried out in complaint and anger, “Please, Lord, isn’t this what I thought while I was still in my own country? That’s why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place. I knew that you area  gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and one who relents from sending disaster” (4:2) Jonah even followed this prayer with a request that the Lord would take his life.

You see, Jonah was a man of deep prejudice–racism against the culture and people of Nineveh. He didn’t want them to repent but rather to face the furious hand of the wrath of God.

Yet, God would have none of it.

Perhaps, God could have said to Jonah, “Fine, if you don’t want to go, I’ll send someone else,” but that’s not how God works.

God is gracious. He delights in saving from sin. It was his good pleasure to rescue a city from their wicked ways and it was his good pleasure to rescue a prejudiced prophet from his sinful heart.

God was teaching Jonah a lesson: All people are his creation, made in his image, and valuable in his sight, no matter where they were from, their class, their ethnicity, or whatever other specifics of their background. His lesson is a reminder to us as well, because we all battle personal prejudices in some way: If we don’t like someone because of who they are or where they’re from, then it’s us who need to change and we need to serve them by bringing them the love and grace of the God who is slow to anger and abounding in faithful love.

All Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible.

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