“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the LORD, ‘Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’” (Jonah 4:1-3)
The prophet Jonah was given a difficult task by God. He was to go and preach a message of judgment and doom to the residents of Nineveh, the chief city of the Assyrian Empire, and one of the largest cities in the world at that time. The Assyrians were a violent, oppressive, and destructive people, and Jonah had possibly seen them torture, rape, and kill people in his land of Israel.
Not wanting anything to do with these people, Jonah found a boat and fled in the other direction. Away from Nineveh he went! And, he thought…away from the LORD. But, God sent a great storm to threaten the ship, and a great fish to swallow Jonah after the sailors threw him overboard.
Now the LORD had Jonah’s attention. He repented and agreed to go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim God’s message of judgment. “Forty more days, and Nineveh will be overthrown” was his cry. And miraculously, the word of God took hold of the people. They repented from the greatest to the least, and were saved.
Our scripture for today records Jonah’s reaction. Rather than being happy that the Ninevites were delivered, he was outraged. These verses are a complaint from Jonah to God. Knowing the compassion of the Lord, he reveals that fled in the first place, not only from fear, but also from hatred.