Jonah fled out of HATRED, not FEAR

“Sunday Sermon”

Growing up, my Sunday School teachers explained that Jonah ran away from the Lord and the Ninevehites out of fear for his life. I recently learned that was wrong. A careful reading of the text shows another motive for Jonah’s actions.

The Assyrians were infamous for their brutality. They took sadistic delight in torturing and mutilating innocent men, women, and children.  And the great city of Nineveh was their capital.  The Lord was sending Jonah to “the belly of the beast.” This quest was indeed life-threatening

Jonah Inside the “Big Fish”

However, it wasn’t fear for his life that motivated Jonah.

When the storm threatened the boat, Jonah pleaded with the sailors to sacrifice his life.  “Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you; for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.” (Jonah 1:12)

After preaching to the Assyrians, Jonah begged the Lord to kill him. “Therefore, now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:3)

Jonah was prepared and willing to die.  So, it wasn’t fear that motivated him. Instead, it was deep-seated hatred for the Assyrians.

Jonah’s calling was like asking a Rabbi, near the end of WWII, after millions of innocent Jewish men, women, and children had been slaughtered in the horrific Holocaust, to go to Nazi Germany, and share the gospel with the Gestapo SS. Most Rabbis would refuse. The Holocaust demanded justice and punishment, not mercy and forgiveness

Big Fish “Vomits” Jonah

Likewise, the innocent victims of the atrocities of the Assyrians cried out for retribution.

So, it is understandable that, after the Assyrians repented in sack cloth, after they fasted and begged for forgiveness, and after the Lord extended his pure love and mercy to them, that Jonah was very upset.  The Assyrians deserved to suffer and die, just like their innocent victims. Justice demanded it.

This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry.  So, he complained to the Lord about it. ‘Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord?  That is why I ran away to Tarshish!  I knew that you are a merciful compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.  You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord!  I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.’” (Jonah 4:1-3 NLT)

Jonah Waiting and Watching

In the off chance that the Lord might change his mind again, and impose justice after all, Jonah sat on the side of a hill, and watched to see what would happen. (Jonah 4:5)

I misjudged Jonah. His heart was filled with hatred, not fear.

What happens when God forgives my enemies?What am I to do when the Lord shows mercy to those I hate?

This is the lesson of Jonah. This is a question for each of us.

For example, I was surprised to learn that, when Joseph Smith announced the beautiful doctrine of the Degrees of Glory (D&C 76), that many members left the church. This sublime doctrine was consistent with a fair and loving Father in Heaven. But these people were upset that their persecutors would not burn in hell forever. Their hurt had turned into hate. “No hell?  No eternal suffering? Justice is robbed!

The Lord has commanded that we forgive our enemiesOur personal forgiveness depends on it.

Bruce R. McConkie declared: “Can we gain forgiveness from the Lord without granting it to our fellow men? The answer is a thunderous, No! Jesus condensed the divine law into these six words: ‘Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.’ (Luke6:37.). . . Forgiveness of others is a condition precedent to the receipt of forgiveness for ourselves.”(Bruce R. McConkie, “A New Witness for the Articles of Faith”, 238)

Assyrians Beg for Forgiveness

The Lord declared: “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.  [F]or he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.” (D&C 64: 10,9)

Jesus pleaded: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:  But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:12-15)

Jeffrey R. Holland observed: “Life is too short to be spent nursing animosities or in keeping a box score of offenses against us. We don’t want God to remember our sins, so there is something fundamentally wrong in our relentlessly trying to remember those of others….  It is one of those ironies of godhood that in order to find peace, the offended as well as the offender must engage in the principle of forgiveness.” (Ensign, Nov. 1996, p. 83)

Not only must we forgive our enemies, but we must learn to love them and pray for them.

Jesus proclaimed: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:43-44)

We must drive hatred from our hearts. That is the great lesson of the Book of Jonah.

Hatred is a “work of the flesh.” (Eph. 5:19) Hatred repels the Spirit. If our hearts are filled with hatred, we “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Eph. 5:19)

If hatred fills our heart, we deny ourselves the “fruit of the Spirit,” “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness.” (Eph. 5:20)  

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