When God Loves Your Enemy

This is the last of a five-part series in the book of Jonah, and this section is one of the most puzzling parts of the book.

Episode 5
Aug 14, 2017
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Show Notes

In the final episode we see Jonah's response when God forgives his enemies. He's hot with anger and chews God out for being to gracious.

This part of the story challenges us to reconsider Jesus' teaching to love and forgive our enemies, those people in our lives who are the most difficult.


Speaker in the audio file:

Tim Mackie


Tim: Hey everybody! I’m Tim Mackie, and this is my podcast, Exploring My Strange

Bible. I am a card-carrying, Bible, history, and language nerd who thinks that

Jesus of Nazareth is utterly amazing and worth following with everything that you


On this Podcast, I’m putting together the last ten years’ worth of lectures,

and sermons where I’ve been exploring this strange, and wonderful story of the

Bible and how it invites us into the mission of Jesus and the journey of faith. And

I hope this can be helpful for you too.

I also helped start this thing called, The Bible Project. We make animated

videos, and podcasts about all kinds of topics on Bible, and Theology. You can

find those resources at thebibleproject.com.

With all that said, let’s dive into the episode for this week.

Alright. Hey guys. This is the last of a five-part series we’ve been doing through

the Book of Jonah. This is when God Loves Your Enemy. It’s exploring the last

chapter of the Book of Jonah. If you haven’t listened to the first four teachings

that explore the earlier parts of the book, I recommend you do that in the

previous podcast. This last chapter of the Book of Jonah is actually one of the

most puzzling and difficult parts of the book. I have had children’s books at home

that I will never read to my children. It says it’s about the Book of Jonah, but it

happily leaves out any recounting of the final chapter of the book which is

actually not that surprising because that last chapter, Jonah Chapter 4 turns the

story from happy story of Jonah finally obeying and the Ninevites responding

ideal way to this message that comes from God’s prophet. And then chapter 4

just throws a huge wrench into the whole thing as God’s own prophet gets really,

really angry at God for forgiving his enemies. So what I use this for was

opportunity both to talk about what’s going on in the Book of Jonah, and about

the very scandalous teaching of Jesus about enemy love. So I hope this is helpful

for you, this was really challenging for me personally as I was preparing it. And

let’s dive in and learn together.

Here we go. It’s our final week in the Book of Jonah. Yeah? Let’s rock and roll.

Let’s look at what that is. We’ve been heading it, what I call, The Veggie Tales

Factor, right? This mediation of the Bible stories to us through children’s media

that tends to kind of make them all bland, and about being a nice person or

something like that. And so what we’ve been discovering, I know at least myself

have been rediscovering, kind of studying and working through the book again.

This is not a children’s story by any means. Of course children could grasp the

basic outline of the story. But the themes of the story are so profound, you very

much have to be an adult to get them dealing with themes about religious

hypocrisy, and exposing spiritual apathy, and the devastating effects it has on us

and other people, and about the ways that God can use pain and suffering in our

lives as a severe mercy to wake us up. Themes of divine judgment and divine

repentance, how can you explain that to your three-year old. So these are themes

that are meant for adults. And that’s because this story, as all of the scriptures, it’s

aimed at revealing God’s character to His people, that’s the purpose of the

scripture, not to entertain kids, but to reveal who God is, His character, and his

purposes, to know what He’s up to in the world. And so today, Jonah in Chapter

4, we conclude the story with this ridiculous, apparently, sun burnt man sitting at

the East of Nineveh, who wants to die. He would rather die than live with a

Godlike Yahweh. And how does this speak God’s word to us tonight? Let’s dive in.

So remember the big storyline. You have this prophet, religious man of God who

hates his god and runs from his god in the opposite direction. That leads him to

hit bottom. He brings ruin on himself and all these other people, his spiritual

apathy, but God makes this brush with death, make all this seem like it’s the

worst thing that ever happened to him but actually becomes a severe mercy,

that’s the best thing that’s ever happened to him, and it wakes him up. At least

for a moment. And he physically then obeys and goes on this commission to

confront the wickedness of the city of Nineveh. And last week we talked about all

of that, and I showed you cool, archaeological pictures, you know, depicting how

horrible the Assyrians and the Ninevites were. And so he preached this five-word

sermon in Hebrew, so it’s eight words in English, five words in Hebrew. And the

whole city repents and turns to God. And you would think, if you were a prophet

from Israel, this is a great line on your resume, you know what I’m saying. This is

like notoriously, it’s like sin city, you know.


And you can—there are days preaching in, five-words in, and the whole city has

this radical transformation and you would think most or any other prophets of

Israel would be like, “Yeah, that’s right.” Stoked. And how does Jonah feel about

this? How does Jonah—look at the last sentence of chapter 3. It’s verse 10.

God saw the repentance and the soft hearts of the Ninevites, and so Chapter

3:10, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways and

he relented.” He forgave them. “-and He didn’t bring on them the destruction

that he threatened.” Any other prophet of Israel would be like, mission

accomplished, God shows grace, His reputation is honored, and so on. And what

was Jonah’s response to all of this? He is ticked, he is livid with anger. Look at his

response. But to Jonah, this all seemed very wrong. “No. What? No, no, no. This is

not what’s supposed to happen. This is very wrong.” He became angry, and he

prayed to the Lord. When you see Lord in all capital letters, it’s Yahweh in

Hebrew. He prayed to Yahweh and he precedes to God out big time.

This might be a new category of prayer for some of us. Apparently you can pray

and just let God have it. But we did series in the Psalms of the summer, and you

saw lots of people letting God have it and venting. And it was a form of prayer.

So look at what he says, you just imagine, he has clenched teeth, you know. He’s

hot with anger. He prayed to Yahweh, “Isn’t this what I said, Yahweh? When I was

still back at home? This is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish.” So you

remember Israel, by the Mediterranean Sea, what direction is Nineveh? East.

What way is Tarshish? It’s as far west as you could humanly go, right? It’s the

edge of the known world for ancient people in our coast of Spain, way across the

Mediterranean. Now why did he flee? Did he flee because he’s scared that the

Ninevites might kill him? He runs because he hates Ninevites. He knew that this is

what’s going to happen. So he says, I knew that you were a gracious and

compassionate God. I knew that you’re slow to anger. I knew you are abounding

in love. I knew that you’re a God who relents from sending calamity. Now

Yahweh, take away my life. It would be better for me to die than live.” Can you

see the heat of his anger? I mean this seems ridiculous to us and the levels of

irony go way deeper.

Look at verse 2, do you see these descriptions here? The words that he uses to

describe God, so he says, “You’re gracious, compassionate, slow to anger,

abounding in love.” Does this sound familiar to anybody? Your kind of heard

these descriptions before? Maybe. So of you like, well it does sound Bible-ish. So

yes, that’s true. So, this phrase right here, gracious, compassionate God, slow to

anger, bounding love, this kind of like the John 3:16, which is the famous verse in

the new testament. It’s kind of like that equivalent in the Old Testament. This is

one of those most repeated descriptions of God over a dozen times throughout

the Old Testament. And what Jonah’s actually doing here. This is so great. You

kind of have to be a Bible Geek to know it, but he’s quoting from a book in Torah,

the first five books of the Bible.

He’s quoting from the book of Exodus. And actually he’s quoting from a

quotation of what God says about himself in Chapter Exodus 34:6. And it’s a story

about how the Israelites were sitting at the foot of Mount Sinai and God revealed the

Ten Commandments to them. And the first of Ten Commandments was, “Don’t

have any Gods before me.” The second one was, “Don’t make any idols.” So God

is not an object among the creation that you can depict Him with a piece of

wood or stone or something like that. And so they weren’t going to make any

idols to depict Him unless they’re going to fixate their attention on the wrong

thing. And so, and what’s the first thing they do for the days go by and the cloud

is still over the mountain, what are the Israelites doing? Like, “Where’d Moses

go?” “I don’t know. Let’s make a golden calf.” “Yeah, that’s a good idea to

represent Yahweh.” And so they do and they have this sexual fertility ritual, it’s

ridiculous, it’s crazy what they’re doing right here at the foot of the mountain.

And so God is going to bring judgment and dump His people that He recused

out of Egypt. Moses intercedes, and what does God do? He forgives them and

renews the covenant with them. And Moses say, “Holy cow. Like why are you

doing this? Who are you, Yahweh?” And Yahweh says, “Well, I’m Yahweh. I’m

gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding, and loving kindness.” In

other words, Israel exists as a people of God because God is this way. And here

what Jonah does is he takes these very words of God and throws them back in

His face and he’s like, “I knew you were like this. You’ve always been like this.

You’ve been like this since Day 1.” And what’s funny is, he wouldn’t exist as an

Israelite if God were not like this. But he’s so irrational and hot with anger at this

point, he’s just throwing these words backs, “You. I knew You were going to do

this. You love to forgive people who don’t deserve it. You love to do this kind of

thing. I knew this was going to happen, that’s why I ran. You made me come here

in the first place.” He’s so angry. Now we might read this, and be like, whoa, this

is so crazy.


He’s criticizing God, he’s like sending hate mail to God because God is too

gracious, for being too nice and for forgiving people who don’t deserve it. Clearly

Jonah chapter 4, he loses it. He’s this comical, kind of ridiculous figure. And I’m

guessing there are very few of us in the room who are like sympathizing with

Jonah right now, and going, yeah, that’s right. You know, we’re like, no, we’re

laughing at him going, “Dude, you wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for these very traits

that you’re criticizing God for.” But he’s like this laughable figure. And he does

seem ridiculous to us. What Jonah 4 is all about, is this exposing what I call, it’s

like the dark side of God’s mercy and grace. It’s the scandal of the liberality of

God’s grace, the wideness in His mercy because of course, I’m quite happy if I

come to realize what a screwed up person I am and I turn to Jesus and He shows

me His grace. Sweet. That’s great.

But then there’s this other complex thing that happens as a Christian when you

realize, yeah, Jesus is like that to me, and He also is like that to the person that I

despise and hate. And then I’m kind of like, “Whoa. What? They don’t deserve.

Did you know what they did to me?” And so here we go. The motivation for

Jonah criticizing God’s grace is actually pretty understandable to us. And if we

were in the same situation, we would probably say the same thing.

For example, let me show you a picture of a man named Gordon Wilson. Gordon

Wilson is an Irishman, passed away now. He lived in the town of Enniskillen,

Northern Island. In 1987, I think, late 80s, Northern Island, what’s going on at that

time. Most of you should know. But maybe only some of you do. So this was at

the height of the conflict between a British who was still basically a colonial

power over the Irish, and then you have the Irish who were resistant against

British rule, and so on. A common story in the 20th century in many countries

around the world. Do you remember the name of the essentially the resistant

group against the British? The IRA. The Irish Republican Army. But Gordon

Wilson, he was an Irishman who was a follower of Jesus, he did not endorse the

IRA and he was not behind them. Town of Enniskillen had a little town square, he

worked in kind of the downtown area doing a drapery business. Family’s doing

drape and window dressing business. Britain has an equivalent to a memorial day

called Remembrance Day. It’s in November and it’s the way in honoring the

British soldiers who died in the two world wars. And so Gordon Wilson went with

his family to the town square of Enniskillen and unbeknownst to him and all the

people there, IRA had sent people to plant bombs in different buildings around

the town square, and during the Remembrance Day ceremony, those bombs

went off. You’ll see some of the pictures here. The number of buildings around

the town square kind of collapsed, and walls caved in on groups of people that

were there. And among them were Gordon Wilson and his family. And he and his

daughter were caught underneath a wall that collapsed and were there for many

hours and after a number of hours, they were both trapped next to each other,

both pretty injured, and they were able to talk during that time. They were

rescued, they were pulled out. Gordon’s daughter did not survive through the

night, but Gordon did. And about two days later, after he was kind of aware and

could talk, the BBC came and did an interview with different other survivors. And

the interview with Gordon Wilson, if you Google this, the interview with Gordon

Wilson, it all hit the news and just went viral, at least as viral as it could be before

YouTube in the 80s. And it caught the attention of the whole world because of

what he said. And William Uri who recounts the story, he captures it, this way. He

said, “No one who heard Gordon Wilson will ever forget what he said in that

interview. His grace towered over the miserable justification over the bombers.

Speaking from his hospital bed, Wilson described his last conversation with his

daughter, “She held my hand tightly and she gripped me as hard as she could,

she said, 'Daddy, I love you very much.’ Those were her last, exact words to me

and those were the last words I ever heard her say.” William Uri comments. He

said to the astonishment of listeners, Wilson went on to add, “But I will bear no ill

will. I will bear no grudge. Bitter talk is not going to bring her back to life. I will

pray tonight and every night for the men who did this that God will forgive them.

No words in more than 25 years of violence in Northern Island had such a

powerful, emotional impact.” And the story, it gets even more amazing.


A year after, to commemorate the Enniskillen bombing, Gordon Wilson held kind

of a public event where he invited public representatives of the IRA to come meet

with him, and he invited news crews to all show up there, and because of his faith

in Jesus Christ, he announced that he forgave his daughter’s murderers. And he

begged the IRA to stop the violence and this exact date to forward, their agenda.

During this whole year, just catapulted him, he became a senator when the Irish

gained independence, made the Irish a republic. He became a senator, and so on.

And this towering figure, still today, in Irish culture because of his commitment to

Jesus to forgive his enemies. Now, this is where the story gets very interesting.

One of the later presidents of the Irish Republic, Mary McAleese talks about the

legacy that he left and she puts it this way, so interesting. She said, “Gordon’s

words, they shamed us all and caught us off guard. They sounded so different

from what we expected and what we all have become used to. They brought us

stillness with them. And they carried a sense of the transcendent into a place that

has become so ugly, we could hardly bare to watch.” But Gordon had his

detractors. And unbelievable, he even received bags of hate mail. “How dare you

forgive?” people demanded. “What kind of father are you who can forgive your

daughter’s killers?” It was as if Gordon had spoken those words of forgiveness for

the first time in human history. As if Christ had never uttered the words, “Father

forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.” One out-spoken critic who

was a Christian said to me about Gordon Wilson, surely the poor man must have

been in shock. As if offering love and forgiveness is a sign of mental weakness

instead of spiritual strength. Did you see that here? You know people name their

daughters Grace and we sing songs about grace and whatever. And we think this

is beautiful thing. But there actually is this real scandalous side to it when grace,

the wideness of God’s mercy begins to include people that we hate. Begin to

include people that we despise or has wronged us or that we think don’t deserve

it. And then it’s really, really disturbing, this whole grace thing. This is what Jonah

4 is about. It’s not so crazy. He’s depicted as ridiculous, yes. But the motivations

that are behind Jonah’s critique of God’s grace are the same that motivated

Gordon’s detractors. How would you respond in a similar situation? It’s very

understandable. And so what God is going to do to the rest of Jonah 4, He’s

going to try three times to bring Jonah along to help him understand his grace in

a new way. Let’s dive in.

Verse 4, this is God’s first try was Jonah. Look at verse 4. So Yahweh replied, you

knew that straight up, ask a question, let’s talk about this, Jonah. Sounds like a

therapist, “Is it right for you to be angry, Jonah? I mean, you’re angry at me

showing grace to the Ninevites, I mean, is that legitimate, Jonah?” And what was

Jonah’s response? Just stonewall. He just ignored them. That’s what he does,

right? Jonah went out of the city and he sat down at a place east of the city.

There he made himself a little shelter, a little tent, and he sat in its shade and

waited to see what would happen to the city. So first of all, he just ignores God

altogether, which is not the first time in the story he’s done that, right? So this

clearly just didn’t word. God’s like, “Let’s engage about this Jonah, is this

legitimate that you’re angry?”

He’s just like, “I don’t want to talk about it,” and he leaves.

And so he goes outside the city and he makes this shelter which means he plans

on being there for a while, and he’s waiting to see what’s going to happen to the

city. Now what is this about? What do you think he thinks is going to happen to

the city? Does it sound good? What do we know for sure he wants to happen to

the city? So he wants fire from heaven or something. That’s what he wants. And

this just raises for us his five-word sermon, I told you this would come back,

there’s more to it. there’s a lot more to it. He’s angry for many reasons. Not just

because God’s gracious, but because God’s played a trick on him. He’s played a

really, really brilliant trick on him. Go back to chapter 3. Do you remember this

five-word sermon? What was his five-word sermon in Nineveh? Look at Chapter


He went to a day’s journey in the city proclaiming, “Forty days and Nineveh will

be overthrown.”

That’s it. He tried to raise it last time, like this is very odd. Because we know that

he was commissioned to preach against the wickedness of the city, and what

does he not mention at all? Anything about the city’s wickedness or what they’re

doing wrong. He’s sent to tell them why, you know, prophets usually explain why

this is happening, like there’s no reason he doesn’t give any reasons why. And

who does he not mention at all? He doesn’t even mention Yahweh, the God that

he’s supposed to be representing.


So this is very strange. This is very strange. And it gets even better. I didn’t tell

you last week because I want to save it for the final week of the series. This is the

best part of the book; this is absolutely brilliant. And kids would never get this.

Kids would never get this. Okay.

The last word of Jonah, “Some of you have forty days and Nineveh will be

overthrown” in NIV, what others have you have? Overturned, some of you? Any

others? Overturned or overthrown. Is that what we got in the room? That’s great.

Those are two standard translations. Okay. Here’s what’s great. So this is Hebrew

geekiness. So forty days and Nineveh will be haphak. Say it with me, haphak. Now

this is great. Many words in English have a basic meaning and then depending on

the context you used it in, can have different nuances or something. So you could

say like I destroyed my car and that would be the physical destruction of my car.

But you could also say like, I destroyed the world record for how many redheads

are gathered in one place got destroyed here in Portland a few weeks ago. Did

you see this? New world record for a number of redheads in one place, Pioneer

square just two weeks ago. Anyway, so the world record was destroyed which is

—is that a bad thing? No that’s awesome. That’s really cool that that happened.

And so it’s the same word, but with a different nuance. So this is language.

Language works like this all the time. Same with haphak. So the basic meaning of

haphak is just to turn something over. You just turn it over. So for example, the

Prophet Hoseah in the metaphor, he describes Israel like a piece of baked bread

that has not been haphak. No word is ruined. You just got to bake both sides of

the bread, but if one side too long, oh, that’s ruined. You throw it out, right?

That’s Hosea, he’s very clever metaphor actually. So it’s just basic meaning, to

turn over.

Now if you take a city that’s really bad and it gets haphak, you get a very—you

can understand like really negative sense of haphaks. So for example, in

Lamentations, the sin of my people is greater than that of Sodom. You know,

Sodom, arch type of human. Evil in the Bible and Sodom was haphaked in the

moment without a hand to help. So this is an overturning that’s clearly negative,

like destroyed or overturned or something like that. But, haphaked can also mean

something turned over from bad into good. Something from good into bad or

bad into worse or something from good into bad like in chapter 30. God you

have haphak my grief and mourning into dancing. You’ve removed my sackcloth

and clothed me with joy. So it can be something as bad, it’s transformed into

something good.

Now here’s what so brilliant. Which meaning do you think Jonah intends as he

walks around Nineveh yelling his five-word sermon? Which meaning do you think

he intends? Clearly number 2. Which meaning do you think God intends, and of

course, which actually happened? Come on. That’s funny. Does Jonah think it’s

funny? No, he’s ticked. Right? He’s ticked. So God won’t let Jonah get away with

anything in this book, right? He tries to run away, yet that didn’t work. So he

tried, maybe I’ll just go to Nineveh and engage in what I call, prophetic sabotage.

Give them as little information as possible, so it ensures that they’re going to get

fired from heaven. And now even that doesn’t work. God uses words against him,

right? Just like Jonah uses his words against me. It’s brilliant. This is a brilliantly

told story. And so of course he’s livid with anger. Because God has used even

what he intended for evil to turn into good, to bring people into repentance, and

to find grace in life. He is ticked off. And you might, I don’t know, you may be

ticked off too. I don’t know if it’s justified, really.

Clearly somehow, he’s hoping, he’s going outside of the city. He’s going to wait

out this forty days and like they will repent of their repentance. He’s hoping

something, a horrible moment, meteorite coming from the sky or something. So

he’s out there just doing. He’s ticked. God is going to engage him another time.

The direct question and reasoning that didn’t work.

“Is it right for you to be angry, Jonah about me showing grace?”

Stonewall. He gets the hand. So He tries a different technique, the small plant

tactic. Verse 6. This is such a good part of the story. So Yahweh God provided a

leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to easy his

discomfort, and Jonah was extremely happy about the plant. This is the only time

in the whole story that he is happy. O should—I didn’t mention this before; I’ll

mention is now. I’ve heard some very creative misinterpretations of the leafy

plant that brings easy from his discomfort, right? So anyway, don’t go there.

You’re trying, making the Bible become your pet when you do that, right. That’s

what you’re doing. So don’t go there. But nobody knows what the leafy plant is.

People think it’s a gourd or a castor oil plant. I’m dead serious that I’ve had

someone use this verse to try and show that to me. Anyway, it doesn’t matter

what the plant is except for that kind of plant. That’s clearly out of the question.

But whatever the plant is, the point is, it’s just something that provides shade. It’s

the only point of the leafy plant. So keep going.


He wants to die, “Argh, I’m angry. I want to die.” Now he’s very, very happy. But at

dawn the next day, God provided a little worm. God provides a huge storm, a

huge fish, a medium sized leafy plant, and then a tiny worm. This is like the whole

spectrum in the story. The teeny little worm, and it chewed at the plant so that it

withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun

blazed down on Jonah’s head and he grew faint. He wanted to die, and he said,

“Oh, it will be better for me to die than to live.”

“Wait, I thought you were just happy.”

He’s like, “No, I want to die.”

“No, I’m very happy.”

“No, I want to die.”

This is so comic. You guys get the comic feel of the story here. This is another

way that’s expressed in the story-telling and probably this is the way I filter reality

now. The moment I read the story, I think of my two-year old son and the grocery

store check-out aisle. Anybody? Did you know or maybe you’ve seen someone

else’s two-year old in the grocery store check-out aisle? Holy cow. So I am

convinced that people who designed modern grocery store check-out aisles have

as their goal to make parents of little kids miserable. I mean it’s the worst. It’s

always bad. It’s never good. It’s never good here. Especially for little boys because

what are my options? On the left, I have all these glossy magazine covers of

women scantily clad. So I’m directing his attention this way, clearly. But one of my

making him look at over here, just a wall of sugar. So he’s stoked on this gold

mine of Butterfingers or whatever, and so on. What are my options? He might be

in his cart, but he’s two now, so his arms are log and he can grab some mints or

gum or something. He’s really happy, “Oh my gosh. It’s the best day ever.” I have

to take it away from him and puddle on the floor, and he’s driving in my arms as

we leave, and as he screams, and so on. So I’m just like, “I can’t win. I can’t win.”

It’s a long day aggression. In my head as I read this because he’s like, “Oh I’d

rather die than live with a God like You. Open this plant.”

“Oh my gosh, it’s the best thing ever.”

“Oh, I want to die again.”

So here we go. This is crazy and we’re like this is so strange. What is this story

about? Here’s what it’s about, verse 9. God said to Jonah, and He just repeats his

question again but with a little twist. God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be

angry about the plan?” So he couldn’t get Jonah to own up to this question of, “Is

your anger not showing grace to your enemies? Is that legitimate?” Jonah just

gave him the hand. So try this small plant tactic.

“Is your anger unto death about a plant legitimate?”

That’s good. Good question. This should shake him out of his irrationality, right?

And what is his response?

“Of course it’s right for me to be angry. I’m so angry, I wish I were dead.”

And you’re just like, “Whoa, he’s beyond reason, like clearly at this point, he’s a

goner.” But God doesn’t give up because He’s gracious, He’s compassionate, He’s

slow to anger, abound in love and kindness, He’s committed to Jonah. He’s going

to work this out. So the Lord said again, this is the time. The Lord said, “Listen

Jonah, you’ve been concerned about this plant.” Some of your translations might

have shown pity on this plant, you’ve had shown compassion on this plant. The

whole point is, you’ve had all this extreme emotion. Very happy, very sad, about

this plant. And listen, Jonah, you didn’t care for the plant. I mean, you didn’t even

make it grown. You can’t claim to have an emotional attachment to the plant

because it came up overnight, it hasn’t even been in your life for very long. So

let’s just say, Jonah, that your emotion for this plant is legitimate.”

Verse 11, “Shouldn’t I be able to have that kind of same strong emotion, and

concern for something a little more significant? Like, a huge city full of human

beings, like Nineveh in which there are more than 120,000 who can’t tell their

right hand from their left. And also many animals.” The end. So the Bible’s so

strange, you guys. The Bible is so strange. This is such a great story. What on

earth is that?

So first of all, if this story were left like, how does Jonah response, and what does

that mean, they don’t know the right hand from the left? This is so brilliant what

God’s doing. So he tried first to expose how foolish it is that Jonah’s angry at

showing grace to the Ninevites, that didn’t work. So He says, “Let’s get Jonah’s

anger another way and try and help him understand how ridiculous it is. Let’s do

this whole thing with the plant,” and so He’s super stoked on the plant, “And let’s

expose his anger about the plant. Is your anger legitimate?” And that didn’t work

at all either. And so now He’s trying a different tactic. God’s not going to try to

expose his anger. He recognizes Jonah’s stoked on something. For the first time

in the whole story, he’s happy, and he cares about something other than himself.


Do you see this? And granted, something that’s provided comfort for him. But

this is the first time there’s a little corner of his heart that cares about something

other than himself. And God’s like, “We can work with that.” So God’s gracious

and accommodating, and He says, “Okay. You’ve got a soft spot in your heart of

emotion and care for this little plant. For this little plant. Now let’s just grant you

the legitimacy of that strong, emotional attachment you have with the plant,

Jonah, and we’re all laughing at you. You’re quite ridiculous right now. But I’ll just

give that to you. That’s a good thing you should be concerned about something

other than yourself. Good for you, Jonah. Let me just compare that, wouldn’t it be

okay—is it okay with you Jonah if I were to have a strong and emotional concern

about something other than myself? And that concern is quite similar to yours,

maybe something more significant, you might grant me like, the lives of

thousands upon thousands of human beings who are made in my image.”

And not only that, look at the description of this 120,000 human beings. What

does it say? It’s very interesting. What does it say about the Ninevites? They can’t

tell their right hand from their left. I always think of 1990 or something, Kevin

Nealon, Saturday Night Light, Mr. No Depth Perception. Remember that one? It

wasn’t his best known on the skit. It’s pretty funny. You can Google it. It’s not like

he was walking into walls all the time or something, I don’t know. And so, they

don’t know their right hand from their left. It’s clearly a little Hebrew turn of

phrase or something like that. It can’t mean they don’t know right from wrong at

all because God clearly expects them to know right from wrong. He brought a

word of judgment from their behavior, and they responded because He knew

that they should know better. So it doesn’t mean they don’t know what’s right

from wrong. It seems to be this idiom that they’re misguided like the human

beings, we have some intuition, morally or spiritually the way that we should go,

but we should go right, but we constantly go left, right? We should be going left,

but we constantly don’t know which way to go. We’re lost and misguided morally

and spiritually. And this is a common description of human beings in the Bible.

Usually it’s connected with sheep. Stupid sheep that go astray. This is that idea

here. Now God’s not excusing the Ninevites, He’s not saying, “Oh, they didn’t

know better. That’s why they just happen to slaughter thousands of people.”

They’re very accountable for their behavior, but they’re lost and misguided, that’s

where their injustice comes from.

And He says, “Listen Jonah. You are all worked up about your little deal, and your

little plant, and good for you. That’s great. But can’t you see that I might just

happen to be concerned about something more significant like thousands of

human beings and also their pets?” They’re animals, right? And you’re supposed

to laugh just like you did at the end. You’re supposed to laugh because what did

the cows do in chapter 3? They repented and sackcloth and ashes too. So God

spares them as well. And so the last word of the book is animals, cows, literally,

it’s cows, and all their cows. What is Jonah therefor doing to us? We’re like, “How

does Jonah respond?” Well what did he say? I want to know what he said. But

that’s to miss the point of the whole book because this story was never about

Jonah in the first place, was it?

Who was this book actually about? It’s about you. And the real question is how

this story is a word from God to His people. And the real question we should be

asking is, “How am I living the response to Gods question?” Because that’s what’s

happening right here. Jonah is this ridiculous caricature of people who grasp the

scandal of God’s grace and that God loves your enemy as much as He loves you.

And when that sinks in, especially when you have a fresh wound from an enemy,

and you’re struggling with issues of forgiveness. All this chapter packs a punch, a

strong, strong punch.

And here’s what God is trying to do. He’s trying to get Jonah out of himself, and

just say—Jonah clearly thinks the Ninevites are the worst, wretched centers of the

planet. But of course, in the story of Jonah, who’s the most hard-hearted person

in the story? It’s Jonah. And so God is gently trying to get him to see, “Jonah,

don’t you see what’s happening here? Yeah, you’re a part of the covenant people

and that’s cool, but that doesn’t for a second excuse your religious hypocrisy

superiority. You’re just as broken, and lost, and misguided as they are, Jonah.

Don’t you see that? Shouldn’t I be concerned about them and their animals?”

And there you go, there you go.

And so really where this takes us is the fact that God loves your enemy. And

some of us might here that, and we might think, Okay, I think I could swallow

that. I think I could deal with the fact that God loves my enemy. I am not at all

sure what I think about the fact that He might want me too as well. So I’m cool.


If God loves my enemy and forgives my enemy, I sure hope He doesn’t expect me

to try do that. And this is crazy. Because this is one of the most, like, fundamental

core issues of the story of the Gospel. Forgiveness of one’s enemies. That’s what

God is doing for us at the cross. Jesus talks about these kinds of stuff all the time.

This is what Jonah 4 is about. Jesus put it this way. He said, “But I tell you who

hear me, ‘Love you enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who

curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.’”

And I think even as Christians, we respond to some of these teachings of Jesus in

a bizarre way. Sometimes we’re just like, “What?” Some of us were just kind of

like that’s noble and very admirable, Jesus. But I’m just going to straight up, not

going to do that. If you look at how we live, we’re just like, “No, Jesus. I’m not

going to do that. You’re crazy if You think that’s how it’s supposed to go.” And

this was his whole announcement of the Kingdom of God. It’s that in Him, a

whole new way of living in God’s world has arrived where though Him, people are

reconciled to God. Where people who had made ourselves enemies of God

through our self-absorption and selfishness and thinking that we’re the star of

the show and God’s the bit player of my story along with everybody else, right.

And so we go through life with that. And some of us make more of our lives and

do a train wreck than others, but we all do it in different way. And some of us

make our lives a train wreck of course, by actually not doing very what’s wrong

with other people, but feeling quite proud about ourselves for not doing very

much wrong to other people, which in God’s eyes is just as equally horrible way

of being a human being. That is religious pride.

And so we all do this. And we’re all participants in it. And we hear words like this,

and we’re just like, “Jesus, you clearly didn’t have your coffee that morning. Like

He’s not thinking straight.” The world doesn’t work like that. And Jesus is like,

“Actually, you all are the ones who have it upside-down.” This is how God made

us to live. Fully reconciled to God and to other people. And of course, none of us

have to like, try and do this on our own. We do this simply because God is like

that already gracious, and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love, who

loves to relent from sending calamity. An example number A. You and Me. And

so the book ends like with God inviting Jonah, like Jonah, you have no high

ground to stand on to start declaring who gets God’s grace, and who doesn’t.

We’ve all made ourselves enemies of God. Some of us are quite blind to that fact,

and others of us have started to wake up to that fact. And that he’s moved

towards me and grace. And this is not right, I’m not tending as your pastor. I

recognize there are stories of real pain and hurt, and real wounds from other

people in the room right now.

If there is one place in the world where the train and spiral of human wronging

each other, and responding that wrong with other wrongs, just spirals into the

mess the world is. There’s one place that it stops. It stops at the cross. And the

community of people that form around the cross are called to live differently. Not

because we think we’re better, but because we have been shown grace and

compassion. We have been treated not by God who’s slow to anger, who’s

abounding in love and kindness towards us. And so what Jonah chapter 4 is

doing, what Jesus often did in His teachings is deconstructing the whole idea of

what an enemy is. And so you can see it clearly what happens in Jonah’s mind.

The Ninevites have been clearly stereotyped and demonized in his thinking. He’s

thinks they’re the bad guys. They have very soft hearts and turned to God

immediately. He’s the bad guy, but he can’t even see that. And so this is what

happens to us with our enemies. And enemy is someone who in this case, like

Jonah, a group of people or individual, somebody who’s wronged you, somebody

who’s wronged somebody you care about or we can probably broaden it, like

someone who’s just really difficult for you to be around, annoying or toxic

personality. And you just can’t deal with them. And that’s okay. Like it’s totally

okay to struggle, like to be around certain people. The issue is, what do you do

with the repulsion and those emotions? And what most of us tend to do is we

tend to fixate on the thing that they did to me. And so we take this complex

human person who has a family of origins, crazy story, and probably people that

they’ve wronged and other people who have wronged them. Not to excuse what

they’ve done, but just saying, they have a story.

People don’t just behave in screwed up ways for no reason. We have all those

stories behind the ways that we act. And so this person came into my life and this

happened, and this is what they did. But what we tend to do as you replay the

move a million times in your head as you stare at your ceiling at night, is you

tend to reduce their complex humanity down to the thing that they did to you.

And so maybe, you know, someone lied about you or something.


And slowly they become the person who told a lie to me, then they become a liar.

And then the movie in your head have a fork and tongue or something like that.

We begin to reduce down their humanity to that trait that’s annoying to us or the

thing that they did to us.

And then, of course we are the ones who are wronged by them, we tend to paint

ourselves as the opposite of them. And then you end up as Jonah Chapter 4. He’s

so blind to the fact that the line of good and evil goes right down the middle of

him, that he thinks everyone else is the problem, and they’re just like, “Come on.”

And so what God is trying to do, and what Jesus did all the time is that He

deconstructs the whole concept of enemy. And He just says, “Listen, we are all

contributors to why this world is the way that it is.” Of course, some people are

screwed up in more ways than others, but the line of good and evil goes through

each and every one of us. We have all made ourselves enemies of God. That’s the

point of the cross. And as the saying goes, “The ground is level right there before

the cross.” Every human being receives grace and mercy and I do not get like

prerogative to stand up before the cross and to say, “I totally—Okay, thank you.

Totally stoked on that, Jesus. That person totally—not them. Are you kidding me,

them?” That’s not how it works.

It’s all or none. Like that’s the whole point. And that’s the point of the Gospel is

that none of us get to declare that and simply God’s gracious, liberal mercy. He’s

gracious, and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love and kindness.

And so how Jonah 4 ends, here’s the punch, we’ll conclude with this. Like who’s

this story really about? Is this really about God and Nineveh? No, this story is

really about God and His own people. And He’s trying to bring His own people

around and open their eyes, open their hearts to how messed up they are, and

how much they need His grace as anybody else. And so it’s actually, God has

intentionally brought Jonah into contact with his enemy, not by accident, but

precisely because He wants to teach Jonah something.

And think about this, you guys. How many of you have a difficult person, an

enemy, a toxic person in your life, and you think, I would be able to follow Jesus

so awesome if that person had never crossed my path. My life would be so great

without them. And Jonah 4 just flips out over and says, “Could it be that that

person is in your life precisely as the divine invitation for you to grow and mature

in your experience in God’s grace?” Not just now in receiving it, but beginning to

show it to someone else. Not just like mentally ascending to do it, but actually

beginning to let it flow through you. Could it be that this is actually the next step

of growth for you?

And this is that a theologian named Walter Wank, close with this idea, calls this,

The Gift of the Enemy. And he puts it brilliantly, here. He says it this way, he says,

“This is a gift that our enemy may be able to bring us to see aspects of ourselves

that we cannot discover any other way than through our enemies. Our friends

seldom show us out flaws. They’re our friends precisely because they are able to

overlook or ignore those parts of us. The enemy is therefore not just our hurdle

to be leaped over on the way to God. Our enemy might actually be the way to

God. We cannot come to terms with our own inner shadows except through our

enemies. We have almost no other access to those unacceptable parts to

ourselves that need redeeming except through the mirror our enemies hold up to

us.” He recommends this little exercise, and I commend it to you. He says, this

week at some point, you know, in response to this sit down to Jonah 4 in a blank

sheet of paper, get the person in your mind, that your enemy and write down

every character trait about them that you hate. Like just get it all out there and

somebody like that sounds like, go all out of fun. I like that idea. So just like,

they’re selfish, they’re careless, and they’re greedy, and they don’t care about

other people, and so. So just get it all out there. And then he says, so finish and

stop, then pray and recognize during God’s presence and then just line by each,

go through each thing that you wrote down, and just ask yourself, have I ever

displayed the same kind of behavior. And then it’s just a matter where you’re

going to be like Jonah or not. Oh I’ve never been selfish before; I’ve never been

careless about the needs of other people. It’s like, really?

The first step towards enemy love is recognizing the common humanity, the

common brokenness that we all share. This is clearly where God is leading Jonah.

Don’t you see, Jonah? Shouldn’t I care about people who are misguided? The

Ninevites maybe you too, Jonah? Could it be that this person is in your life

precisely because God’s inviting you into a deeper experience of His grace for

you, could it be?


I hope that was helpful for you, but also stimulating, thought provoking, kept you

thinking about your own life and your own enemies that you need to reconcile

with. Hey, and also thanks. This is the conclusion of the first, like series we did at

Exploring My Strange Bible Podcast. We’re going to have a lot more episodes up,

and so thanks again for listening. If this series has been helpful for you and you

think other people might find this podcast helpful, you can help me by sharing it

with other people or going to iTunes and giving it a review.

But you guys, the Bible is huge and wonderful and strange. And there’s a lot

more to explore. So I’m excited to more of that in the future.

[End of transcription 46:18]

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