The Patience of God

Jonah 4:11

The Book of Jonah tells us about God's compassion and Jonah's righteous anger.
God is patient.
Jonah is the impatient prophet.
This is about the question of God's policy concerning Nineveh question.

Should God take a hard line against the godless, atheistic, and violent Nineveh?
Or should God use His awesome power and just smash that violent city?
Or should He wait, and hold back the divine holocaust, and give the city a chance?
What will it be?
Will it be a policy of gracious compassion or a policy of impatient indignation?

So we read about God and his prophet and their interactions on this momentous issue of
God's response to the violent city of Nineveh.
Notice that there are two encounters in the city itself.
And there is God's encounter with Jonah.
God is telling Jonah of his policy of compassionate patience against Nineveh and that He won't bring fire
and brimstone against the city as Jonah wished.

The city of Nineveh is a great city of the ancient world.
The city is a mixture of curse and blessing, and the worst and the best.
It is the center of culture.
It has the best schools, the best hospitals, the best theater, the best music, and was
a great place to live.

Also in this city are the loneliest people, the craziest lifestyles, the most corrupt politics,
and the most blatant immoralities.
It also had the worst violence, so it was a terrible place to live.
Nineveh had a culture that could be called God-forsaken.
It is atheistic and it is a center of violence, and God cannot overlook the violence.
He cannot suffer the dehumanizing brutality that is going on there

We are not told what sort of violence infuriated Him the most.
Was it the violence of an economic system against the poor?
Was it military violence?
Or was it the violence of crooks and gangsters?
Maybe it's all of them making Nineveh the symbol of all violent civilizations.

Jonah was as furious about Nineveh's violence as God was.
So God sent Jonah to the city to announce that He was finished with it.
So Jonah is delighted and ready to take this message to Nineveh.
Remember that before this a great fish came between him and Nineveh.

Now he is here, and he is preaching damnation with fire and letting the city know that God is going
to wipe that city out, and burn it to the ground.
He is telling them that God is angry, and that He is not going to put up with it anymore.
He is giving them God's message.
God message was that he was going to destroy Nineveh in 40 days.
There was no way out -- Nineveh will be finished -- wiped off the face of the earth.

Jonah proclaimed the message with no sympathy for them as he predicted Nineveh's doom.
He had no compassion for them.
In fact he would be happy when they would be obliterated.
As he saw it Nineveh deserved it -- they had it coming for they were a godless, atheistic people.
Jonah was probably right.

God never argued with Jonah about the faults of Nineveh, and God does not defend
or excuse the violence of the city.

So Jonah proclaimed the doom forth 39 days, and then, he stepped aside to watch for the
judgment of God to fall on the 40th day.
But the awful day came, and nothing happened.
The sun rose, children came out to play, men went to work, and it seemed that the doom
had been postponed.

What happened?
Some amazing things happened.
One amazing thing happened in the city, and the other amazing thing came from God.
The city changed.
The city repented, and God called off the judgment.
120,000 human beings lived to see another day.

The city radically changed.
This is probably the most incredible change.
That great city of sin was converted.
Ordinary people repented of their violence.
They saw how self-destructive and sinful they were.
They repented, and turned their hearts to God.

This spread from family to family.
Husbands stopped their violence against their wives.
Entire neighborhoods repented.
Government officials repented, and the King repented.

The King of Nineveh led the nation in a pageant of penance.
A new royal policy against violence was issued.
The city changed from the top to the bottom.

What happened to Nineveh should show us that is also possible for any city of our nation
and for any city around the world to experience repentance.
If we do not believe that cities can change, then we do not believe in the presence
and the power of God.

We should remember God's compassion to the city of Nineveh that repented.

God had said that time had run out for Nineveh.
Then after their repentance, God said: "Let Nineveh live, that women give birth to babies,
that young men and young women dream dreams of the future, and let that city continue
."

The purpose of the heart of God is to seek and to save the lost, to heal the hurting,
to reconcile the alienated, to liberate the captives, and for His kingdom to come.
God is not willing that any should perish.
That is always the purpose of His heart of grace.

Now look at Jonah.
He is not happy.
Jonah has egg all over his face.
He is seething.
He is hopping mad at God.

He is furious because God has made a fool out of him in front of the whole city.
He didn't believe that a prophet should be treated that way.
His thought was that when you are ordered to proclaim that disaster is going to happen,
and there are no loopholes and no escape clauses.
He felt that the city should have been destroyed on that 40th day.
What happened?
Nothing!

No one could have supported that angry prophet.
Jonah is as mad as he can be.
God had punctured His prophet's pride.

But his anger goes deeper.
It has to do with the kind of world we live in, and the sort of God we have to live with.
Jonah wants a world where the bad guys always get what is coming to them,
and to get it over before the third act.
He believes in justice providing a quick execution, and to answer violence with violence.

When no doom and destruction happened to Nineveh on the 40th day, Jonah's world collapsed.
The question in his mind was how could he trust a God who allowed His compassion
to call off the judgment that Nineveh deserved.

So this outraged prophet retired to the countryside.
He never liked the city anyway.
So, he might just as well quit.

Now God comes to Jonah and explained His reason for sparing Nineveh.
First God speaks to Jonah: saying something like:
"Jonah, I can see that you are really upset."

And then Jonah was saying something like:
" God, I am outraged.
I am so hurt, and I wish I were dead.
I was afraid that You would get compassionate on me, and I should have followed my first instinct,
and stayed away from Nineveh
."

Jonah hadn't learned anything.
He's not listening.
God put Jonah in the belly of the great fish, and you would have thought that he would have
a different attitude.
But he still thinks that it is all about him.
He hadn't learned that it is all about God.
So, God is going to give him another object lesson.

God gives Jonah a vine that will provide him shade from the heat.
A wonderful, large vine grows up overnight, and gives Jonah some wonderful shade.
Jonah loves his vine.
This is just wonderful.
Then, just when he is getting comfortable and enjoying his wonderful vine, a worm destroys the vine.
Some mean worm!

Now Jonah is really mad.
A hot wind is blowing, and the sun is beating on his head.
God has made His point.
So God comes to Jonah again.

God says to Jonah: "I have felt your rage."
Jonah responded: "Well I know where I stand with you, Lord.
What it finally comes down to is this.
I don't want to live in this kind of world.
I want out.
I would rather die.
Things are never going to be right again
."


And God says something like: "Jonah, is this about the vine?
You felt something for the vine.
You let that beautiful vine get to you.
Well Jonah, if you can feel pity and compassion for a vine, why shouldn't I pity Nineveh,
that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 people who do not know the right hand
from their left
."

Do you see the picture.
Jonah saw only the wickedness.
God saw the people.

Jonah saw the violent power structures.
God saw weak people being abused by the system.

Jonah saw the evil, and was indignant.
God saw the people, and was compassionate.

That was the conflict that is going on today.
Many Christians tend to divide people into friends and enemies, good guys and bad guys.
They want instant judgment and execution for the enemies and bad guys.

God sees the human race as good people and bad people, and God loves them all,
and would have them all to repent because He is not willing that any should perish.
God would say if you cannot have compassion for wicked leaders of the world,
then what about the children?
No child ever asked to be born in freedom or to be born in a nation of oppression.
Children had no choice as to where they were born.

God could be saying to Jonah: "What about the children?
If you want the violent leaders to get what is coming to them, what do the little children have
coming to them.
When Nineveh goes up in flames, the children will burn also.
Remember, the children
."

Some years ago, I was taking a class in college.
A very prominent pastor of a very large church in that city was also a student.
This took place many years ago when communism was destroying many lives.
The professor of the class asked the question:
"What do you think that our government should do?"
This pastor immediately spoke up, and said: "I would just drop an atomic bomb
on all of them
!"

Everyone, including the professor, became very quiet.
We were shocked!
I believe many would have liked to have asked that pastor: " What about the children?"

In this situation with Jonah and Nineveh, we see God's way with sinful people.
We see His way with us.
It is the answer to the age-old question.
Why does God let human history go on when everything seems to be so wrong?
Why does God wait so long before He destroys it all in the great judgment yet to come.

Simon Peter explains why God took so long.
"God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."
(2 Peter 3: 9)
God's compassion causes Him to put up with things for the sake of people.

God puts up with our questions, and with the hardness of the hearts of people, and with
a world filled with wickedness, and is always ready to give people an opportunity to turn to Him.


God never rushes to judgment.
He patiently waits for a new day, and a tomorrow when things can change.
We need a good dose of God's compassion today.
We must see more than the evil of a wicked enemy.
We must look through God's eyes, and see people who really need God.

For over two thousand years Christians have been focused on Jesus Christ as the final solution
to human violence.
We have been looking ever since.
We look to the day when we will beat our weapons into plowshares.
We look to the day when we will have no more war.
We look to the day when we will put away violence as the answer to our problems.

We know the final answer is coming in God's own time.
So, let us restrain our indignation, and pray to have a spirit of patience from a compassionate God.
Let us as Christians who have learned compassion from the cross of Christ pray to be like
our Saviour and Lord.

God's compassionate patience is the answer to our personal impatience.
To some, God's patience often looks like cold indifference.
To many of us it seems that He takes too long to execute justice upon the wicked.
But God will not be rushed.

Neither should we be rushed, especially when it comes to closing down, and giving up o
n the nasty problems that we want solved now.
We should not give up when everything goes wrong.
We should not give up on a troubled marriage.
We should not give up on troubled children.
We should not give up too quickly on …

We must not demand that everything be made right today.
We must give God time, as He gives us time.
God will give us grace to imitate His patience.

We have a choice.
Will we be the Jonahs of the world who demand instant and violent solutions to our problems?
Or will we be pleased that God takes His time and works on His wise and divine timetable?

When we listen, God will show us that it can be alright tomorrow even though everything
seems terribly wrong today.

Sermon adapted by Dr. Harold L. White