Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh when God told him to in chapter 1. In Jonah 4 we find out why. It’s because he knew that God was patient and kind. He knew that God would offer mercy and what he wanted to see was the wicked and violent people of Nineveh get what they deserved. That is never what God wants.
Reading through the Old Testament is tough. Many adults don’t like to do it. But if you read through the Old Testament you will find a God that offers forgiveness again and again. He is patient and longsuffering, a word that you probably will not see anywhere but in the Bible. It means he puts up with a lot for a long time before he does anything about it. In the New Testament, Peter asks Jesus how many times he must forgive his brother. He suggests seven times, which to him seems like way too many. Jesus tells him it should be more like 70 times 7. What he means is that you cannot put a number on it. We must be willing to forgive others as we have each been forgiven.
When Jonah was told to go to Nineveh, he went as far as he could in the other direction. God sent a storm, which caused every man on that ship to pray to God – except Jonah. After Jonah was swallowed by the great fish, he still waited three days before he prayed. God was patient. He waited for Jonah to come around. He did not have to do that. He could have called another prophet, sent someone else, and let Jonah off the hook. Jonah must have thought a few times he was about to die and it would not have been unheard of for God to kill a person for disobedience. In chapter 4, because he is angry, he says it would be better for him to die. He is being dramatic. He is overreacting to the situation and saying things that are extreme. He also may have been in such an emotional state that at the time he really meant it and wanted to die. God responds with more patience.
Jonah finds a good seat at a safe distance but with a good view so he could watch Nineveh’s destruction. The people of Nineveh repented and believed God so he did not destroy their great city. Jonah had made a small shelter but God caused a plant to grow up and provide Jonah with shade, and he appreciated the plant. The next day God sent a worm to bite the plant and it died. Once again Jonah complained and wished he was dead! God asked if it was right for him to be angry? Jonah had more pity for one plant than for the 120,000 people in Nineveh. God asked if it was not right they he should pity them? And that’s the end of the book. Everywhere that Jonah went, people believed in God and prayed to him. We never find out if Jonah himself got right with God.
God was patient in waiting for Jonah to do the right thing. Even after the revival in Nineveh, God continued to show patience and extend mercy toward Jonah. God is patient with us today and is always willing to offer forgiveness if we are willing to ask for it. Notice all the times that God is prepared in this story. He prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah but he also caused the plant to grow and later prepared a worm to destroy it. He is just as well prepared for us, including for the things that are our own fault. That is good news.