We don't see much of what actually happens when Jonah comes to Nineveh, what the prophet says or does in the midst of the people, except to know that he proclaimed to them the word that God had sent him with in the first place. And then, when Nineveh repents and turns from their wicked ways and experiences the grace of God, Jonah gets angry.
But not at Nineveh.
He gets angry with God.
It's an interesting rant, one that should leave most of us scratching our heads. When Jonah sees what happens in Nineveh as a result of God's powerful word to them, he really loses it. He goes off. See, God? I knew that You would be God. I knew that You would act according to Your good nature and do something completely Lord-like. I knew that if You sent me and I came, You would show up and be God and be good.
How could You?
It's extremely bizarre. Most of us, if not all of us, would love the opportunity to see God show up and be God. Most of us would relish a moment in which we got to know for sure that the God that we believe in is the God that He says He is. After all, isn't that what we want? We want a God that we can know, a God whose character is fully revealed, a God who is, particularly when we worship a God who claims that He Is.
Most of us, if you told us that we could go to Nineveh and speak one word of truth about God and then see Him in the fullness of His glory and grace, at His very best in redemption, would not hesitate to go. We'd run to Nineveh, if for nothing more than the chance to see God be God.
And yet, this is exactly the reason that Jonah has run away from Nineveh. It's what he's so angry about when he finally does get there. He knew all along that God was going to be God, and it absolutely infuriates him. He wanted no part of it.
It's extremely difficult, if not entirely impossible, to say why Jonah felt the way that he did about this. There are a couple of possibilities that are perhaps not so foreign to our fallen human hearts, however.
First, it's possible that Jonah found the people of Nineveh undeserving of God. Maybe even by comparison - to, say, himself. Maybe Jonah knew that these people would experience God in a way that he never had, a way that maybe he longed to, and he found them unworthy. He didn't want to give them the gift of God, particularly not if it was a gift that he had never experienced himself. (Never mind that he had, by this point, actually experienced it, as God had done something completely God-like for him in the raging sea with that whole giant fish thing.)
It's easy for us to do the same. Sure, we could offer the gift of God to someone else, tell them about mercy and grace and all that. But do they really deserve it? Just look at what they've done. Why would we give it to them when we, who are more deserving in our own eyes, have yet to fully experience it in the way that we want? If this is Jonah's perspective, it's not laudable, but it's at least relate-able.
Second, maybe Jonah thought that if he went to Nineveh and preached the judgment that God had given him, knowing that if the wicked people repented, God would forgive them, he thought that it would make him look wrong or foolish in their eyes. If he comes preaching judgment and convicts them, but then God turns His wrath when they turn their hearts, this judgment never comes to pass, and Jonah is laughed right out of town. A prophet of the Lord? Ha. He couldn't even get one simple thing right.
None of us wants to be "wrong" about God. But I think what Jonah might have missed if this was his perspective was that he would not have been wrong; he would have been exactly right. The people would not have said that God being God was not directly connected to their own repentance and change of hearts; they would have known that it required something of them, just as Jonah would have preached that it would. In other words, Jonah may not have recognized that if God did, indeed, save a wicked people who turned from their wicked ways, then Jonah was not wrong; he was exactly right. The people would not laugh at him; they would love him.
If only we knew who would love us if we dared to speak truth to them who need most to hear it.
So it's bizarre, indeed, and there are a lot of questions we just can't answer about what was running through Jonah's heart and mind at this point. God will be God and he knew it, and it was just too much for him. Maybe it's too much for us. I don't know.
But I hope that it's true that if we knew there was a chance to see the glory and goodness of God on display, we'd go running there. Even toward a place like Nineveh.