“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!’ (Jonah 4:1-3).
Have you ever hated someone? Most of us would say at some point in our lives, we have harbored some hate for someone. Is it okay to hate some people, especially if they act very evil or hurt others? Are there any negative effects to holding on to a little hatred?
The book of Jonah shows us the effects harboring hatred has upon our lives. God had tasked the prophet Jonah to go and preach to the city of Ninevah (Jonah 1:1-2). Ninevah was the capital of the Assyrian empire which was a mighty military threat to God’s people Israel. Instead of going to preach to the Assyrians as God had commanded him, Jonah flees the opposite direction (Jonah 1:3). In attempting to recover His runaway prophet, God sends a storm (Jonah 1:4) and causes Jonah to be swallowed by a fish (Jonah 1:17). After 3 nights in the fish’s belly, Jonah returns to God and seeks God in prayer (Jonah 2:1-9). God then has the great fish vomit Jonah onto the dry land (Jonah 2:10).
However, what was the reason Jonah fled from God in the first place and did not initially go to preach to the Assyrians? We learn this from the events following Jonah’s being upchucked from fish. Jonah is sent once again to preach to the city of Ninevah: “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you’ "(Jonah 3:1-2). This time Jonah goes and does exactly what God tells him to do (Jonah 3:3-4). The response on behalf of the people is amazing. They repent! From the king to the commoner, the people humble themselves before God (Jonah 3:5-9). God sees this and responds favorably to their display of repentance: “God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10).
Most preachers would be happy to see such a response by the people to whom they had proclaimed God’s message, but, as the opening verses above indicate, Jonah was not pleased by the people’s response and God’s response. In fact, Jonah was so disgusted he wanted to die (Jonah 4:3). From his prayer to God, we learn of why Jonah had initially fled from God: “So he prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm’ ” (Jonah 4:2). Jonah had initially fled from carrying out God’s command to preach to the city of Ninevah because he was so filled with hate, he was fearful God would actually forgive these enemies of his.
Jonah’s hatred of the Assyrians had consumed him and led to his becoming disobedient to God’s Will for his life and even led to Jonah’s resenting God’s great love for all men. When I let hatred for anyone to fill my heart, it can consume me as well and lead to my becoming bitter not only towards my enemies, but even towards God. As a Christian, I have been called to show love towards God and all men. Today, I will strive to not let hatred for anyone to harbor in my heart!
“But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:11).