“Love My Enemies?”

Jonah 4:1-11

It’s our final week in the book of Jonah. Hopefully you have come to realize that this is not just a children’s story. Although children are able to understand the basic outline of the story, the themes of the story are intense and you have to be an adult to comprehend them. We covered things like “religious hypocrisy,” “exposing spiritual apathy,” and the ways God can use pain and suffering as a severe mercy to wake us up. Then there is divine judgment. These are themes that are meant for adults. That is because the goal of God’s Scriptures is to reveal His character to His people and to reveal what He is up to in the world. 

Today we enter the story with a very sunburned prophet sitting at the east of Nineveh, who decided he would rather die than live with a God like Yahweh. 

Hopefully it will speak to us today. 

Let’s do an overview of what has happened so far. We have a prophet of God, who actually hates what His God wants him to do so he runs from Him. This makes the prophet hit rock bottom and bring ruin upon himself. Although some pagan sailors were saved in the process, it actually turns out to be the best thing that could ever happen to him. It wakes him up. At least for a moment. The prophet complies with Yahweh’s commands and goes to the city of Nineveh. He manages to preach a five word sermon in Hebrew and the whole city repents and turns to God. 

Think about it. If you were a prophet of God and you managed to offer a five word sermon to those living in “sin city” and everyone one repented…. 

You would be stoked! Praise the Lord! How amazing! Quite the item to place on your resume! Right?!

Look at what Jonah thought. Look at the last verse of Jonah 3, 

“When God saw what they did (the people of Nineveh) and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.”

Jonah should be thinking, “Mission accomplished!” Instead, we discover that Jonah was ticked, he was livid with anger. This was exactly what he had thought God would do in the first place, that’s why he fled to Tarshish. Jonah didn’t want anything to do with Ninevites being saved. Jonah not only felt God was wrong, he proceeded to pray to God and chew Him out. 

Jonah had predicted what God would do, and he was so angry with God for being gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love towards the Ninevites that he would rather die than live. 

Really? Come on. 

Check out the irony here. Look at verse two, 

“I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

The words, “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love,” is the most repeated description of God in the Old Testament, it is written more than twelve times. It’s like the John 3:16 verse from the New Testament, in the Old Testament. In fact, Jonah is actually quoting what God said about Himself in Exodus 34:6. If we go back to that story, you recall, God had established a covenant with His people, the Israelites. 

The first commandment was that they would have no other God before them, the second was they would have no idols or images of God that they would worship. Moses was gone for a few days and what happened. The Israelites decided to create a golden calf as their image of God and worship it. God was angry and ready to annihilate the Israelites but Moses interceded and God relented and gave Moses this description of Himself. 

However, Jonah takes these very words and throws them back into God’s face stating, “ I knew you were like this! You have been like this since day one. You love to forgive people who don’t deserve it. I told you so. You’re the one who made me come here in the first place.” The irony is that Jonah wouldn’t even exist as an Israelite if God were not like this. But Jonah was so irrational and hot with anger that He was not thinking clearly. Jonah was angry  with God for being too gracious and nice and forgiving people whom he thought didn’t deserve it. 

Again, this story of Jonah seems extreme. But what’s really going on in chapter four is that we are seeing the dark side of God’s mercy and grace. It puts into question the wideness of God’s mercy and how liberal God is with His grace. 

Think about it. 

We are quite happy when we realize how messed up we are and we turn to Jesus and He gives us His grace. We think that’s great. But there is another complex thing that happens when we realize that God will do the same thing to someone we despise. So in reality the motivation for Jonah to criticize God’s grace is understandable to us. In fact, were we in Jonah’s place, we would probably think the same thing. 

Let’s take a look at history. In 1987 there was a man named Gordon Wilson, who owned a drapery business in a town in Northern Ireland called Enniskillens. 

Many of you may recall what was happening at that time between Ireland and Britain. The British were still a colonial power over the Irish. There was a resistance group of Ireland, called the IRA, the Irish Resistance Army. Gordon Wilson was a Christian and did not endorse the IRA. Britain has a holiday called “Remembrance Day,” which would be our equivalent of Memorial Day, in November. It was a day set aside to honor the memory of those British soldiers that had died in the two world wars. So Gordon and his family went to the town square with wreaths as part of a town remembrance. Unaware, like everyone else that was there, the IRA had planted bombs in buildings around the square. During the Remembrance Day ceremony the bombs went off. Buildings collapsed and many people were trapped under them. Gordon and his daughter were caught under a wall that collapsed. They remained under the wall for many hours. 

They were both badly injured but they were able to talk to one another. They were eventually rescued and pulled out; however Gordon’s daughter did not survive the night, but Gordon did. About two days later the BBC came and did interviews with the survivors. The interview with Gordon Wilson went viral, even without YouTube. It caught the attention of the whole world because of what he said. William Ury put it this way in his book, The Third Side

“She held my hand tightly, and gripped me as hard as she could. She said, ‘Daddy, I love you very much.’ Those were her exact words to me, and those were the last words I ever heard her say.” To the astonishment of listeners, Wilson went on to add, “But I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life. ”

As historian Jonathan Bardon recounts, “No words in more than twenty-five years of violence in Northern Ireland have had such a powerful, emotional impact.” In a few words, Gordon Wilson had spoken for all those on both sides who had lost family and friends – and had furthered for many the slow painful process of healing.

It doesn’t stop there. A year following this event, Gordon Wilson hosted a memorial event in which he invited people from the IRA to attend. He invited news crews to come and he begged the IRA to stop the violence. 

He became a Senator and a powerful leader because of his commitment to Jesus to forgive his enemy. But the story doesn’t end there. One of the presidents of the Irish Republic, Mary McAleese, put it this way in her book, Love in Chaos

“Gordon’s words shamed us all and caught us off guard. 

They sounded so different from what we expected, and what we had all become used to. They brought a stillness with them. They carried a sense of the transcendent into a place that had become so ugly we could hardly bear to watch. But Gordon had his detractors and unbelievably 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 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 for they know not what they do.” One outspoken critic, who was a Christian, said to me about Gordon Wilson, “Surely, the poor man had to be in shock,” as if offering love and forgiveness is a sign of mental illness instead of spiritual strength.”

People talk about grace, they expect God’s grace for themselves, but there is a scandalous side to the wideness of God’s grace as soon as it is offered and given to someone we perceive as an enemy or whom we hate. 

What is behind chapter four is just this. Jonah’s behavior  seems a bit ridiculous, yes. But the motivation behind it is similar to what was behind Gordon’s retractors. 

Think, how would you respond in a similar situation? 

It’s very understandable. 

What God is going to do is try three times to help Jonah understand His grace in a new way. 

His first try is in verse 4, 

“But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

God hopes to have a discussion with Jonah about his feelings so He puts the question right out there. 

What is Jonah’s response?

Nothing. Jonah stonewalls Him. 

No response. Jonah went out, east of the city and made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Again, ignoring God all together. If you have children, you’ve experienced this behavior. You want to have a heart to heart discussion with your child about what they are thinking or doing and they clam up, refuse to talk, and won’t have anything to do with you.  

What do you think Jonah was expecting to happen? 

Well, according to the sermon he preached, 

“Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”

Last week I talked about how this sermon wasn’t exactly what God told Jonah to say. 

There was nothing about the sin the Ninevites were committing and even more importantly nothing about God. But what it does have is an ironic twist that only adults would understand. 

Look at the last word of Jonah’s sermon. In Hebrew the word is “hapak.” 

The meaning of this word is “turn over.” It has been used quite often in the Old Testament. Quite like many words, the meaning of the word has to be taken by its context. 

For example, I can say, “I destroyed my van.” That would be a bad thing, definitely. Or I could say, “Damariscotta destroyed the world record for the most pumpkins in one place at one time.” I’m not sure if there is such a record, but you get my point, that would be a good thing. The same word, but with a different meaning. 

The same thing for the word, hapak. If we look at Hosea 7:8, we read, “Israel is like baked bread that has not been hapak.” In other words, worthless, cooked on one side but not the other. 

But then in Psalm 30:11 we read that God does a good thing, “God you have hapak my grief and mourning into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. 

So the word hapak can take on a positive connotation or a negative connotation depending on the circumstances in which it is used. 

Back to Jonah, which hapak do you think Jonah was thinking when he preached his five word sermon to those in Nineveh? The evil city gets destroyed!

Which hapak did God provide? 

God plays a fast one on Jonah and even though Jonah meant for the Ninivites to be turned over to calamity, God turned them over to good. 

That is supposed to be funny, come on.

Jonah thought he had the Ninevites right where he wanted them and God twists it around. 

Jonah was peeved. 

It’s like God won’t let Jonah get away with anything in this book!

Jonah tries to run away – that didn’t work. 

So Jonah decides to go to Nineveh and provide some prophetic sabotage by providing as little information as possible to ensure they get wiped off the planet. 

Even that doesn’t happen, because God used his own words against him. 

This whole thing has made Jonah livid with anger.

He was waiting out the forty days, looking down at Nineveh, expecting lightning bolts from heaven and when he didn’t see them and the angrier he became. 

Well the frontal approach didn’t work, so God tried a second tactic, the use of a small plant, verse 6, 

“Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant.” 

Finally Jonah is happy. He hasn’t been in a good mood throughout this entire story. Just before this Jonah wanted to die, now he was very happy. 

But at dawn, God provided a little worm. 

Think about it, God provided a – 

> huge storm

> huge fish

> a medium plant

> and now a little worm. 

We have the whole spectrum in the story. The worm eats the plant, it withers, the sun comes out and God provides a scorching east wind and the sun blazes on Jonah’s head. Jonah grows faint, and where does he go with this? 

He was back to wanting to die again.  

 “It would be better for me to die than to live.”

Here we go again. 

This is so comic, first he wanted to die, then he was extremely happy, now he wants to die again. 

But God doesn’t miss a beat. God asked Jonah the same question, but this time with a twist. 

“But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

So Jonah wasn’t able to own up to answering the questions as to whether his anger against God showing mercy to his enemies was legitimate. So God goes with the plant emotion and asks if Jonah’s anger about the plant is legitimate. Good question, but look at Jonah’s response, 

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” 

Oh good grief, Jonah was now beyond reason. But God doesn’t give up, because He is

gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, 

God loves Jonah, He was going to work this out. 

Third time, new tactic…

“You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight.”

Let’s face it, you can’t claim a real emotional attachment to this plant because it sprang up and died in one day and you didn’t have anything to do with that happening. But, let’s just say that your emotion towards this plant is legitimate, verse 11,

“And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

The end. 

The Bible is strange, don’t you think? What is that?

I think this demonstrates just how brilliant God is. First God tried to expose how foolish Jonah was at being angry with Him for offering those in Nineveh grace. 

That didn’t work. 

So He tries to get at Jonah’s anger another way and helps him to understand how ridiculous it is. So God does the little thing with the plant and tries to expose his joy and anger for the plant as being ridiculous. That didn’t work either. So now God was trying a different tactic. 

He was not going to expose Jonah’s anger, God realized Jonah was actually excited about something. For the first time in the story Jonah was happy and he cared about something other than himself. Granted it was about something that provided comfort for him, but it was the first time there was a little corner of his heart that cared about something. So God decided He can work with that. 

God approached Jonah and said, “Okay, you have a soft spot in your heart, an emotional caring for this plant. Although it may seem quite ridiculous, let’s grant you the emotional attachment you have to this little plant. It’s a good thing to care about something other than yourself, even if it is but a little plant and you had nothing to do with its existence. 

So let’s just compare that to my care for those in Nineveh? 

God continues, Would it be okay with you Jonah, if I were to have a strong emotional concern about something other than myself? Maybe even something more significant like thousands of lives of people who were made in my image? Not only that, look at the description of this hundred and twenty thousand people – “who cannot tell their right hand from their left.” These people were mixed up but it doesn’t mean they don’t know their right from their wrong. 

God clearly expected them to know right from wrong because He sent a judgment on their behavior and they responded accordingly. They have obviously been going in the wrong direction for some reason. They have been going left when they should have been going right, they were seriously misguided. This is a common description in the Bible, but usually it is about sheep, stupid sheep, who have gone astray. God wasn’t excusing the Ninevites. It’s not like the Ninevites didn’t know any better, they were very accountable for their behavior, but they were lost and misguided. 

God confronted Jonah with his concern for his little plant, which was all fine and good. But then God also pointed out to Jonah that He too might be concerned with something more significant, like thousands of human beings and also their pets, or animals? 

Where you are supposed to laugh. 

Because what did the cows do in chapter two? 

They dressed up in sackcloth and ashes too. 

How can this be the end of the book? 

What is Jonah four doing to us? 

I want to know how Jonah responds. But that is to miss the point of the whole book. You see the story was never all about Jonah in the first place. 

Was it? 

Who is this book actually about? 


The real question is how this story is a word from God to His people. So the real question we should be asking is, 

“How am I living the response to God’s question?”

Jonah represented this ridiculous caricature of people who need to grasp God’s grace, which is that God loves your enemy as much as He loves you. And when that soaks in, especially when you have fresh wounds, and you are struggling with forgiveness, this chapter provides a strong punch. 

Because here is what God was trying to do. He was trying to get Jonah outside of himself. Let’s face it, Jonah thinks that the Ninevites are the most wretched people on the planet. But in the story of Jonah, who turns out to be the most hard-hearted hateful person? Jonah! And we see God gently trying to help Jonah to see what is happening. Jonah was part of the covenant people which was great, but that doesn’t for a second excuse his religious hypocrisy and superiority. Face it, he was just as broken and misguided as the Ninevites. Jonah, don’t you see that? 

Shouldn’t I be concerned about them and their animals? 

There we have it. God loves our enemies. 

Okay, many of us can take that and swallow it. God loves my enemies. But don’t for one minute think that means I have to love my enemies. 

Oh dear, this is one of the core issues of the Gospel, forgiveness of one’s enemies. That is exactly what God is doing for us at the cross. This takes us right back to Matthew, Sermon on the Mount, chapter 5, verses 43-47,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 

And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 

Many Christians read this and think, “A noble thought, but I am not going to do that. Jesus, you must be crazy.” 

That was Jesus’ whole announcement of the Kingdom of God. In Him, a whole new way of living had arrived. Through Jesus, people were reconciled to God, people who had made themselves enemies of God, through our own self absorption and selfishness and thinking we are the star of our show and God is a bit player along with everyone else. We go through life thinking that and some of us make more of a train wreck of our lives than others, but we all do it in different ways. There are some who do this by not doing much harm to other people, but by feeling quite proud about not doing so. Which in God’s eyes is just as despicable a way of being a human being. 

We listen to what Jesus says and think, okay for you God, but the world just doesn’t work like that. Jesus came to turn us all upside-down, by reconciling not destroying. 

We are invited by a 

gracious and compassionate God, who is slow to anger and abounding in love, 

We end this book with God saying, “Jonah, you have no high ground to stand on, and who are you to start declaring who gets God’s grace and who doesn’t.”

 We have all made ourselves enemies of God. 

I stand before you as someone who has personally experienced real pain, because of other people’s actions. I know this isn’t easy. I have endured pain, hurt and wounds from other people. But if there is one place where all the wounds and hurts of people upon other people spiral down and stop, it is at the cross. And those of us who hold onto the cross are called to live differently. 

Not because we think we are better, but because we have been shown grace, (front of bulletin) “God’s Grace Received ~ God’s Grace Given.” 

So what Jonah chapter 4 is doing and what Jesus often did in His teachings ~ deconstructing the whole idea of what an enemy is. Look at Jonah, he has demonized the Ninevites when it turns out they had very soft hearts and immediately turned to God. Jonah was the bad guy, but he can’t even see it. This is what happens to us with our enemies. They do something wrong, or they wrong us in some way, or there is a toxic personality that you just can’t be around. That’s okay. But what tends to happen is you tend to fixate on what the person did to you. You take the complex person with a family of origin and their personal story where someone wronged them so they wronged others. Not to excuse their actions but to put some context into what goes on in a person’s life. 

So this person comes into your life and does something to hurt you. So what do you do? You replay the movie a hundred times in your head, which then reduces that person with a complex humanity down to the thing that they did to you. So maybe someone lies about you, so slowly they become someone who told a lie about me, to someone who is a liar. We reduce their humanity down to the trait that is annoying to us. And then, because we were the ones wronged by them, we see ourselves as the opposite of them. Then we are at Jonah chapter four where Jonah is so blind that the line of good and evil goes right down the middle of Jonah, but he thinks everyone else is the problem. 

God and Jesus have been trying to help us deconstruct who we think is an enemy. 

Face it, we have all contributed to why the world is the mess that it is in today. 

Of course, some people are screwed up more or differently than others, but the line of good and evil goes through each and every one of us. We are all enemies of God, which is the reason we need the cross. 

By grace, the ground is level at the cross. 

No one gets to stand at the foot of the cross and decide who receives grace and who doesn’t. 

Jonah chapter four ends with us understanding who the story is really about. This isn’t a story about God and Nineveh. This is a story about God and His own people. He is trying to bring God’s people around to understand just how messed up they are and how much they need God’s grace as much as anyone else. 

God has brought Jonah into contact with his enemy in order to teach Jonah something. 

Think about it, how many of us have a person in our lives that we think, “I could follow Jesus so well if I didn’t have that person in my life. My life would be so great without them.”

Jonah four flips that over and says, “Could it be that person is in your life precisely as a divine invitation to you to grow and mature in your spirit and God’s grace?”  

Not just as a mental exercise where we believe in our heads but that we take that grace that God offers us and allow it to flow through us. 

I have put a quote from Walter Wink on the back of our bulletin. I encourage you to ponder it. Walter Wink also offers this exercise which I think is also worth pondering. He suggests you take some time and sit down with a piece of paper and pencil and think about your enemy. Then write down on the paper all of the character traits that you can’t stand about them. 

You know, they are selfish, they are greedy, they don’t think about anyone but themselves, they gossip, etc. It’s rather a therapeutic exercise. When you think you have them all down, pray and recognize you are in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Then go through the list, line by line and underline each of the things you have written that you too have done. 

“Oh, I’ve never been selfish before.” 

“I’ve never gossiped.” 


The first step to enemy love is recognizing our common humanity. 

The common brokenness that we all share. 

This is exactly where God was leading Jonah. 

“Don’t you see Jonah?

Could it be that God can use the enemy in your life to draw you to a deeper relationship with Him?”

Let’s pray.