Reading through Jonah recently, I was stirred anew by this little book’s closing. Jonah is seemingly angry about God’ unmerited grace over the great city of Nineveh. To teach Jonah a lesson, God causes a plant to grow over Jonah giving him protection for a day’s harsh sun and scorching wind. However, during the night the plant dies and Jonah finds himself feeling the sun and the wind which he was shaded from the day before. Jonah is angry. The Lord asks, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” Jonah responds, “Yes I do well to be angry, angry enough to die” (4:9).
The Lord’s response is as follows, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (4:10, 11). How humbling! An interesting thing in these verses is the connection the Lord makes between Jonah’s anger and “pity.” The Hebrew word used here can also convey a meaning, “look upon with compassion” or “be troubled about.” It is the same word used in 4:11 when the Lord asks if he “should not pity.” What a fascinating word. We hear “pity” and “compassion” a lot, but what do they mean? According to dictionary.com, “compassion” means, “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering,” and “pity” means, “sympathetic or kindly sorrow evoked by the suffering, distress, or misfortune of another, often leading one to give relief or aid or to show mercy” (italics mine). Both words, which share the same Hebrew root, convey a sense of deep sorrow for someone’s desperate plight and actually doing something about them. What does this mean for us when we see people lost in their own sins, and seemingly unable to find the truth, even if they were to want to?
In the case with Nineveh, God saw their plight and wanted to spare them the judgment they were storing up for themselves. Their plight was a depressing one. Those people didn’t know “their right from their left.” Ideas of “right and left” are often associated with knowledge of God’s decrees. Consider Deuteronomy 5:32, “You shall be careful therefore to do as the LORD your God has commanded you.You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left” (cf. Prov. 4:27). Does the Lord have compassion/pity on those who are piling upon themselves wrath because they don’t know their “right from their left,” the way of the Lord? If he does, which I believe the story of Scripture demonstrates quite clearly, what should that mean for we his disciples?
There are 2.84 billion people (41.5%) who have never heard the gospel (http://www.joshuaproject.net/great-commission-statistics.php). There are 2.84 billion people who do not know their “right from their left.” Do we have the compassion our great God and Savior has? Do I have the compassion my great God and Savior has?
May we remember Paul’s words to the Romans in Romans 10:14, 15. He writes, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
May you, Oh Lord, make my feet beautiful.