Overview first. Jonah is not like the other prophets. The book is a four-chapter narrative, not an oracle. The story is of the prophet Jonah's disobedience to God. The reason he is disobedient is the kicker. He is mad because he knows that Yahweh will save Nineveh and he doesn't want Him too (4:1-2). So chapter 4 is God discussing that problem with Jonah. Just read the book. It takes like ten minutes. It's worth the ten minutes. Then come back and read this because you'll have the proper context. Don't say, "Oh I remember it from Sunday school." It's different than they told you in Sunday school, trust me. Just go read it.
Okay, here is what I picked up in Jonah- Grace. Grace of the most amazing kind. There are two opposite ends of the spectrum here. Nineveh is the capital city of the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrian Empire was one of the most brutal, terrible empires in the history of the world. This is a quote from the wikipedia page on how they would deal with rebels.
"Ashurnasirpal II paints a descriptive picture when he later describes how he dealt with the rebels; they were flayed, impaled, beheaded (first if they were lucky), burnt alive, eyes ripped out, fingers, noses and ears cut off."
So that is the background. Nasty, monstrous people who's brutality was most often directed toward Israel. This is the people that God wanted Jonah to announce judgment on. And in the end, they all repented (even the king and the animals! 3:6-8). And God relented of the disaster that He said He would do to them (3:10). That is amazing grace. They did not deserve anything. In fact, if anyone deserved the wrath of God it was them. But He relented.
Next is grace that maybe hits a little closer to home- grace for the self-righteous. Jonah right here is the epitome of self-righteousness. The man is a prophet of God. He leads the biggest revival in the history of the world. This would have been like someone going into Nazi Germany and preaching to Hitler and all the people of Berlin... and all of them repenting. That is not an exaggeration. This is by far the most amazing revival recorded so far in the Bible. And Jonah is mad! He's mad because he doesn't think that these people deserve God's grace. And you know what? He's right. They don't at all. They deserve His righteous wrath. But what Jonah has lost sight of is that he deserves God's wrath just as much as the Ninevites. This is not my opinion. This is a statement of fact- we all deserve nothing but the wrath of God for all of eternity. That is why self-righteousness is so utterly ridiculous.
Okay now here comes the grace. Jonah blatantly sins against God. In fact, this could be shown as the definition of sin. God tells Jonah to go one way and he turns to run in the other direction. But here is the grace- God chases him (1:4). It got me to thinking. I listened to a couple things this weekend in the car. Some were about Jonah, some weren't. But I started to connect some dots. God always does the chasing. ALWAYS. I can't think of a time where someone actually seeks after God first in the Old Testament so far. God is the one who goes after people and it is never of any merit of theirs. Adam (Genesis 3:9), Noah (Genesis 6:8, By the way this may look like merit for Noah in verse 9 but it isn't. Notice the order of these verses 5-6 then 8 then 9, Noah's righteousness was given to him by God's grace.), Abraham (Genesis 12:1-4), Moses (Exodus 3:1-6), all of the judges, Samuel (1 Samuel 3:4), David (1 Samuel 16:11-13), Isaiah, Jeremiah, every single one of the prophets. The point is God chases after people, even the extremely self-righteous. Not because of something they earned, but because He is God. This is grace. Unmerited favor. This is the beauty of Jonah. God's grace is for the extremely wicked who know they are extremely wicked and also for the extremely wicked who are haughty and think they are righteous.
That was the overwhelming theme of Jonah. There are more to be sure. We could talk about chapter 4 for hours on end. Jonah is overflowing with conversation grabbers. He got swallowed by a fish for three days! How could you not talk about that for awhile at least? He caused a bunch of pagan sailors to praise Yahweh, fear Him, and offer sacrifices to Him (1:14-16). This could be a very long conversation. But the theme at the forefront of this book seems to be grace. So I'll leave you with that. I hope this was good for you to hear. I hope it challenged you to read God's Word. That is what I want to happen from you reading this.
All for His glory,