The Assyrians are spared, and Jonah is furious, the very idea of a prophet being sent to Nineveh-Nineveh the capital of the hated Assyrian empire, the home of the people who had destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the ten tribes of Israel in 722BC, dispersing those ten tribes forever, the nation that had then laid siege to Jerusalem and exacted tribute from Judah for many years-Nineveh appears as another Sodom, Yahweh is going to punish them for immorality, but not necessarily for idolatry. But the stronger problem for Jonah seems to be the lack of punishment for the wicked. Jonah is indignant that the Assyrians didn’t get what they so richly deserved: didn’t Jonah say this would happen, that Yahweh always forgives, he’s this slow to anger, compassionate guy; he always repent, the wicked are never punished! It seems Jonah is fed up with the way Yahweh is doing things, his mercy perverts his justice, and some things ought not to be forgiven; people must be held to account for their evil actions, how can Yahweh not do justice! As Jonah is leaving the city to sulk, seems his complaint is twofold. If your going to punish the wicked then just push them; they deserve it. And if you’re planning to spare them, then just spare them and don’t waste my time with messages and oracles. As Jonah sits in a little booth that he has constructed, Yahweh causes a leafy plant to grow over him, providing shade and saving him from a good deal of discomfort; and the plant is to be the source of a final lesson for Jonah. How could Yahweh not be compassionate? For even the most evil of peoples are no less his creation that he has cared for than precious Israel. And if they will only turn to Yahweh in humility, he’ll wipe the slate clean, he’ll show compassion and forgive. It is only human to long for the punishment of the wicked; but Yahweh longs for their re-formation, their turning. Their is the moral law of the Noahide covenant, and it’s for this that Yahweh has decreed punishment, and Jonah is a champion of divine justice. Jonah believes that sin should be punished, he’s outraged at Yahweh’s forgiveness. But Jonah learns that a change of heart is enough to obtain mercy, and that the true role of the prophet is perhaps to move people to reformation and turning.
We see that we need to die to self, although our salvation is not dependent upon how well we accomplish this. Yet, as ambassadors of the ministry of reconciliation, our witness is dependent upon how well we accomplish this. Dying to self, is never portrayed as something optional, it is the reality of being born anew; unless we are willing to see our old lives crucified with Christ and begin to live anew in obedience to him. Dying to self is something you can take very literal; you will die in every way possible in order to be someone you are not.
This does not mean that when we “die to self” we become inactive or insensible, nor do we feel ourselves to be dead. The entire concept seems a bit strange to our natural eyes. Rather, dying to self means that the things of the old life are put to death, most especially the sinful ways and lifestyles we once engaged in. Dying to self is not fun or easy, but what is particularly difficult about fighting this tendency is that it is not exactly a behavior or action. It can certainly manifest itself in those forms, but underneath them is an attitude. Dying to self is a real change of mind and attitude towards sin itself and the cause of it. Dying to self is a change in our principle action from what is by nature the exact opposite. Seeing that our old lives are being crucified with Christ is an experience of every one who is the subject of the grace of God.