Jonah 1: 1-3: The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.
Jonah 3: 1-3a: Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh.
Jonah 4: 1-4: But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” But the Lord replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”
In chapter one of the book of Jonah, God tells Jonah to “go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” God speaks the first word in this story and he is calling on Jonah to travel over 500 miles from his home to preach repentance to the Ninevites. The people of Nineveh were apparently engaging in plotting evil against the Lord, cruelty and plundering in war, prostitution and witchcraft. This would have been a difficult assignment for an experienced missionary. But that’s how God works, He uses those of us that are weak so that His glory will be demonstrated.
Jonah however, runs away from the Lord. He gets on a ship headed in the opposite direction and makes plans to run away from God’s calling on his life. Jonah must have thought if he could run far away, that God would not pursue him. As we read the rest of the story, we know that was not the case. You can run, but God can and will pursue.
Psalm 139: 7-12 speaks to God’s presence in our lives and in this world:
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
You know the next part of this story; God sends a raging storm, Jonah is thrown overboard and is swallowed by a giant fish. Jonah prays to God (out of distress) in chapter 2 and when Jonah repents of his sin, God commands the fish to spit Jonah out onto dry land. Jonah then receives a second calling from God to go and preach to the people of Nineveh. This time Jonah goes and the people respond to the Word of God and they repent. God acknowledges their repentance and decides not to destroy them.
Now this seems like a good place for this story to end, doesn’t it? Jonah has obeyed God and about 120,000 citizens of Nineveh (Jonah 4:11), have repented and changed their lifestyle. Jonah could have grown overconfident after such a powerful alter call and taken all of the credit for himself. Instead, we find that Jonah is greatly displeased and he actually becomes angry. Yes, angry! Jonah tells God that he was afraid something like this would happen if he went on this mission trip. Jonah didn’t want God to show His compassion, grace, and love to the people of Nineveh, he wanted them to suffer. Instead of God being in control, Jonah wanted to be in control.
That’s what is so great about God, we can run but He will still pursue us. We think that we can hide from God, but we can’t. And the neat thing is that, even after we have tried to run away from God and take control of our own life, God can and still wants to use us to do His kingdom work. There is hope for all of us in that God can use each of us despite our weaknesses and imperfections.
Jonah was angry, he was angry that God would choose to be compassionate, gracious and loving to people that Jonah himself despised. God had shown that same kind of mercy and compassion to Jonah, but Jonah was not willing to be so kind to the Ninevites. I am thankful that I serve a God who is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”
Help each of us God, to not be angry or vengeful, and to be willing to go where you send us.
 Zondervan NIV Study Bible, p. 1390