Although in a bad mood Jonah gives one of the most beautiful descriptions of God that is to be found in the entire Bible when he says in verse 2 that God is ‘gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster’. We are familiar with the five points of Calvinism. Here is another set of five points, except they are five points about God and if we grasp each individually and all of them collectively, we will understand who God is and why he does what he does. Let us consider these details because they are the key to understanding the way that God acts.
First, God is gracious. This is his goodness towards the undeserving. Israel had not deserved any of the great blessings that God had given to them. Jonah had forgotten that the only way a person can have a relationship with God is by grace and not merit.
Second, God is merciful. This is his forgiveness of the guilty. All have sinned against him, including Jonah’s own people. If he had dealt with Israel as her sins deserved, she would have been punished. Instead God had shown mercy. To be a recipient of mercy should lead to the desire that mercy should be shown to others. Jonah had evidently forgotten that God delights to show mercy, even to citizens of wicked cities.
Third, God is slow to anger. This is his attitude to the impenitent. Our God is long-suffering towards the wicked. Why was God slow to anger with the Assyrians? One answer is that they were ignorant of his requirements. He describes them at the close of the chapter as not knowing the right hand from the left. It may be that most people in our society are ignorant of God and his ways, and therefore he delays his judgements to give them an opportunity for repentance.
Fourth, God is faithful to his commitments. This is his attitude towards those who trust in him. This is the way he displays his love. He is ever loyal to them, which was just as well for Jonah. The reason why the inhabitants of Nineveh were not judged immediately was God’s long-suffering, the reason why Jonah was not judged immediately was God’s loyalty to his own promises to his people.
Fifth, God responds to those who repent. This is his response to those who heed his warnings. The heinousness of their sin did not prevent forgiveness once Nineveh repented. What wonderful grace God shows to sinners! This is not evidence that the Lord changes his mind depending on how individuals respond to his warnings. Rather it is a reminder that God’s offers of mercy are genuine.