Jonah’s Prayer of Complaint

Read: Jonah 4

O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live. (vv. 2-3)

It takes a clueless prophet to complain about God’s grace, mercy, and love, and to turn Israel’s great confession of faith (see Psalm 103:8) into a pathetic whine. “O Lord!” said Jonah, “this is why I ran away on the ship, because I knew how gracious and merciful you are. This is just what I knew would happen—you went ahead and spared those miserable people in Nineveh. Now just let me die, it’s more than I can take.”

This prayer is one of the truly humorous scenes in the Bible. Jonah’s small-minded complaints against God sound so ridiculous. We ought to feel embarrassed for him. But maybe we’re not so different. When God abundantly blesses people we don’t like, we might get a little annoyed, too, especially if we’ve just spent three days and nights in the belly of a fish. Perhaps Jonah’s complaining prayer to God can prod us to examine our own hearts and remind us to praise the Lord for his graciousness, instead of criticizing him for it. —Leanne VanDyk

Prayer: Help us, Lord, always to be thankful for your grace, and to be gracious ourselves toward others. Amen.

About the Author

Leanne VanDyk

Leanne Van Dyk is a Reformed theologian and theological educator. She has focused much of her work on atonement theology and the development of theological education. She is the tenth president of Columbia Theological Seminary.