Jonah 4:1 (KJV) But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
The Webster’s 1828 definition of meekness is long, but lovely. Meekness is softness of temper; mildness; gentleness; forbearance under injury and provocation; humility; resignation; submission to divine will without murmuring or peevishness; opposed to pride, arrogance, and refractoriness (which is perverse or sullen obstinacy in opposition or disobedience). Though similar to humility, meekness encompasses not only our inward character but also our actions and reactions in life.
As I was thinking about meekness, especially the part about submission to divine will, I thought about Jonah. He did not display any meekness throughout the book of Jonah. He ran away the first time God commanded him to go to Nineveh, and though he obeyed the second time, Jonah was certainly “peevish” about it. When he saw the people of Nineveh repent, his reaction was far from “softness of temper” – he was furious!
Jonah thought he knew better than God. Jonah’s will was that the people of Nineveh be destroyed. Not only were they were a wicked people, they were Jonah’s enemies. Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria. The Assyrians plagued the people of Israel for years until they eventually destroyed Israel and took the people captive. One of my Bible College History professors surmised that as a prophet Jonah might have foreseen the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians. Jonah thought he had justification for questioning God’s command to go and preach to them.
It’s so easy to read the book of Jonah today and ask, Why didn’t Jonah just obey? But we do the same thing. We think our plans are more important than God’s plans, and we try to justify our disobedience. Like Jonah, we don’t act with a meek spirit. We may even get angry and prideful in our disobedience. Then we react in an un-Christlike manner. God has to constantly work those worldly traits out of us until we act with meekness, just like Jesus. Remember, as the potter keeps smoothing the flaws out of the clay, and the blacksmith hammers the iron until it’s the shape he wants, so God works on us until we are a better picture of Christ.
How do we get a meek spirit like Christ had? Is it possible to learn meekness? Yes. Meekness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5: 22-23). We can ask Him to help us act and react with meekness. There is a quote in Webster’s 1828 dictionary that says, “Meekness is a grace which Jesus alone inculcated [enforced by frequent admonitions], and which no ancient philosopher seems to have understood or recommended.” Jesus commanded us to be meek among men, and since He commanded it, He will help us with it.
Now, back to Jonah. The book of Jonah ends on a sad note. He was chastised by God for his bitterness and anger – remember, two reactions that are opposites of meekness. God makes a point and ends the history of Jonah. “Then said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: And should I not spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4: 10-11). I believe God meant that number literally, that there were 120,000 children young enough not to know the difference between left and right. That means there were so many more of their parents, siblings, and grandparents. God didn’t want to destroy so many people. He knew their hearts were ready to hear Jonah’s message and that they would repent when he preached to them. God wanted to show them mercy, but Jonah preferred destruction. Now, instead of remembering Jonah as the great preacher who won the whole city of Nineveh to the Lord, we remember him as the rebel who was swallowed by a whale and shook his fist at God’s mercy.
I want to challenge you to think about Jonah when you think about meekness. Don’t act and react like he did. Instead, submit to God’s plans for you. Keep your temper in check. Oppose pride and arrogance in your character, replacing them with meekness and humility. Set Christ as your highest example of meekness and ask the Holy Spirit to help you be like Him. With Christlike meekness, your story can be so much better than Jonah’s.