Re-thinking the Genocide: How Mercy Made a Prophet Angry

The last two posts have shown examples of how Israel spared Canaanites during her wars in that land and thus cast doubt on the notion that God’s intention was genocide and utter destruction.

God was not motivated by a desire for racial purity. His hope was not to saturate the land with the blood of its inhabitants. I’ve argued that in both cases, Israel did not need a specific command from God to show mercy to the Canaanites. On more than one occasion, the Lord had revealed that His glory was expressed in mercy, and these episodes in turn influenced Israel’s military policy.

Israelites understood that God would show mercy to people who repented, even if He didn’t specifically say so. He hadn’t specifically said this to Moses or Joshua, yet the latter, as well as Israel, seemed to understand that He required them to be merciful toward people who sought refuge.

It’s this particular expression of His glory that provokes Jonah to run as far away as possible from the city of Niniveh.

A quick recap of that story: God told Jonah to preach to the city and tell it that it would be overthrown. Jonah flees from his mission but, following a rather traumatic ordeal involving a large fish, ends up doing what God commanded him to do. The city repents, and Jonah mopes, because he had been afraid that God would spare His enemies.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he woulddo to them, and he did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste 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.”

Here’s the thing: where did Jonah get that idea in the first place?

In the message he was told to preach, there was no mention of or even a hint of mercy-through-repentance. God never even broached the subject. But somehow, this reluctant prophet understood that God was willing to save Niniveh–and that’s why he fled in the first place.

This episode reinforces what we’ve seen in the stories of Rahab and the Gibeonites.

Even when He doesn’t specifically say He’ll do it, God is a God of mercy and is willing to save any and all who seek Him.

The spies understood this and spared Rahab. The people of Israel understood this when they spared the Gibeonites. And that revelation of God’s glory stood true throughout the ages.

It was powerful enough to make even prophets tremble with anger.


2 thoughts on “Re-thinking the Genocide: How Mercy Made a Prophet Angry

  1. Don Doell October 20, 2012 / 5:21 pm

    Just ran into your blog due to your comments on Crumbs from the Communion Table. Good writing so far. In terms of Jonah, it is also worth mentioning that Jonah did have some credible reasons to be a “Ninevite-phobe”. Recently found out that they were rather infamous for their extreme brutality, cruelty and unmerciful butchering of their enemies. I often have heard sermons and have thought personally that Jonah is somehow guiltier than me due to his disobedience.(Sort of the obverse of being personally “holier than thou”.) My attitude was sort of “Well, I would never be so disobedient to a direct command from the Lord…” I think that once we recognize that Jonah was so hard hearted towards the Ninevites because he cared so much about his own people, we can cut him a little more slack. Jonah is still the “Disobedient Prophet” but “there but for the grace of God” go I…and it also makes the cases of Christians forgiving people even after their own children/loved ones have been brutalized that much more amazing. But, once we have received “amazing grace” we are held to give it away in return. Lord, help me, a sinner.

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