He had been minding his own business, content to hate his enemies—as any normal human should, right?! So why was God so persistent?! Sure, it sounds wrong to hate an entire nationality, but they deserved it, didn’t they? After all, they were Israel’s mortal enemies. Besides, I’ve often heard people say that the Bible supports racism. That’s true, isn’t it? At the very least, I feel like I heard people say something about interracial marriages and some verse about being unequally yoked. Anyways, surely Jonah’s hatred wasn’t hurting anyone. So why did God have to mess everything up?
Although the above paragraph is hyperbole, at different points in my life, I’ve heard people attempt to use Scripture to support similar racist claims. Does the Bible have teachings that equate to racism? How does God feel about different races? What does the Bible teach about racism? If you don’t know, it’s time to find out, and there’s no better place to start than the end of the great story of Jonah…
Jonah 4:1 says, “Jonah was greatly displeased and became furious.”
Why? Why was Jonah so angry? If you don’t know the answer off the top of your head, you’re probably going to be a little surprised. To know why he became furious, we must look at what had just happened in Jonah 3:10. It says, “God saw their actions—that they had turned from their evil ways—so God relented from the disaster he had threatened them with. And he did not do it.”
Let me make sure you followed. The story of Jonah goes something like this:
God observes the sin of the Ninevites, so He asks Jonah to preach to them, but Jonah runs away instead. Because of Jonah’s disobedience, God sends a storm on the sea to sink the ship. The crew finds out Jonah is at fault, so Jonah tells them to throw him overboard to make the storm stop (instead of simply turning around so Jonah could just do what God asks). They do throw him overboard, and immediately, the sea goes calm. The men then fear and worship God. Meanwhile, God prepares a great fish to swallow Jonah. In the belly of the great fish, Jonah finally prays and says he will do what God asks. The fish then vomits Jonah out of the great fish. Jonah travels to Nineveh, preaches the Word of the Lord to the Ninevites, and they repent, so God spares them. (My uninspired summary)
Now ask yourself, what events in this story could make a prophet/preacher so mad? That last phrase in my summary, “so God spares them,” is exactly what happens in Jonah 3:10, which is right before Jonah 4:1, which says, “Jonah was greatly displeased and became furious.” Follow what this means then: because the Ninevites repented, God spared them, and God’s mercy on the Ninevites is what makes Jonah furious!
Imagine a preacher hating a group of people so badly that when an entire city surrenders to God, the preacher gets angry. Shouldn’t a preacher be thrilled if something like that happens? The typical preacher might deal with people sleeping during their sermons, or zoning out, or going out into the world and never really applying anything they’ve heard in church. This preacher, Jonah, led one of the greatest evangelistic movements in the history of humanity. An entire city repented! And he’s mad about it because he wanted them to be destroyed! Now that’s some hatred!
In fact, Jonah wasn’t finished with his anger. Check out Jonah 4:2-3:
He [Jonah] prayed to the Lord: ‘Please, Lord, isn’t this what I thought while I was still in my own country? That’s why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and one who relents from sending disaster. And now, Lord, take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’
Think for a second about Jonah’s remarks to God. Jonah not only recognizes how kind and forgiving God is, he cites these as the very reason he was disobedient to begin with, and the reason why he is angry now. When Jonah finally preaches to the Ninevites, God forgives them, and the prophet Jonah is not only mad about it, he’s so mad about it that he wants to die. Now that’s some hatred!
Hating people is not a new thing, but as Jonah was about to learn, it is a wrong thing. Jonah leaves the city, makes a shelter for some shade, and then sits and waits, apparently still hoping God would change His mind and obliterate Nineveh. But instead, God appoints a plant to grow to provide shade over Jonah’s head from the hot sun. Jonah is greatly pleased with this plant, but this blessing leaves as quickly as it had come, when God appoints a worm to attack the plant until it withers away. Then God takes another step, adding to Jonah’s discomfort by appointing a scorching wind and the sun to overheat Jonah until Jonah is once again in a terrible mood, and once again, so angry that he wishes to die. Jonah 4:9 says,
“Then God asked Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’” Jonah responds “Yes it’s right! … I’m angry enough to die!” (yes, he’s a little dramatic).
It is in this disappointing moment, a moment when Jonah’s hatred for his fellow man is at its most entrenched and most pathetic, that God shows His wonderful love for all people and puts to bed any questions that Jonah, you, or I might have about racism or hatred. God responds to Jonah’s anger with this statement:
“So the Lord said, “10You cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow. It appeared in a night and perished in a night. 11But may I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people…” – Jonah 4:10-11
Jonah had done nothing to make the plant grow. And yet he was fond of it. Imagine the silliness of caring for the life of a plant more than a city of humans. But unlike Jonah’s lack of involvement in the creation of the plant, God had created the Ninevites. As such, God loved them, and He cared what happened to them. God created you and He cares for you. He created and cares for the people most like you in this world. But realize this, God also created and cares for the people least like you. God loves all people, and through His work in creating us, He has placed immeasurable intrinsic worth into all humans of all time. If you don’t believe me, check out what Scripture says.
Acts 17:26 says, “From one man he [God] has made every nationality to live over the whole earth…” Who was that man that God made every nationality from? Adam. And Adam was created in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). The image or likeness of God conveys many concepts—relational and cognitive ability and more—but one of the most important concepts it conveys is intrinsic worth. Interestingly, Adam is not the only human created in God’s image. James 3:9 extends that image to all people in saying, “With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in God’s likeness.”
People are made in God’s image. This fills every human with such intrinsic worth that James tells us we ought to watch even what we say about them – let alone hate them. So, follow this train of logic. Acts 17:26 says that God created every nationality from Adam, Genesis says Adam was created in the image of God, and James says that being created in God’s image is true of all people. Do you know what the Greek word for nationality is in Acts 17:26? It’s ethnos – from which we get the word ethnicity: race. God made every race in His image.
Being unequally yoked refers to faith, not race. Seriously, read it (2nd Corinthians 6:14). It begins by saying, “Don’t become partners with those who do not believe.” Only ignorance or intentional bias could equate that verse to race. The same is true of the Old Testament commands forbidding intermarriage (e.g. Deut. 7:3-4). God cared if Israel married people who were not of their covenant because “they will turn your sons away from me to worship other gods.” Similarly, God cares if a believer marries an unbeliever; not because they are less, but because He knows the impact it can have on a believers faith. God loves all people and wants all to come to saving knowledge of Him.
Racism is incompatible with Christianity because it is contrary to Scripture and contrary to God, who made all people in His image and sent His Son Jesus to die for all people (John 3:16). He gave Christians a command in Matthew 28:19-20 to go into the world and make disciples of all nations (ethnos/races). He provides a beautiful picture in Revelation 5:8-10 of Christ shedding His blood to pay for the sins of people of all nations (ethnos/races) so that they might be part of His kingdom if they profess faith in Christ Jesus. God loves all people.
If anyone tells you that Scripture supports racism, don’t believe it. Contrived and unsubstantiated arguments have certainly been made, but they don’t represent God or His Word. All people are created in God’s image. Love them, even when they are wrong. Even when they are cruel, even when you have no reason to like them—love them. Love them if they look like you, and love them if they don’t, because being made in God’s image has nothing to do with outside appearance, and everything to do with intrinsic worth.
If you are interested in the rest of Jonah, check out these other posts: Jonah 1, Jonah 2, Jonah 3.
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