Friday, March 28, 2014
Jonah - Part Two
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We meet our friend Jonah in chapter three as he finally goes to Nineveh to deliver God's word to the wicked city. When we left him in chapter two he was repenting to the Lord and singing praises to his name. His last verse in chapter two states "Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God's love for them. But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed, I will make good. I will say 'Salvation comes from the Lord."
This is the point where God tells the giant fish to spit Jonah out onto dry land. What a lucky guy! Three days in a fish in the sea and he can live to tell the story. So he learns his lesson, no more running - he immediately goes to Nineveh to deliver the message from God.
Upon hearing the doom that will become of them, the entire city repents, fasts, vows and sacrifices to the Lord. They do nothing else but these things in hope that God will have mercy on them. They realize their evil ways and seek to undo God's plan.
Let me tell you a secret, God is a compassionate God. If you have sinned and ask for forgiveness, truly being sorry for your sins, God is bound to forgive you. Everyone should learn that truth. Even Jonah who in chapter two says "Salvation comes from The Lord." The very first time Jonah proclaims the message, the entire city did a one-eighty. They didn't waste time, didn't need to hear the message a second time. God, who can search anyone's heart and know their sincerity, has compassion and relents from his anger and does not deliver the suffering He promised.
So naturally Jonah is happy right? He was so fearful to deliver the message - but he finally gave in. Now the Lord isn't even going to be angry anymore! But now Jonah is angry... wait, what?! Talk about dramatic. He says to The Lord "Isn't this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity." Okay.... So?? "Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live." Okay... seriously? How old are we?
Is anyone else completely frustrated with Jonah at this point? I mean, first of all, he's angry at God for showing compassion to the most wicked city when they truly made good to change their ways. What Jonah doesn't see is that even though he's not known as wicked and evil like the city of Nineveh, the Lord has been just as gracious to him. They threw him into a raging sea for crying out loud! He should have already been dead, but God provided a miracle unlike anything ever told before and Jonah survives thanks to God's great mercy. The same mercy Jonah was praising at the end of chapter two.
Furthermore, shouldn't he be happy that thanks to his willingness to listen to God a city of people have now been saved? How awesome is that?! That God could deliver a message through one man that saves one hundred and twenty thousand people! Isn't this the point of everything we are taught through His word? To teach others about the love of God and pray that they may seek Him and love Him as well? The more the merrier, right?!
I really don't know what his problem is. However, don't we all know someone like this? You cannot please some people. Not even if you are the Almighty God. Jonah wishing he was dead instead of the Lord having compassion on others? Self-centered DRAMA. Of course God tries to put him in his place by responding "Is it right for you to be angry?" .. I guess I couldn't have said it better myself!
But the story does not end here.. God still is trying to show Jonah His love even though Jonah is being completely ridiculous. Because that's what our Heavenly Father does for us. Jonah seeks out shelter close enough to the city to wait "to see what would happen to the city." So even though Jonah is still in his mood swing God shows grace, making a plant that grew over Jonah's head to provide him shade while he throws his tantrum. Finally, something makes Jonah happy again! [Of course, since it's "All About Jonah!" quick, somebody get this guy his own reality show!]
That is until the next day when God sent a worm to destroy the plant and the sun to scorch Jonah's head until he grew faint! The point God was trying to prove is that there are more important things to care for than a plant. That surely humankind should receive more compassion than this plant. And as a humble reminder, Jonah didn't have anything to do with either the plant or the city prospering or not. This is not about him. This is about God.
But of course, our friend Jonah is still angry and again wishes he were dead. I wonder if at any point God considers just letting him die by the raging sea. But then I realize if He did that, Nineveh wouldn't have been saved. That's the mercy of God. He sees our drama and doesn't stop the lesson.
God says to Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?" Once again, couldn't have said it better myself. Jonah replies, "It is, I'm so angry I wish I were dead."
Really. Super. Frustrating. How can someone who hears from God so clearly not understand a thing God is doing? The final thing the Lord says is "You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend to it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left - and also many animals?"
That's it. That's the final line of this chapter. The story just ends abruptly. God has the last word. We don't know Jonah's response. We don't know what happened to Jonah. He's not found anywhere else in the bible. His ending is a mystery. Maybe God let him die. Maybe God sent him to an island to live by himself for the rest of his life. I'm guessing it was not anything Jonah deserved by my standards. But instead, by God's love, I bet He continued to try to teach Jonah what a great thing this was. So what can we possibly learn from this short story? This quick ending?
God is compassionate.
He is in control, not us.
We do not get to tell Him what to do.
God will not stop pursuing us.
Furthermore, we can't avoid His calling or transfer it to someone else.
We can be angry for His compassion on sinners, but there's a word for that called hypocrisy.
There will be times when we don't understand, but God does.
We should seek understanding, not anger.
Our bad attitude can become an idol that blocks God's love.
Never once did we hear Jonah ask God why He was showing compassion on such an evil city. Perhaps if he asked, God would have told him at that time. Yet, although Jonah didn't ask, God still did a show and tell. He gave a physical example of His spiritual grace.
Jonah's stance became his idol. He would not let go of his anger, no matter how the Lord tried to change his heart. In his own words Jonah proclaimed the one thing that would turn him from God's love. "Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God's love for them." We cannot have hatred in our heart and receive love at the same time. "Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen." 1 John 4:20. Because of Jonah's inability to love the city which repented and turned to God, he could not receive God's love. His anger, jealousy, hatred, and bitterness were literally blocking the beams of light God was trying to shine into him.
Perhaps we're in our own dark place. We can't understand God showing mercy to certain people. Maybe these people have hurt us personally so it leaves our hearts tender and raw. Let's choose not to react like Jonah. Let's choose to ask for discernment. Let us remember the many times God has been gracious to us when we didn't deserve it. Let's not speak so dramatically negative that our story ends abruptly. Let's seek His graciousness in our own lives and be thankful that He is gracious to all sinners - not select sinners. These are our brothers and sisters and anyone who is for the Lord is on our side. We cannot love God until we've removed our negative attitudes towards others. Let us not react like Jonah did but how we would assume Nineveh did. With songs of praise, glory to His Highest, and love for one another.
Because Jonah had it right the first time, "Salvation comes from the Lord."