Sunday, August 22, 2010

Jonah Moments

I have always been quite intrigued by the Book of Jonah. The Bible doesn’t elaborate on any other time Jonah must have surely gone to speak for the Lord as a prophet. Instead, it focuses on this one account. God doesn't do anything without a purpose so the fact that He included only this account tells me something - that we should pay attention to what His Word says about it. I find I take away several great truths from this and I find that I relate to Jonah. A lot.

Remember Jonah? He headed straight outta dodge when God told him to go to Nineveh; the Lord said north and he headed south. This is what I call a Jonah Moment: Running from God (Jonah 1:3). Nineveh was a wicked, pagan city. And God actually told Jonah that he wanted him to go and preach against the city because its wickedness had come up before Him (Jonah 1:2). But Jonah did not want to do it.

In his attempt to run from God, Jonah ends up drawing some innocent people into his escapade. This is Jonah Moment #2: He drug other people into his stuff. He fled by hopping on board a ship en route to Tarshish; the opposite direction of Nineveh. But Jonah couldn’t hide from the Lord nor can any of us for that matter. The Bible tells us that a great storm arose and it got pret-ty rough. Jonah fessed up and told the crew if they threw him overboard into the sea the storm would calm down. And that’s exactly what happened.

What took place next, though, sounds like it came straight out of a movie line from the SyFy channel. “But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17). So Jonah had to spend some time in the belly of the whale. Literally. This is what I call Jonah Moment #3: Getting a new perspective. I imagine that was a dank, dark, lonely and stinky place to be. Isn’t that always how it feels when we’ve run from God? Maybe spending some time in the proverbial belly of the whale is necessary for all of us on occasion.

It was there, deep inside the bowels of that great fish, that Jonah started praying. Amidst proclamations of God’s faithfulness and goodness, Jonah told the Lord he would make good on what he had vowed. I assume that meant the vow he'd made as a prophet to speak for the Lord to whomever He instructed. And that meant going to Nineveh. This is Jonah Moment #4: Crying out to God in the middle of a self-made mess. And it was at this that God commanded the whale to spit Jonah up. His rebellion and reluctance had put him there but his repentance had moved the Lord to bring him out. Little did Jonah know, this was a reflection of what was about to occur with the Ninevites.

The prophet hauls it to Nineveh and delivers the Word of the Lord. I’ll paraphrase – In forty more days your city is burnt toast! But the oddest thing happened. The Ninevites believed Jonah. When word reached the King, he covered himself in sackcloth and made a citywide decree for everyone, including all of their animals, to fast from all food and drink, give up their evil ways, and urgently call upon God to forgive them. And God saw their sincere desire to repent and He had compassion on them and relented from bringing destruction (Jonah 3).

This, however, did not set too well with Jonah. He had yet another “moment.” He got angry and copped an attitude with God. He told the Lord this was the very reason why he took off in the first place; that it was just like Him to be so gracious and compassionate and hold back from giving those wicked people what they deserved. He then asked the Lord to take his life because it would be better for him to die than live (Jonah 4:1-3). Clearly, this is Jonah Moment #5: Getting offended at God for forgiving people he didn't think deserved it.

Talk about drama. But I’ll admit; I can see myself in Jonah. There have been times I have had my “Jonah moments” with God too. I’m quite sure we all have. Like those times when we've run away from what He wanted us to do, trying to avoid it; the times we've not understood why He does what He does and feeling the need to tell Him about it; the times we've questioned why He changed His mind about a person, or a group of people, who we thought weren't particularly deserving of His mercy. Honestly, there have been times that I rather wanted God to sock it to ‘em; so to speak. Yet in His great love and mercy He relented when He saw a true heart change take place. And that was really what He was looking for all along. It's what He always desires. So it was with the Ninevites.

God’s reply back to Jonah cut straight to the heart, “Have you any right to be angry?" (Jonah 4:4) Still, Jonah marched off outside the city and found a place to sit and watch what would happen.

An interesting thing took place between God and Jonah. The Lord caused a vine to grow in order to give Jonah shade. This made him happy. God was concerned for Jonah too but He was more concerned about the spiritual matters at hand. So He later sent a worm along to chew on the vine, which caused it to wither and die. The sun came up the next day and Jonah, now without the vine, got scorched by the heat. Yet again he was outraged and wanted to die. And yet again he told the Lord as much.

Jonah just couldn't see it. He was angry. Angry enough to die. Again. Except this time it was about the vine. This is Jonah Moment #6: Still pouting and angry about the same thing only different. And again, God said to Jonah,“Have you any right to be angry about the vine?”

But this is where my heart really gets drawn in.

The last two verses in Jonah say, “But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?’” Jonah 4:10-11

This tells me something about God and His incredible, boundless love for people. God pursued Jonah just as He was pursuing Nineveh through Jonah. And love was at the root of His pursuit. God's love is unconditional and we, in our humanness, cannot always understand it.

God had created the Ninevites just as He had created Jonah and the Israelites. The Israelites knew the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Ninevites did not. God wanted to give them the opportunity to turn to Him just as He had done time and time again for Israel. And just as He had done for Jonah.

Much like a concerned father steps in to help and give guidance when one of his children is struggling, so does God the Father step in when we, or even someone who doesn't know Him, are cluelessly wondering off in the wrong direction. He wants to give us an opportunity to turn to Him; no matter what we've done.

In all of Jonah's "moments," I can see we're a lot like him - very human. But I also see through his account that God is a God of tremendous love and compassion; that He is a God of second chances. Don't know about you but I'm very glad about that one.

I see that He's a God who is truly concerned about people and He takes into account the hearts of mankind. I also see that God cannot tolerate ongoing sin. However, He will deal justly and righteously with people.

Whether you're a prophet on the run or a city immersed in wickedness, God will always do what is just and right.

~ Michelle

Copyright © 2010 Michelle Holderman

Jonah: A Veggietales Movie Music Video
"In the Belly of the Whale" by Newsboys

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