Lessons from Jonah
Again, what was the book of Jonah about? The guy who enjoyed the fun ride in the whale? Let’s take a quick look and find out. The first 3 verses of Jonah’s book summarize very well most of the whole story:
“Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.“
During a storm he gets thrown into the sea, dies, somehow still gets to say a prayer before, God revives Jonah and speaks to him again, repeating his original words and finally Jonah chooses to go to Nineveh, delivers the message of destruction, the Ninevites repent and God spares them.
Background: Jonah was a Hebrew who feared God. Nineveh was a major city in Assyria. The time: about 770 BC.
Anything that strikes you as unusual about the whale … ah whole story? Why did Jonah refuse to go? The prayer in chapter 2 (after he had been thrown into the sea to die) doesn’t mention anything about his assignment. What is it that God wants Jonah to tell the inhabitants that he would go through such an ordeal? Here is the whole message to Nineveh (Jonah 3:4):
“Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”
Those 8 words don’t sound the least bit compassionate to me! How did the people respond to it? The following verse, Jonah 3:5, reports:
“So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.”
Awesome! But then, why did Jonah get so angry in 4:1-2 although the Ninevites got spared from God’s judgment?
In order to find out, hop with me into my time machine, fasten your seat belt and let’s fast forward from the Book of Jonah year 770 BC to 36° 20' 6" North, 43° 7' 8" East, year 2011 ((you can actually punch that into Google maps!)). We arrived - what do you see? A quick glance at the provided intel reveals that you are in a place called Mosul, Iraq. Key words: Islam, Sunni, radical jihadism (that means terror, bloodshed & violence). One of the most dangerous places on the face of the earth. Now imagine God sends you to such a place to tell the people who terrible things would befall them if they don’t change their way and turn to the living God. How many people would actually go there?! Like Jonah I’d rather cruise the Mediterranean (Tarshish is today’s Spain)! Fear would be a natural response. Was Jonah full of fear? Who were the Assyrians to him? The Assyrians were enemies of the Israelites but it does not mention anywhere that Jonah was afraid. But I can very well imagine that he didn’t want to go because he didn’t want his enemies to hear how to avoid God’s judgment, he simply did not care about them. Eventually he still delivered his message, the Ninevites repented and lived. Sure enough it didn’t make Jonah happy, he got frustrated, even depressed about it! I think Jonah’s attitude had to do with racism & prejudice, that God’s enemies deserve judgment. In 2011 Jonah might say “Homicide bombers should be bombed, not saved”. What do you say in 2011 if God sends you to the Muslims in Iraq? What does God say about the whole matter? God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). And about the Ninevites in particular:
“And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?" (Jonah 4:11 ESV)
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
So, that is “the world” and “whosoever believes” – do the Muslims qualify? IF they believe in the finished work of Jesus Christ as son of God, they most certainly do. Do we like it? That’s not the issue. God loves them! The key verse in Jonah is 4:2b (ESV) :
“I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”
And God does not change (Malachi 3:6).
Again, would you be willing to go…? Would you be willing to do…? Would you be willing to say…? Would you be willing to love…? And all that regardless of fear, racism and prejudice? Jesus said “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” (Matthew 5:44) Later on in the Bible it says “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18a). So, if we love our enemies, we will not fear them – a timeless lesson!
Before the crucifixion Jesus knew what would happen, that’s why he told his friends in John 14:1
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”
We also know from the Bible that a lot of bad stuff will happen in the last days. But God also did let us know the end of the book so that we may know, be comforted and not let our hearts be troubled.
Lord, make me willing, give me courage and give me compassion – Amen!