Jonah Chapter 1
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Jonah has always been my favorite prophet. I think it may be the ‘parent’ in me. I see in him the disobedient child who lives inside you and me. While all the other prophets seem serious, their behaviors a bit bazaar as they try to warn people to change their ways, Jonah seems less complicated.
Each time I hear this story I remember a moment with my youngest son. He had been naughty-he would not quit teasing his brother. I had finally had enough, and I did something new. While I calmed down, I stood him in the corner at the bottom of our stairs. His nose to the wall, I said, “Now you stand here until you are ready to behave and I’ve had time to cool down,”. I turned, and half-way down the hallway I looked over my shoulder. Our eyes met. He turned away and in a loud voice said, “You can make me stay here…..but you can’t make me like it!!”
This is Jonah. As you listen to his story in the coming weeks you get to know Jonah’s resignation to finally BE in Nineveh as God commanded. But he doesn’t like it at all! Ever.
The first verses give us the command of God to Jonah. “Jonah, you are to go to Ninevah and preach against it so they might turn from their sin.” We are only at verse 3 when we learn Jonah’s response? NO. And he turns and runs the other way
Jonah doesn’t tell us much about Nineveh, but the prophet Nahum tells us Nineveh
- Was guilty of evil plots against God
- Exploited the helpless
- Overcame others with extreme cruelty in war
- Practiced idolatry, prostitution and witchcraft
Nineveh is the capital of Assyria, a nation which Israel has been at odds with deep into their history. They have suffered at the hands of Assyria.
Much of the system the Jews lived by is centered around the idea that God rewards the good and punishes the evil. They held a judgement which we too often hold on to:
- This person-this nation-is not worthy of salvation. We judge them too evil to be saved.
- For Jonah, it would be like asking someone from the Ukraine to witness to Russia.
- Jonah doesn’t want to give Nineveh a saving word, because he would not define them as ‘his people.’
God wants mercy for Nineveh. Jonah wants revenge.
Nineveh is about 500 miles NE of Israel. Jonah runs toward Tarshish, in the opposite direction. Isn’t it interesting to note that Jonah knows very well who God is and God’s character. We’ll discover he knows God is all about mercy and compassion. Jonah does not want that for Nineveh. He wants Nineveh to get what they deserve. He runs.
God responds first by sending the great and violent winds.
As the ship is tossed about on the seas, the sailors are praying to their gods and throwing cargo overboard in hopes making it through the storm. Jonah? He is sleeping below. The sailors wake him-surprised he could be sleeping and ask him to pray to his God, whoever it is, and maybe God will help. Then they turned to the superstition of casting lots to find out WHO was the problem in their midst. God has the dice point to Jonah. Busted!
The crew interrogate Jonah. “Where are you from, what do you do?” Jonah gives his testimony to the crew. “I am a Hebrew. I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, the One who made the sea and the dry land.”
While Jonah doesn’t seem to be afraid, the crew loses it! They are terrified! “What have you done? What can we do to correct this! Your running from God has put us in danger!”
Jonah: “Oh, throw me overboard and the seas will calm.”
Think about that. Is Jonah saying he would rather die than bring salvation to Nineveh? Or does he once again realize that a God of grace and forgiveness could save him?
Still the sailors try to save Jonah and themselves by trying to get to land. But the sea gets even wilder. The sailors pray to the Lord! “Please don’t hold us accountable for killing an innocent man” and with that, they throw Jonah overboard. Instantly the sea calm.
So early in this trip, Jonah’s defiance has brought new believers. The crew offer sacrifices to the Lord and made vows to Him. God uses Jonah’s defiance.
Meanwhile, God has not given up on Jonah. He provides a great fish which swallows Jonah. Jonah is there for 3 days and nights with time to think and pray ……if he will. It is quite a TIME OUT.
When I study Jonah, I can laugh at his defiance. But I want to run from what the prophet’s story says to me. I think have cataracts on my heart! The heart for God is there, inside me. I have known the stories of Jesus from a child. Like a child who knows who is in charge, I still throw my tantrums. I sometimes refuse to love who and what God loves…..time after time.
When God asks that I do something outside my comfort zone, I am quick to point out……”We never did it like that before!” Though I may not get aboard a ship and go in the other direction, I don’t choose to enter into a situation which hasn’t ended well for someone else. ‘Why would things end differently for me? Why would anyone change behaviors or direction because of anything I said.’ It seems it is all about me, and what I perceive as my influence. I do not consider that God has gone before me to prepare hearts. What God is asking me to do may not really be about me at all.
How many times have you heard stories of people who felt God’s presence, yet resisted listening to His call? Doctors, lawyers of integrity…persons who feel unqualified to work needed. Common people who feel unqualified to start up agencies to help others yet who finally give into the….how may pastors have this story. Many have the story of running from God’s direction.
With my cancer diagnosis came a timeline of 9-12 months. I was prepared to die. I left a ministry call I loved, the people, my independent home and purpose. I wasn’t going to do chemos since my mother did not respond well to chemo. My boys convinced me to try. So I entered the treatment process and had very little poor consequence. While my friends called out the miracle of the new life I was given, I was mad at God. I was not interested in a life without all the ministry I had to leave behind. It was much later when I got over my anger and God provided new ministry for me-a ministry I didn’t know existed.
I felt like many people moving into assisted situations. I didn’t want to live with the loss it involved. Running from God can involve refusal to change, instead of acknowledging God beside me and ahead of me.
The nation of Israel were people of God.
We are people of God, but it gives us no place of privilege where we can look down our noses at others or believe they are beyond redemption. It places us in service to others, with God equipping and directing.
Perhaps taking some time in Lent to stand in the corner…..even if we are shouting, “You can make me stand here, but you can’t make me like it,” is a good place to start. A time out. We stand to learn about a merciful God works through us. He didn’t ask whether we like it or not….only asks that we do not run, but obediently serve.
In Jesus’ name. AMEN