This weeks reading is the book of Jonah. Most of us have heard the story of Jonah and the whale so often, we can recite it from memory. However, looking closer at the story, the point is more than a rebellious prophet unwilling to obey God. Right off the bat we find that God not only pays attention to the prayers of the Saints, but is aware of the evil going on in the world. The commission of Jonah to go preach was met with resistance and out right rebellion.
Throughout this story we find that God is in control. He sets in motion the “natural” things to accomplish His will. The story is more about the Father’s grace and mercy, than it is about Jonah. Even though Nineveh was wicked, God was compassionate to send a witness to them. The knowledge of Jonah about what God could do, resulted in his running away. Jonah knew that God was compassionate, merciful and gracious. Jonah’s problem was he didn’t want salvation for Nineveh, but judgment. Too often we are like that too. We would rather see the “wicked” get theirs, rather than get mercy. Yet this is ironic because Jonah was the object of God’s mercy, as we are – why shouldn’t we want others to come to know the Lord? Probable because then we have to love those who we love to hate.
In this story we have two groups of “Gentiles” the ship mates and the Ninevites. Gentile people were considered unclean and below the Gospel. So strong is Jonah’s hatred for the city of Nineveh, he would rather die, then preach to them. On the ship we find Jonah taking his ease in the midst of the storm, which God rose up, Jonah is sleeping and the shipmates are crying out to their gods. In 1:6 the cry of the gentiles – “call out to your God, maybe He will have compassion on us that we should not perish. This is repeated by the King of Nineveh – 3:9. The Gentiles were hopeful that Jonah’s God would be merciful on them. Jonah didn’t care about anyone else but himself and his own prejudices. The rebellion of Jonah is come to light, the shipmates ask, How Could You Do This? Still unrepentant, “just throw me in the sea, and all will be okay.” Jonah had no regard for what he was doing to others. 1st a person cannot run from God – He is omnipresence, secondly God is mercy and long-suffering and does not want anyone to perish. Oh that we would be as compassionate about the Lost regardless of how sinful they are and how repulsed we feel about them! Just as God raises up a storm, He APPOINTS a fish to swallow Jonah. This speaks of God’s omnipotence. There is nothing that is not subjected unto His authority. Finally, Jonah prays, weird place to pray, but inside a whale is as good as any I guess. I often thought of 3:1 being an example of God giving 2nd chance, however really, this is God still working out His plan. The plan never changed – go to Nineveh and preach!
Nineveh was a big city of 3 days walk, notice though that Jonah only walked 1/3 of the city [3:4]. He didn’t even walk through the entire city to let all know. Here is God’s love revealed – He will use the meager attempts of obedience to accomplish His will. Just as Jonah feared, the people repented and Nineveh last another 100 years. Rather than be over joyed at the repentance of the people, Jonah still has an attitude against God and the “wicked” Ninevites. The story about the plant that provides relief and then the boiling heat after it withers, exposes the carnality of Jonah. In the end – Jonah the messenger of God cared less for the Lost and more about the plant that provided him shade. The sailors and the Ninevites both call on God for salvation and worship Him for who He is; yet the one most familiar, was “displeased” with God for saving the scoundrels.
I wonder in our time, are those that we would rather see punished, killed or annihilated rather than redeemed by the Grace that we have been recipients of? Jonah preached against the people, not for the people. He only wanted to indict them with the Gospel, not get them redeemed? Are preachers guilty of the same today. Example are, we more prone to preach against homosexuals and drug addicts; adulterers and the like than we are to reach out to them with the Grace and Mercy of God?