That's the Book: Jonah
I thought about writing this post as another bed time story to my daughters. But they already know the story of Jonah and the Whale. I think almost everyone; church goers or not; know this story.
God tells Jonah to go tell the evil people in the neighboring country of Nineveh to repent. Jonah runs away from God's request.
"The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me". But Jonah ran away from the Lord..." Jonah 1:2-3a
Jonah ends up being swallowed by a whale. Odd. But my refusels to obey what God has told me have landed me in some strange circumstances so I relate. Jonah sits through a three day time out in the belly of the whale. Jonah is deposited on a nearby beach. Fairly nasty way to survive drowning.
"And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land." Jonah 3:1-3
Jonah decides to listen to God.
"Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: "Go to the great city of Ninevah and proclaim to it the message I give you. Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh." Jonah 3:1-3
The classic moral we tell our kids is to listen to God the first time and avoid great heartache.
End of Story.
Or is it?
Do you know what happens next?
The people of Ninevah listen to the prophet and repent. And then Jonah gets mad because they don't get punished.
We skip that bit in the bedtime story.
Sometimes when I read a book I flip to the end and read the last chapter and then go back and begin at the start. It drives my husband crazy. He says it ruins the suspense. But I love to know how a story ends up right from the start. I work through the book and watch the characters develop as they drive to the ending. The book of Jonah is one of the times when I think it's helpful. Try reading this book through the lens of Jonah's own confession about why he ran from God.
"When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed 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 are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity." Jonah 3:11- 4:2
Oh my. He didn't run because of fear. He ran because He knew God would likely forgive. These people were the sworn enemies of Israel. Jonah didn't want God's grace for his enemies. So he kept the Word of the Lord to himself. Yikes.
While sitting in the belly of the whale Jonah prays to God. This line shouts out and I want to tell Jonah to pay attention to his own prayer because he's going to need it when he finally hits the city.
"Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God's love for them." Jonah 2:8
Jonah's worthless idol was his bias, fear and hatred of the people of Ninevah. Not that they may not have deserved it. Frequently our anger is truly justified by the violent or unfair actions of others. However. It was still a worthless idol. And the cause of focusing on an idol is to damage ourselves. When I focus on my rights and anger and bitterness I turn from God's love.
My word. I do this. Come on Mindy! Eyes off my pitiful goals and idols and hatred. Turn my eyes to Jesus. It's the only way to get my needs REALLY met.
So from the depths of the whale Jonah promises to obey. And God saves him. Grace. And yet we know cause we read the last chapter....Jonah still gets angry when God gives grace to the people of Nineveh.
Do you watch the news? Anger abounds. From everyone. Politician and pulpits. Poor and Rich. Near and Far. Posturing and pleas. Anger. Dripping, shouting, thick. Yuck. We're so focused on our anger that we are refusing the grace for ourselves that God is extending. God had a question for Jonah that applies to us as well.
"But the Lord replied, "Is it right for you to be angry?" Jonah 4:3
Is it right for you to be angry? Have you been forgiven? I have. I've let people down, I've lied. I've been crass and cruel. But all that is gone because I asked.
What Jonah knew about God is still true. He is gracious and compassionate. Slow to anger. Abounding in love.
Here's the kicker. Want to know where Ninevah would be located on the modern day map? Just outside Mosul in modern-day northern Iraq. My guess is God's grace extends to the people there too.
His grace is for everyone. The people in your family. Even the mean ones. The people in jail. The people on the corner. In the pew and in the bar. God loves them all. What I wonder about my own heart is this. Do I want the good news for everyone? Or do I want some people to never hear the truth? Am I willing to offer words of the opportunity to difficult people, to people I disagree with, to people who hate me? Or do I tend to run and try and escape?
See if you can answer God's question. Is it right for you to be angry? If not, try Jonah's prayer.
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.'" Jonah 2:9
The book of Jonah is not a bed time story for little children. It's a massive, gut wrenching mirror to our own souls. Do you need a time out?
Jonah is so much more than just a children's Sunday School story. Check out The Bible Project's walk through for some new insight.
I love Jesus. I think my two daughters can change the world. I think you can too.
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