My heart is broken right now. For the lost. Over 4 Billion of them. Hundreds of them on my campus. One of them is a close friend. What am I doing about it?
I read a quote today by Elizabeth Elliot, as I wrote in my journal about this brokenness. After I closed my journal, as I laid my head down to catch up on some sleep, my to-do list jumped to my mind, particularly this blog. And a scary thought entered my head.
I’m heartbroken, yes. But how often do I run away, just like Jonah did? So, let’s get right to it.
Jonah, part 1–The Story. (How about you go follow along in your Bible?)
Backstory: 2 Kings 14:23-27
Jonah lived during the time of Jeroboam the 2nd, who reigned in Israel, the northern Kingdom (Judah was the southern Kingdom, whose northern border was at Jerusalem). Jeroboam was an evil King. He did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord. And yet God did many great things for Israel during his reign. Jonah saw God’s goodness despite evil intentions. And he would see it again.
Amos was another prophet, just like Jonah, living in the same time as Jonah. He predicted that Assyria was soon to capture Israel (and they would).
So, the Word of the Lord came to Jonah, telling him to go to Nineveh and preach to them. Guess where Nineveh is? ASSYRIA. The same place about to destroy Jonah’s home. Hmm. How do you think he felt about going to preach to his enemies? Obviously not very good, considering his next move.
Jonah flees, the total opposite direction. To an island. On the way, God appoints a storm. Jonah is asleep (how he is, I do not know), while the rest of the men on the boat are freaking out and calling upon many different false gods. They come and wake Jonah, and tell him to call upon his God. Then they cast lots (ever drawn straws?) to see who is brought this trouble upon them. Jonah pulls the shortest straw. They ask him, “What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” Jonah replies, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of Heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” And he told them he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord.
He tells them that it is his fault, and if they would just throw him into the sea, the sea will quiet down. But they showed him mercy, trying to row back to land; but it didn’t work. And they began to pray to the one true God, and threw Jonah into the sea. The sea calmed. And the word says this, “Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.” Despite Jonah’s disobedience, these men came to know and have a relationship with God. Awesome.
Then the Lord appoints a great fish (not a whale, guys, sorry to ruin the felt board illustrations) to swallow him up. What a picture of mercy. After 3 days & 3 nights, then it says Jonah prayed to the Lord. Jonah prays a beautiful prayer (read it for yourself), and God makes the fish vomit Jonah up. Gross, I know, but again, a picture of mercy.
Then Jonah hears God say again to go to Nineveh and preach to them. And Jonah goes.
Now, the word gives us an idea of just how big Nineveh is. It takes 3 whole days to walk through it. And then Jonah begans to preach. He walks for a day (so, he speaks to 1/3 of the city) and says, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” That is eight words in english. In the original Hebrew, though, it is 5 words. 5. Only 5. How many words are in a sermon these days? I don’t think I want to know! But really. 5 measly words. And yet, look at the next verse. “And the people of Nineveh believed God.” Wow. Really? And it doesn’t end there, they repented. They got before God with nothing, in sackcloth and ashes. Even the King did this. He issued a fast. And that everyone would cry out to God and maybe He would relent.
And God did relent of the diaster. And Jonah’s reaction was not pretty.
“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly.” This displeasure was not just like Jonah didn’t like God’s decision, it was like “It was exceedingly EVIL to Jonah.” God’s actions = evil? What? Not true, yet Jonah feels this way.
So he begins to pray and says, this is what I knew would happen. This is why I didn’t come, this is why I fled. I did not want this. I want my enemies destroyed, not given mercy! But I knew you would do this–because You are a God of mercy and you are slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. So, I want to die. I would rather die than deal with this craziness.
God’s reply is almost funny, “Do you do well to be angry?” What justifies (makes it ok/makes right) your anger?
Jonah doesn’t answer. Instead, he goes out of the city, sat on the outskirts of it, and set up a tent. He’s hot–both in anger and physically. Now God once again shows Jonah mercy, by appointing a plant to keep his head in the shade. Jonah was very happy about this plant. But God then appointed a worm to kill the plant. Then God appointed an east wind–which would have been very, very hot, as the desert is to the east–and the sun beat down upon Jonah. He was faint because of this (not wanting to go get a drink inside the city? I wonder). And once again Jonah was angry and asked again that he might die. Because of a plant’s death?!
God’s reply is the same, except more specific, “Do you do well to be angry at the plant?”
Jonah says yes, I want to die.
And God snapped. Not really! But he does kinda chew Jonah out…
“You feel sorry about this plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quick, by My word. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals (referring back to Jonah’s concern that a plant–something that cannot obtain salvation); should I not spare this great city?”
And it ends with that question. And to me it speaks volumes. Because this book is not focused on Jonah’s disobedience and anger–it is focused on God’s heart. His merciful, abounding in love, slow to be angry heart. We’ve seen it played out in this true story. So, the question echoing through time to us is… How do I respond to God’s heart?
*Upcoming posts about Jonah*
(A) Jonah: The Application–God’s Heart.
(B) Jonah: The Application–My Response.
(C) Jonah and Jesus