Today’s Reading: Jonah
God used many prophets during the reign of kings over Israel and Judah, sending some of his prophets even to the enemy nations to preach repentance. Some prophets went willingly and some struggled to reflect God’s mercy toward sinners. One of those struggling prophets, probably the first one that comes to your mind, was Jonah.
The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.” But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish. – Jonah 1:1-3
Why do we think we can outrun God? Seriously. Why do we think we know what is best? He creates this perfect plan for our lives and we whine, complain and argue that there is a better way. We expect God’s plan to look one way and then there is, what seems to be, a change of plans and we rebel. We were content doing what He had asked us to do, where He had asked us to do it, but now He is moving us to a new ministry, a new job, a new home, a new call. We hope to escape from what He is asking us to do but God pursues us because He loves us!
But the Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. – Jonah 1:4
God stood between Jonah and Jonah’s alternative plan, and God got his attention – not in a quiet whisper but with a violent storm. After trying everything else, the crew on the ship threw Jonah overboard at his suggestion, for all of them knew that Jonah was running from the Lord. God had a plan, God intervened in Jonah’s life and now God had a way to get Jonah back on track. Granted this was probably not the way Jonah would have chosen, but Jonah was the one who was on a side track from the Lord’s will and this new plan was a consequence of Jonah’s own willful disobedience.
Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights. – Jonah 1:17
Jonah recognized God’s intervention and prayed from inside the belly of the fish. Jonah was still not where he wanted to be and still not in a comfortable place in life, yet he knew God was at work and thanked Him for hearing his cry for help. He promised God that he would once more look toward God’s holy temple instead of running the opposite direction.
“I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble,
and he answered me.
I called to you from the land of the dead,
and Lord, you heard me!
You threw me into the ocean depths,
and I sank down to the heart of the sea.
The mighty waters engulfed me;
I was buried beneath YOUR wild and stormy waves.
Then I said, ‘O Lord, you have driven me from your presence.
Yet I will look once more toward your holy Temple.’ – Jonah 2:2-4
The Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach. As Jonah promised, he obediently went to Ninevah and preached a message of judgment on the city of Ninevah. The people, including their king, started fasting and putting on burlap to show how sorry they were for their sins. God again changed the plan on Jonah. He forgave the people of Ninevah and did not destroy the city.
This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.”
The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?” – Jonah 4:1-4
Once again, Jonah whines and complains and even argues with God, because he is not happy with God’s plan. He is more consumed with how this change in plans will make him look, more disappointed that the people will not be punished, than he is thankful for God’s redemption. He goes outside of the city and sits under the shade of a plant to pout but God sends a worm and the plant dies, which angers Jonah. God asks him a very direct question, a question that is good for me today – a question for all of us.
Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”
“Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!”
Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” – Jonah 4:9-11
Oh the heart of a God who loves His creation! Lord, fill us with this same kind of love for others. Bring us to our knees in prayer for those who are lost. Fill our hearts with your mercy. Get our attention. Forgive us when we whine and complain over your plan because we like our plan better. You are Lord and we have no right to be angry with you when we don’t get our way. Bring our hearts to a point of submission – your will, your way, in your time! We love you, Lord. Amen.