I have a confession. Sometimes, I act a lot like Jonah.
Now, I must explain, the Jonah I know today is much different than the one I knew about when I was little. You know, Jonah who runs away from God, gets swallowed by a whale, repents, and goes to Nineveh to preach to the people.
Today, after this sermon, Jonah looks a lot different to me.
Brian Clay was our speaker for the week and he really opened my eyes to the real story of Jonah. The following is somewhat of a recap of a sermon he did about Jonah.
Jonah was kind of a punk. First, he runs away from God, which as we all know is silly since God is everywhere. Silly, Jonah. Then, when a storm comes upon their ship he tells the men to throw him overboard. Sounds like a selfless thing to do, right? Well, when we dig deeper into the consequences of throwing a prophet overboard, we find that because prophets were so important during this time, it was well known that death would come upon anyone who harmed a prophet. Basically, this means Jonah was not only willing to die so he didn't have to go to Ninevah, but he was also willing to let innocent men die for harming a prophet. He could have jumped of the boat, right? But he didn't, he asked the men to throw him over. The men knew that he was a prophet, so they tried to row back, but the storm grew worse and they had no choice but to throw Jonah overboard. Jonah 1:14 says "They cried to the Lord "O Lord, please do not let us die for taking this man's life..." They knew what they were about to do could mean death for them.
After all of this, the sea quiets, and Jonah is swallowed by a giant fish and the men live. Now, this isn't Jiminy Cricket, he didn't sit with a lantern in the belly of the fish. He was swallowed. Yuck.
Now, this is where things get interesting. We were all taught that Jonah repents and the whale nicely coughs him onto shore. Sounds like a nice story, right? But wait, go to your bible and look up Jonah 2:2-10. Once you have it looked up, circle all the I's and Me's in his prayer. Here, I will help you out.
From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God.
2 He said:
In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. 3 You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. 4 I said, 'I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again towards your holy temple.' 5 The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in for ever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God. 7When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. 8Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.10And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.So, usually when someone repents, they say Sorry, Lord, I really messed up, please forgive me, I will do whatever you ask. I just don't see that in Jonah's prayer. I hear a lot about what happened, how he prayed to God, and how he is still bitter towards the Ninevites, even implying that they have already forfeited the grace that could be theirs. Then, get this, the fish VOMITS him onto dry land. Not cough, not deliver, not even spit. He VOMITS. I'm sorry, but this does not seem pleasant to me. I really don't think God was too happy with Jonah, but he was gracious and merciful and gave him a second chance.
At this point, we expect that Jonah would go into the city, willingly, and preach God's grace to them. I mean, he was just shown an enormous amount of grace for being so utterly disobedient. First we need some information. Nineveh is a BIG city, it takes 3 days to travel through. Yet, Jonah walks in, and on the first day (of what should take 3) basically says there is no hope, your all gonna die. Jonah 3:4 "On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed " Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned." Sounds hopeful, right?
Here is the crazy part. Nineveh repents and turns away from their horrible ways (these people were bad people, I mean they sacrificed babies to their false gods kind of bad). God shows them grace and did not bring destruction.
Even crazier is what Jonah does next. He rejoices and the story ends. Wait. No, thats not what happens! He pouts and becomes so angry with God that he even tells God off. I'm sorry, what?! He tells God off. He, acting like a three year old, responds to God by saying he is so angry he could die. Then, wait it gets better, he goes and builds a shelter outside of the city to watch and wait for them to screw up. He wants them to fail. He is so prideful and self righteous that he hopes for their failure.
Even more astounding is what God does next. At this point, I'm fully expecting some righteous anger from God. But what does he do? He gently and patiently teaches Jonah a lesson about grace and love. He provides a vine to shelter Jonah, which makes him happy. Then, has a worm eat it. Not surprisingly, Jonah gets mad and wishes to die again, and then God speaks.
"9 But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?"
"I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die."
10 But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?"We don't get to see Jonah's response, but I'm hoping it was of repentance. I had never read the book of Jonah with this view before and it has opened my eyes so much. I saw God's patience, love, and grace shine through this entire story. God could have easily let Jonah die, and find a different prophet to do His will, one who was obedient. But He didn't, he chose to teach Jonah a lesson. Not only Jonah, but many more, including me.
I got 3 main points from this: 1. When we are disobedient, we look foolish. 2. God has more ways of accomplishing His will, than we do of avoiding it. 3. God is full of grace, compassion, and patience.
I can see Jonah in myself sometimes. I get impatient with God, mad about things that I shouldn't, and run away when I should be obedient. I pout about things not going the way I think they should. Sometimes, I forget how patient and full of mercy God is. I forget that he is often trying to teach us lessons in loving one another, even those who seem unlovable.
I will forever see Jonah in a different light and I'm thankful that God has opened my eyes to see the real story of Jonah and the whale.