I love the book of Jonah, because I, too have tried to run away from God’s demands on my life…..and praise God, like Jonah….God did not give up on me.
Notice all the things “God prepares” in this little book.
It begins with:
Jonah 1:1 “Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “
God had a job for Jonah, his prophet, to do. He had spoken to him before, a word that was sent to help Israel, which he gladly did;…..but now God was going to send him to Nineveh.
Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, Israel’s hated enemy. So when Jonah heard:
Jonah 1:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before Me.”
He did not want to go and ask them to repent, which is what “cry against it” means. Instead he wanted them to be destroyed by God….
….and he thought that if he did not go….they would not repent,…..then they would get destroyed….good and simple.
(The Assyrians were terrible: they were a vicious people. And they were coming into a great power. [Israel was taken into captivity about one hundred years later by them])
And why did he think that they might repent?
Jonah 4:2 “And he prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish:
for I knew that Thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest Thee of the evil.”
Because he knew that God was merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness.
So he ran away from God, not wanting to do His will in this.
It is good for us to consider,….if we say we are the Lord’s servants…..can we pick and choose what we will obey?
Jonah 1:3 “But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”
So into a ship to Tarshish—to the other part of the known world! (It was in Spain)
That would settle that, he thought. No message of repentance, and there would be no repentance. No repentance, and God would destroy Nineveh.
But God was not done with Jonah (all through this book, this back and forth is wonderful to see. God does not give up on His wayward servants!)
Jonah 1:4 “But the Lord sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was likely to be broken.”
God sends a storm that scares even hearty sailors.
So much so, they seek for the reason of the storm—which is Jonah.
Jonah 1:7 “And they said everyone to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.”
So he tells them he is running away from the Lord, the God of heaven, who made land and sea.
So they ask him, What can be done, to quite the storm?
“Throw me overboard.” Was Jonah’s answer.
But they try and bring the ship to land first, but when that failed, they threw Jonah into the sea.
God’s next move was to awaken His servant to the need of mercy….for himself.
(That very mercy he wanted to deny the people of Nineveh.)
Jonah 1:17 “Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”
Three days and three nights Jonah was in the great fish. The darkness, and suffering of smell, touch, and decay around him; was as he said, “…the belly of hell…”.
Spiritual mercy is that kindness of God for sinners, which brings comfort of soul, leading to salvation (Titus 3:5-6).
Jonah 2:7-9 “When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in unto Thee, into thine holy temple.
They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.
But I will sacrifice unto Thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.”
Jonah had wanted to forsake God, and His call. But now he asks God not to forsake him.
Hear his confession: “they that follow the lies of our imaginations and wishes (lying vanities) forsake their own mercy.”
Jonah had “imagined” and “wished” that he could run away from God, because he did not want to do this particular thing.
But at the same time, he knew the Lord was the God of heaven who made land and sea, which could not be run away from.
(How silly we are to listen to our wishful imaginations, when we are trying to “get around” God.)
God hears Jonah’s prayer, and:
Jonah 2:10 “And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry ground.”
God again sends Jonah to Nineveh:
Jonah 3:2 “Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.”
And this time Jonah goes,……and they do repent!
Jonah 3:5 “So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.”
This is so much a miracle: for the people of Nineveh would not have cared about anything a prophet from Israel said…..
But God used the very means, they would have normally despised, to start an awakening.
The word came down from the king of Nineveh…..
Jonah 3:8, 10 “But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn everyone from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hearts.
And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way, and God repented of the evil, that He had said He would do unto them; and He did it not.”
This is a real repentance! “Turn…from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hearts.” And they turned!
Jonah knew God, that He was merciful…..even unto the worst of sinners.
Jonah had gone through several experiences…..but had he learned to give mercy….the mercy he knew God gives….the mercy he, himself had prayed for?
Jonah 4:1 “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.”
Plainly it is hard to give mercy to an old enemy…..even when you know God has forgiven them….
So the Lord showed Jonah another example: God prepared a gourd.
A gourd which miraculously grew up overnight to a large shading place…..large leaves on the vines.
But then God prepared a worm. (God is ever “preparing” things, to teach His children the lessons He has for them.)
And that worm destroyed the gourd. And now Jonah was angry for the loss of the gourd….why would God destroy it, when it gave him shade from the heat?
(As I said, I love the book of Jonah…..he is so inflexible in his attitude….just like me,….just like many of us.
Yet, God is so good, as to take His time and teach…..many times….the same lesson….over and over again!)
When the gourd was gone, God spoke again: “Do you do well to be angry?”
I have found that speaking to people who are angry…..is mostly useless. They do not want to hear, or be reasonable, or to forgive, or to do anything but be angry….
…..but God speaks to Jonah….to bring out from him a response….a petty response…..the same response he gave for a whole city of men, women and children….
….to show Jonah his mind-set. Anger is a terrible emotion.
But it is our mind-set that leads us to be angry.
Jonah 4:9 “….and he (Jonah) said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.”
How ridiculous we sound sometimes!
God is showing Jonah….that he is His servant first…..then an Israelite. As God’s servant, he is to obey, whether he likes the command or not….and he is to accept the decisions of God about his work.
Jonah just lead a great revival, saving thousands of people (and I am thinking of the children first),…..but he was unhappy, because they were Assyrians, Israel’s enemies.
Yet he whines because God destroys his gourd.
How much are we the same way?
Perhaps we do not run away…..but grumble about our calling.
Perhaps we do what the Lord wants….but argue with Him about the outcome.
Perhaps we sit around wondering why God takes from us some little comfort, when we would like to see something taken from others.
I am comforted here, in Jonah, that God has the last word:
It is a exhortation to me,….to all that are His servants….and to all….
….He will have the last Word.
For He will see His Will done…..
….but the question is, for each of us…..what will He have to do to teach us, His Ways?
Jonah 4:11 “And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six score thousand persons that can not discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”
God does not give up on us. He speaks, and speaks again.
And shows us many mercies and many corrections….so that we may learn to enjoy all He is and does.
“Salvation is of the Lord.”
Praise the Lord for that.