“From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”
I wondered, maybe only casually, for many years whatever happened to Jonah. There was no response to God’s chastisement of him in chapter 4. No mention of some “come to Jesus” moment when Jonah finally “gets it”. No mention of him doing great things in faith in that Hebraic walk of faith chapter. Just … nothing. We do know what happened to Nineveh, on the other hand. Some 150 years later, Nahum delivers a much different message from Jehovah. No mercy, no compassion, no more second chances. Just utter destruction. Something they did really managed to get on the Almighty’s bad side, you know? Maybe … just maybe it’s that God doesn’t take too well to people slapping Him in the face with His own plan. Nobody knew this better than the Israelites, but only every few generations–you know, between aspostasies? Seems God’s people, and anyone He had on His side for the duration of the abundant blessings and covenants and years of milk and honey eventually forgot WHO buttered their unleavened bread. They eventually forgot WHO was the real one in charge.
Isn’t that what happened to Jonah? Here this mighty prophet of God was, going about his business passing on the word of the Lord to God’s people when his boss gives him a new assignment. He didn’t particularly like that assignment, so he does what any red-blooded American … er, uh, Israelite would do. He runs the other way. Insert providentially-conjured storm, God-appointed fish, and a three-day stay in the Acid Reflux Inn, and poof, Jonah’s a changed man, right? Well, sure, he goes to Nineveh, he tells them God is going to destroy them. He did his job. All’s well with the world, except the evil, mean, wicked, and nasty Ninevites didn’t do what Jonah expected them to do, and neither did the Almighty!
Ok, here’s where it got real for me tonight during our [adult] Bible class. See, I’ve taught this lesson before to kids of varied ages. My own, other people’s kids, no matter. One would think I’d have known this story inside-out and upside-down. I thought I did. Nineveh, the upchucking fish, the sackcloth and ashes, the little shade tree, the worm, the east wind, I had it. And then tonight I got fish-slapped with the one thing I’d somehow managed to glaze over, read past, whatever, for 30-something years. Here it is, but to see it you’ve got to put aside the chapter divisions for a second. God didn’t put those there–man did. Just read these two verses TOGETHER, as they are in order–the last verse of Jonah 3 and the first verse of chapter 4:
“Then God saw their works [speaking of the Ninevites covered in sackcloth and ashes, fasting in repentance and hoping and praying that God shows them mercy, that is], that they turned from their evil way, and God relented from the disaster that he had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.”
Did you catch that? Yes, yes, I know–we’ve all noticed that Jonah was angry that the Ninevites didn’t get obliterated with holy lightning. I know that. The part I had just not made that connection to was what Jonah was REALLY mad about. See, Jonah had forgotten who was calling the shots. He forgot who he worked for; WHOSE message he was bringing. Jonah was mad that God had the audacity to call an audible on the field and change the play! Not too many verses before this, (albeit after a rather lengthy walk across the Assyrian landscape covered in the remains of fish-sick), Jonah had been singing God’s praises for saving his own hide from certain death! And now here he was, telling God that he’d rather die than to live if these foul Ninevites were shown mercy and compassion.
Makes you want to shake him, doesn’t it? What, did he never read that verse in James that I put up at the top? Well … actually, no, he didn’t … that would come just a few hundred years later. HOWEVER … why do you think we’re given the story of Jonah and his Ninevan excursion? We learn a bunch of things from the Old Testament–namely about the character of God. He’s loving, He’s patient, He’s willing to give people second chances … but those Ninevites didn’t just get a second chance because God was having a particularly happy day. God SAW their repentance. He SAW that they’d changed their ways. This is something that isn’t very PC to say. Lots of “fluffy” religionists like to say that “God loves you no matter what, and God doesn’t want us to judge each other, He accepts everyone equally”. Well, not so much. That didn’t come from the Bible. Nineveh got a second chance, but not until they’d repented! And not quite two centuries later, the gig was up when they’d forgotten about that second chance. Don’t take advantage of God’s compassion and mercy; it will eventually come back to bite you. And it could make you into someone like Jonah–hardened against God Himself, simply because you just don’t like the way God sees fit to run His own plan!?
Be careful. Jonah didn’t have the “right” to be angry with God for, well, for being GOD … and neither do we. If God says it, that settles it. Believe it or not, it really doesn’t matter except to your soul. Don’t be a Jonah, and don’t be a forgetful Ninevite. Be the fish. Let God prepare you, let Him use you, even if it means you might have to swallow something rather unpleasant from time to time.
(originally posted on Camped Out On Mt. Never-Rest on October 23, 2013)