Friday, July 10, 2015

Jonah, Jonah, Jonah....A Commentary

I will not be reviewing this book in this post because it has been several years since I have read it. However, it was through this book, that I first remember encountering the whole story of Jonah.

Bible Class Version:

God tells Jonah to go to Ninevah and tell them to repent.
Jonah says "no", and runs away.
God sends a storm. Jonah is thrown overboard and the storm stops.
Jonah is swallowed by a big fish (or whale if you read the KJV) and prays inside its belly for three days)
Fish pukes Jonah out on shore, Jonah preaches, Ninevah repents.

The End

Then one day I discovered this delightful little children's book, written in rhyme, about a girl who is reading her Bible and is transported back into Jonah's story. Imagine my shock when I read that Jonah wasn't at all happy that Ninevah repented. In fact, he threw a big hissy fit over it!

"Someone has been changing the Bible story," I said disapprovingly, as I put the book back on the shelf. "I'm going to go read the actual story, and then have this heretic book removed from the library!"

Sure enough, when I read the story in the actual Bible for the first time, it said the same thing. After Ninevah repented, Jonah cries out to God,

"O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I KNEW that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live." -- Jonah 4: 2-3

Wow. Seriously, Jonah?

Then Jonah goes outside the city and waits for God to smite them....still. Even though he knows they've repented and God has forgiven them, he's still holding out hope that maybe they'll still get their comeuppance.  They still get a consequence, right? It can't be that easy! Where's the justice?

So while he's sitting there pouting, God gives him a plant to shade his hot little head and Jonah's very happy about it. The next day, God gives the plant to a worm, who attacks the plant and eats it up. THEN he sends a scorching wind and a hot sun to make Jonah even more uncomfortable.

Jonah throws another hissy fit.

"It is better for me to die that to live!" Jonah 4:8

God says, "Seriously?" ["Do you do well to be angry for the plant?" v.9]

Jonah says, "Yes! Seriously!" ["Yes, I do well to be angry. Angry enough to die!" v.9]

He has got to know how ridiculous he's being, right? I mean, it's like having a conversation with an emotional preteen....*looks over shoulder* I mean....what?

"You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 PERSONS who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle." Jonah 4:10-11

Ouch.

Translation: Your perspective is really messed up.

I can sit here all day and judge Jonah for his lack of compliance, his lack of compassion, and his lack of respect....and I would be so guilty of all three. How many times have I known God wanted me to do something and I chose to ignore Him? How many times have I had a difficult time forgiving someone and actually wished for them to get what they deserved? Yes, I have even been guilty of resenting an "outsider" for receiving God's love and compassion through one of His servants.

Wow. I'm a jerk.

Here's what sticks out to me from the story of Jonah:

1.You can't hide from God. Seriously, it doesn't work.

2. Jonah did not want to preach to the Ninevites. Did not want them to repent. Did not want God to forgive them. And yet, HE was the one God chose. And they still repented, and God still forgave them. God can use anybody, even those who don't want to serve Him, to do His will. Never think that He can't use someone with a poor attitude.

3. I love the way God speaks to Jonah throughout this story. Even when Jonah is throwing fits, God is patient with him. Almost as if he is equally concerned with Jonah's character development as he is with Ninevah's repentance. Kind of like a father talking to his son. Actually, it's very similar to the conversation that takes place in Luke 15 between the father of the prodigal son and his older brother,

" But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead and is alive; he was lost and is found ” Luke 15:28-32

God cares about all his people, even the judgemental. He doesn't shun them when they are being the worst version of themselves. He goes after them, and is patient with them while he waits for their heart to change.

I am thankful that I serve a God who makes every effort to bring lost ones back into the fold. I am equally thankful that He is patient with me, when I fail to be a willing servant. I am thankful for Grace.

I would love to hear your thoughts. What stand out to you about the story of Jonah?