So now we've read the book. What do you think? Well I know what I think, and it's something along the lines of wanting to pull a Jonah when I consider the amount of times I've acted like him! Last week we read that our good ol' pal tries to flee from God, ends up in the belly of a great whale, cries out to God in repentance and worship, and we left off with God giving Jonah yet another chance and the whale spits him out onto dry land. Now, this time when God tells Jonah to go, he listens, knowing full well that the belly of a whale is no place he'd like to be again.
So, sweet Nineveh. According to Jonah it was a pretty terrible place. According to everyone else, it was too. This week, I dug into the inter web and found as much dirt on Nineveh as I could. Turns out, common practices included skinning people alive, pulling out their tongues, dragging them by hooks in their noses, chopping off ears and noses of prisoners so that everyone would know where they've been, gouging eyes out, decapitating them, and all sorts of other gory, horrendous things. I don't blame Jonah for trying to flee. That sounds like a terrifying place to be. Plus, Jonah didn't want God to go off and save those people. They were the last ones that deserved grace in his book.
Anyways, he goes, and he tells the people of Nineveh to repent, and they do. Just like that. Probably like the fourth time I read chapter three, I was drawn to verse five:
"And the people of Nineveh believed God..."
Just like that. They just believed that if they didn't make a 180 right then and there that God truly would overthrow their empire in forty days. So they repented. Every single person (and animal) repented. They repent. God Relents. I've been chanting that a lot as I read this story. It seems to be not just a theme of Jonah, but the entire Old Testament. Time and time again, humans flee from God and his grace, they end up in need, they repent, God relents. Over and over again.
So yay! Wahoo! God used Jonah to turn a whole city from their wicked ways to salvation!! It is incredible that God would A. Save those people from certain destruction in the first place and B. Use Jonah to be a part of such mighty work! We would expect Jonah to be extra pumped at this point and that chapter four is all about the parties upon parties he's having with his new friends and the laughter and tears of joy over the repentance of an entire city...but it's not. Instead of rejoicing that an entire people group had turned from sin and pagan worship to worship Yahweh, Jonah throws a fit. He pouts.
"But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “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 a relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
I like that. Jonah's like, "see God?! This is why I didn't wanna come in the first place. I knew you were just gonna save these people. You have no idea how bad they are and they don't even deserve your grace, and I'm so mad at you for this that I would be better off dead than in this situation!!" As much as I want to laugh at Jonah when I read this, it also makes me feel unbelievably foolish because I can't count the number of times I've held the same sort of judgement in my own heart. Seeing someone at church and thinking it's just a show or that there's no way [insert lots of terrible, dumb thoughts here]. I've been Jonah before. I've been the kid pouting under the big leaf in the hot sun. And I've been the kid that can't get out of her own selfish focus for two seconds to see what amazing things my Abba is doing or has done.
I've been Jonah; and I know that I will continue being Jonah and fleeing, or being Jonah and crying out to God, or being Jonah and sharing the truth, and probably more often than not, being Jonah and pouting because my way is a lot better than God's. Therefore, I am thankful that I worship the one true God who is steadfast, sovereign, and seriously full of grace.
I hope that this two week devotion has revealed to you that the book of Jonah is much deeper than just a man and a fish. I pray that we would really examine our hearts as a result and find the areas where we have been running, or prideful, selfish, or bitter, and turn to God in repentance and ultimately worship, trusting that no matter the situation something much more glorious is going on than we care to realize.