“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” Jonah 1:1
We all know the story of “Jonah and the whale”, but Sunday our pastor blew me away with some new info! Okay, so the basics are in the verse above: God told Jonah, “Arise, go to Ninevah…and cry out against it.” As a reader, you think, “Why didn’t he just go?” But then again, we can relate to God asking us to do something and we don’t feel like it…right? What I didn’t know was that the Ninevites were known for being cruel to their enemies; so cruel that they had developed torture as an art form. We’re talking peeling skin off in strips techniques!!! Yikes!!! I’m beginning to side with Jonah on this one! Okay, so he gets on a boat headed in the opposite direction. Someone once explained rebellion to me like this: when you rebel, you are not doing what you want to do, but going directly against what you ought to do. So a rebellious teen just doesn’t do what he wants, but does the opposite of what the rule states. Just as when we adults rebel, we do the opposite of what are supposed to do. When we are angry or stressed, we can rebel against the distress by doing something we aren’t supposed to do. But truly, as we mature, we can see that mostly we just end up hurting ourselves. In the case of following God, it boils down to what we believe about Him. If He is a cosmic bully who wants to be in control, we will likely disobey. If He is a loving Father that truly wants the best for us, then we will follow Him in trust even though we can’t see how it’s going to work out.
Jonah was obviously a believer and follower of God, for God entrusted him to go share the news of the One True God with these wayward people. So what happened? Well, he had to face fear. Fear of going straight into the city of famous serial killers and telling them to repent ! Can you imagine? That would certainly put my faith to the test! So fear won over faith and away Jonah sailed.
God loves us and “them“, enough to make a way. So the ship Jonah’s getaway ship was rocked by giant waves. In order to survive, they were tossing things overboard. They cast lots to see who was the problem…and Jonah won. So they tossed him over and just like that, the waves calmed.
And God saved Jonah too. He sent a “giant fish” to swallow him. And there Jonah had three days to ponder his position in the belly of the fish. And there in his misery, he got right with God and prayed, “The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me…”. And with seaweed wrapped around his head he realized that God was using him to spread God’s love and hope to these wayward people. “Those who pay regard to vain idols, forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I, with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you. “ Jonah was ready to tell these people about his God.
What I didn’t know, that our pastor also shared, is that the people of Ninevah were Assyrians who worshipped dagon, a god who was half man-half fish! So imagine being a people who worshipped a fish-man god and one day a giant fish comes to your beach and throws up a man. You would probably listen to him! God had set Jonah up for success and safety. So listen they did, and Jonah 3:5 tells us “…the people of Ninevah believed God.”
God loves us so much, but sometimes its hard to understand that He loves “them”, too. Who is your “them”? Who would it be hard for you to have compassion on and share God’s love with? The referees making terribly unfair calls at your school’s football game? The other political party? An evil foreigner? The loud person on the airplane? That person that lied to you? The friend who betrayed you? It really matters that we love those God calls us to love…no matter how hard it is. In the end it is harder to be out of His will.
What has God asked you to do? What are you rebelling against? As God asked Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry?” Leave your anger at God’s altar today and leave your enemies to Him. He has a better plan and much more power. What are you afraid of? Whatever it is, may we have wisdom enough to do as Duetronomy 6:13 says and as Jesus reiterated in Matthew 4:10, “”For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.” And remembering Proverbs 9:10, that “The beginning of wisdom is fearing the Lord.” Let’s pray.
Dear amazing God of boundless compassion, we want to stop and praise You for your unceasing love for us. You are the God who takes great care to make sure we know You are the One True God Who loves us. You want a relationship with us. You long to save us from death and bring us into life abundant! You are the God who leaves the 99 sheep in search of the one that is lost. I choose today to realize how much mercy You have had on me. Thank You for saving me and loving me enough to die for me. May I grow to know You as my loving Father Who I can trust with my life. And may I walk confidently in this knowing, and have compassion on others who are not as blessed. May I obey You and fear missing out on Your plan for me more than I fear my own discomfort. You care more for me than could for myself. May I grown into Your likeness and love others more selflessly. Thank You for loving me so steadfastly until I do. I love You, Father. Amen.