Bible Experiment Jonah
Let’s just hit this book running because I have a pile to say this week. Buckle up.
‘”The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
I want to play a game with you. I say a word. And you give me the first word that pops into your mind. Ok? I say, “Day!” you say what? I say, “Love!” you say what? Now I say “Jonah!” and you say?
Right. Day/Night. Love/Hate. Jonah/Whale. And while the fish is über in this story… and makes for amazing flannelgraph material. But that isn’t the story I see when I read back through Jonah. Fish. Sure. There’s a fish in this story. The bigger fish in this story is the BUT at verse two of chapter one. BUT!
And what I want to talk about this time around is all the buts in your life. And more importantly, I want to talk about all the times that The Lord has wandered up to you and tried to talk to you… but.
The story of Jonah is extraordinary because it is all about God going to talk to one of the most immoral and unGodly people the earth has ever experienced. The Ninevites were off the charts when it came to immorality. They enjoyed outdoing each other when it came to evil. Oh yeah?! I see your eye-stabbing, and raise you a triple gainer homicide. ‘Because its wickedness has come up before me.’
God was done with the evil. And so, He decided to send them a message. A message, and an opportunity to stop sinning. A message of love, to one of the least lovable cultures on the planet. God was reaching out to this people to let them know that they mattered to Him. But if they didn’t cut it out… He was going to send judgement.
Verse one we get all this. And then the but. This makes no sense… why would a prophet EVER exercise a but with God? I mean? What is He nuts? Jonah knows what God is capable of. Right? He is a prophet after all. He’s seen God work first hand. Jonah isn’t the only book we get a glimpse of the prophet. We also saw him back in 2 Kings, which referred to him as a prophet that ministered to Israel in the days of Jeroboam. And Jesus refers to Jonah as well… right? (“As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”) But I’ll get back to that later. The bigger question right now is, what came after that BUT?
“But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.”
Hahaha. What? He ran from God? If that isn’t the most improbable of all sentences, right? Who runs from God? How is that even possible.
Oh wait. I run from God. Like, all the time.
Are you running from God?
Why would Jonah run from God? Well, it’s simple enough really. Jonah knew His God. And he knew that if he took God’s message to the Ninevites, they would ask forgiveness, they would listen to God… and they would be extended Grace by God. And that was the LAST thing Jonah wanted God to do. He didn’t want the Ninevites to be given the love, the grace, and the forgiveness that he had been given and enjoyed. He knew though how God operated… how forgiving He was… and that these terrible terrible people would be given a chance.
So Jonah books it. He finds a ship. And heads the OPPOSITE direction from Nineveh. Because, something in Jonah’s brain short circuited. He was having none of it. Zero. And God, in his patience. And kindness to Jonah… sends a storm. The sailors on this particular ship flip out. This is a bad bad bad storm, that these serious boat dudes (yeah, I like that too) are totally sure is going to kill them. They are so sure that they stop trying to save the ship and decide to cast lots to try and figure out what idiot on the ship screwed up and got them all killed. And surprise surprise, the lot falls to Jonah. And Jonah goes, yup. It was me. Toss me over. Because when you do, the storm will stop. And you’ll live. And I’ll die. I deserve to die. I’m a dork.
“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”
And the sailors go – “Fair enough. In you go.” Alright, they were kinder than that. They tried rowing before they gave up and chucked the prophet in the drink. But you get what I mean here.
Whale, 3 days. Barf on the shore. Jonah decides he’s been stupid… but not too repentant… he gets up and hikes it into the middle of Nineveh. And there we get the LAMEST Billy Graham message the world has ever seen. Ready for it? Because you might miss it if you aren’t watching closely.
“Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
Mic-drop. (If you read the Hebrew, the word used here at the end of this sentence literally means Mic-Drop. Blam! Ok, it doesn’t. I made that up. But, yeah you get my point.) He said nothing else. Did this really seem like someone that was trying to do exactly what God wanted him to do? Or someone just fulfilling the obligatory bit, and checking it off the list? Well, yeah, Jonah just didn’t want a giant Pterodactyl to fly by next and carry him to Nineveh. Because that was what was going to happen next. I promise you. God is a fairly determined individual when it comes to some things.
But what did the Ninevites do?
“The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.”
Hahah! Jonah was right. They repented. Asked for forgiveness. Better yet? The ‘King of Nineveh’ gets in on it too. Which maybe meant the King of Assyria -Tiglath-Pileser III? Or maybe a better possibility was that it was the Governor over principality of Nineveh under Assyria? (if you want to go down a cool downward spiral on this topic, which I just did, you can read this great paper on the topic. (man am I weird.)) Regardless of who exactly the King of Nineveh was, here’s what he said:
“Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
Who knows? Maybe he’ll relent? That is amazing. This is fantastic. Well, yeah! That is exactly what He wants you to do. To repent. To call on Him. So yeah, He’s going to relent.
Which brings us to the question of Jonah. Have you urgently called on God lately? When was the last time you took stock of the greater picture surrounding you. The creation of the world, your place in it, and your relation to that creator? Well, the creator of the universe has sent me to tell you something, forty more days… and you’ll be overthrown. Ok, so I don’t know the specific will of God in your life. But I can promise you I know His general will for your life. Promise. And it fits into an algorithm that looks something like this:
If x days and if a = 0 then no relenting
X equals the number of days of your life. A equals your repentance. As I have said in almost every book I’ve read so far in the old testament, the Bible is a love story. It is between God and you. And it is His unapologetic love for you that is front and center. He has made a way for you. He has sent Jonah’s into your life, over and over again. Heck, maybe I’m one of them. And they are asking you to repent, draw close to God, and stop the ruse that you are in control of your life. That you are the ‘master of your domain’. I mean, really? What is that?
But the story isn’t over, because even if you do walk closely with God, and even if you are madly in love with your creator, there is another risk here that Jonah slipped into that we have to watch out for. So what did God say: “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” And what is Jonah’s response to this? Oh he’s pissed. He went. He “preached” the message God asked Him to deliver. But oh wow is he mad.
“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry.”
Side note? Generally it’s ill advised to get pissy with God. Need a footnote for this thought? Oh, how about Job? And he wasn’t even really angry. He just asked God why. But here we have Jonah just stomping his feet and throwing a little tantrum. When I think of Jonah in this moment in history… the Ninevites are repenting. everything Jonah foresaw is coming true. I see Jonah looking something like this:
Hehehehe. Planes Trains and Automobiles people. One of the truly great movies of all time. And this is the penultimate scene… wherein it all culminates in this tantrum. Yeah. Jonah is stomping his feet. He’s chucking his suitcase for distance. He’s cursing at any sackcloth wearers getting too close. He’s, in a word, Falling Down. (Another great movie that perfectly illustrates Jonah’s mental state.)
Jonah had preached his sermon and then booked it to the nearest hill to wait and see what God was going to do to Nineveh. Seriously. He was waiting. Hoping to see God turn the city into a smear. And it is while Jonah is realizing that that isn’t going to happen that God says to Jonah, um… “Is it right for you to be angry?” Then God does something weird here. He causes a plant to grow up over Jonah’s makeshift shelter he had stood up. And the plant had given him shade from the super hot sun. But then God made the plant wither. And then Jonah was like… Now I REALLY want to die. I wanted to die before Ninevah repented. Then they repented… and NOW MY SHADE PLANT IS DEAD!! I so want to die. And God is like… Really Jonah? Seriously? You care more about this stupid plant that I made grow… you didn’t even do anything. And now it’s dead and you want to die? And then God says, “Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left.”
Now hear this. For those of us who love God… we have a tendency to high horse an awful lot. But you know what? You were once just as lost as these Ninevites were. You didn’t know your right hand from your left. You had zero clue. And yet, now that God has opened your eyes to the amazing realities of life all around us, you think you are all that. Well guess what? You aren’t. It was God that opened your eyes. It was God that gave you grace and saved you from becoming that smear stain across the landscape. It was God that turned your a = 0 to a = 1. And for you to wish others to not know about this amazing truth is wrong. It is terribly terribly wrong. Not only should you want everyone to know the amazing truth you know, but you should be actively sharing it with others.
And to those of you that stumbled here, and don’t know the truth of the gospel of the Bible… I hate to tell you this, but you don’t know your left hand from your right. But God is calling to you all the same. He cares for you. He loves you. But you need to change your formula to make a = 1. You need to repent and draw close to God. He has been calling to you. Calling to you in the mountains. The Sunsets. The stars. He has created the beauty of this world to proclaim His goodness and His majesty. And to call you to Him.
Jonah is a fantastic story about a dork who refused to do what God wanted him to do. I am a dork. And I regularly refuse to do things that God is calling me to do. And I need to hear the story of Jonah over and over again to remember just how much God loves absolutely everyone. Evil Ninevites. Clueless incompetents. Willfully disobedients. Old senile crazy people. Young innocents. Everyone. God loves you more than you can ever really know. And He’s waiting for you…