OF ALL THE THINGS THAT WILL MAKE A PERSON PRAY
I'm a little late today with the post, but I'm glad to be back in the office. I had to run to (or drive) the district office this morning and run a few other errands for the office. I hope you are well. Today, we will return to the Book of Jonah. Yesterday, we left Jonah in the belly of the whale. With waves above him and weeds below him, Jonah slept for three days and three nights on a foam blubber mattress. Chapter two deals with the prayer of Jonah.
"Then Jonah prayed to the Lord hid God from the belly of the fish, saying, 'I called to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas and the flood surrounded me..." (Jonah 2:1-3a NRSV)
Oh the things that will bring a man to pray! Remember, he would not call upon God while on the ship. He would have rather died than go to Nineveh as God wanted him to do. But, now he prays. He prays from the belly of the fish. God hears him from the fish's belly. But, it's the words of Jonah that I find interesting. Look closely at the words of this passage. When Jonah says "I called to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me..." where was Jonah? Yes, he was still in the belly of the whale. He had not yet been delivered. Yet, he prays as though he has already been delivered. What does this indicate? Hmm...Question: "Was the fish an instrument of God's judgement or an instrument of deliverance?" Oh, I know the story that we have told and heard for ages, but which one was it? Had Jonah gone to his death before the fish came along? (sheol is a Hebrew word for place of death) Did the fish rescue Jonah? Think about what Jonah is saying. Jonah said: "As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord..." (Jonah 2:7 NRSV) Well, Jonah finally decided that death instead of obeying the Lord was not such a good thing. He vows: "But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I vowed I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the Lord!" (Jonah 2:9) So, is Jonah agreeing to do what God asked him to do? Hmm...remember these words of Jonah as the story continues.
There's something else interesting about Jonah's prayer. He stated: "Those who worship vain idols forsake their true loyalty." (Jonah 2:8) Umm...really Jonah? Jonah vows to make a proper sacrifice upon his return. If you remember, the Gentile sailors in the ship have already made a sacrificial vow to the Lord. (I:16) Well, the Lord heard Jonah's prayer and "the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land." (Jonah 2:10) In other words the fish vomited Jonah up. I sure hope Jonah bathed before going around people.
"The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 'Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you." (Jonah 3:1-2, NRSV) Oh, my goodness! Notice, God tells Jonah to "get up." Now, the temptation here is to assume that this happened immediately after Jonah was spit up by the fish. But, I don't know that we can assume that. The Bible doesn't use the word "immediately" in this case as though it wanted us to be clear on the time line. Perhaps days, or weeks, or longer have gone by. I would suggest that some time has passed. Notice Jonah's position. If God tells him to get up, and if this is some time later, what is Jonah doing? He's sitting, or laying down. (Keep this in mind for later) I would suggest that once Jonah was free and clear from the fish, he didn't get in any hurry to do as he promised. After all, God says to Jonah, "Get up!" When my wife says to me, "Get up!" she usually uses a tone of voice that indicates that she means business. (And she has tried waking me several times already and she has had enough) Well, we are told that Jonah makes his way to Nineveh. The city is very large as it would take three days to walk across it. (three days also recalls Jonah's three days in the whale's belly) Jonah is a day's walk into the city when he delivers the message. "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" (Jonah 3:4b) That's it! That's his message. Now, we can not hear Jonah's tone of voice when he preaches his message. Perhaps he did it in the style of one television religious personality and proclaimed the message with a smile. Or, maybe he took on a more grumpy tone. Maybe, he even got red in the face, spit as he was talking, and pointed his finger at them, as I've seen some evangelists do. The word "overthrown" here is the same as the verb that describes the overturning of Sodom.
Well, Jonah preached his message and guess what? The people believed God and repented. Wow! What a revival! They even covered the heads of all the animals with sackcloth. (sackcloth and ashes are traditional acts of repentance) This was the second time in this book where a group of Gentiles turned to God. (The sailors on the ship being the first) I wonder if that's a major theme of this book? Oh, I'm starting to think that this book is not about a fish story. Nor, is it a story about a man who ran from his calling to preach. This brings us to a very serious section of the book.
Did these people know that if they repented God would spare them? Well, yes preacher, of course. Umm...guess what! They did not. Jonah, did not preach...'"If you repent of your sins, God in his mercy will forgive you..." No...he just said (paraphrasing) "You're all gonna die!" So, they don't know what God will do, but they repent anyway. This is the amazing thing. They repent without any promise of reward. We know this because they say: "Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish." (Jonah 3:9) Hmm...does God ever change his mind? Oh, when I have asked that question before I get the usual, expected response..."Now, preacher! The Bible says "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever..." God does not change....Praise God!" Friend, God changing and God changing God's mind are two different things. And may I say, we better hope that God changes his mind. Many years ago, and I do mean many, I got into trouble. Now, what did I do to get into trouble? Nothing! I swear I did nothing. I went with my late aunt Betty to her house without telling my parents that I had done so. If I remember correctly there was some misunderstanding as I thought my aunt had told them. My Dad was (as we would say in the Ozarks) "fit to be tied." In other words he "was madder than an old wet hen." (Another one of our terms) He assured me that when he got me home I was going to get the spanking of a lifetime. *My aunt Patricia once told me that my first spanking came when I was one week old. I was doomed. I fretted all the way home over this pending judgment. To my relief, and shock, by the time we arrived home my father had changed his mind. I was spared. Yes, sometimes one changing their mind is a good thing. These people from Nineveh hoped that God would change his mind. I wonder...did Jonah hope the same thing? Tomorrow we will find out.
Blessings! -Pastor Rick