Good morning. I hope you are ready for the grand conclusion of the Book of Jonah. Yesterday we left off with the people of Nineveh hoping that God would change his mind about destroying them and their city. We were also wondering about the prophet Jonah's state of mind. Was he hoping for God to be merciful? After all, God did send him to the city to preach. We were told that the people of the city all repented, along with all the animals. Well, let's get right to work.
"When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened." (Jonah 3:10)
Well, this answers one of our questions. Whew! This is proof that God is willing to change his mind. This must also indicate that God realized that their repentance was real. O.K., so I have said that this book is not a book about a fish swallowing a man. It is not a book about a preacher running from his calling to preach. So, is it a book about a wicked city that turns from its evil ways? Well, not really. I would suggest that this is truly a book dealing with an angry prophet.
"But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, 'O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity." (Jonah 4:1-2)
So that's why he ran? So, every time I hear some preacher going on about being like Jonah and running from God I can ask them: "So, you ran because you knew that God would in fact save the people you were to preach to? And, since you knew this, you wanted no part in them being saved?" That is, after all, why Jonah ran. He did not want the city of Nineveh to be spared. Not even after he went there to preach. Not even after they repented. This brings to mind the question: "Do we have a problem with certain folks coming to know the grace and mercy of God?" When we quote John 3:16 I wonder if we really realize that "God so loved the world..." meant that God loves everyone in the world? Jonah wanted these people destroyed.
God had a reputation. Jonah knew this reputation. What was it? He was gracious and compassionate and slow to anger and abounding in love. (Jonah 4:2) Why would Jonah not want these people spared? After all, even Abraham desired to see the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah spared from possible destruction. I hear people making predictions about just how God is going to punish certain people and bring condemnation to them. When disasters strike there are those who make it their business to tell us that the disaster was the judgment of God. *I'm not saying that there is never judgement or condemnation. But, I wonder...are these people the ones who desire to see God's judgment and condemnation. The Bible presents God as being in no hurry to destroy. Yes! That is true! Don't believe me? How long did it take God to send the flood once he decided the world needed destroyed? Then there is Second Peter 3:9 where we read: "He (God) is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (NIV) Let's put this in perspective. Suppose there is a trip planned. The bus is waiting for all the travelers. *I got this idea because I got a trip brochure from a tour company in the mail this morning. Let's say the bus is waiting to take us to the Black Hills of South Dakota. *That was the one trip that grabbed my attention. I've been to the Black Hills already but its been awhile. The bus is filling up. I pull in and load my luggage. I get to my seat and yell to the driver: "O.K., I'm here and in my seat. Put it in gear and let's go!" Now, what would be wrong with that? Well, there may still be others who are on their way. They have paid just like me. I'm only thinking about me. I'm here and that's all that matters. I'm ready! Who cares about the others? They should have already been here! Ahhh! Jonah, is mad. He is mad because of who God is and what God is willing and not willing to do. Can it be that we want God's mercy for ourselves and God's wrath for others? Jonah even wants to die. Really? Yes. Remember, he would have rather died than to go to Nineveh in the first place. There he sits...pouting.
"But the Lord replied, "Have you any right to be angry?" (Jonah 4:4) Hmm...Have you ever considered the question: "Who does heaven belong to?" Oh, I know we often declare "heaven's my home!" We speak about it as though we have ownership of it. But, I would suggest to you that heaven belongs to God. Remember the parable about the workers in the vineyard. (Matthew 20) Some workers worked all day, yet were paid the same as those who worked the last hour of the day. They were angry with the boss. The boss could pay what he declared to be fair. God has the say when it comes to heaven. These people of Nineveh...did Jonah have the right to be angry because God spared them? Jonah makes himself a shelter in the shade in order to have a comfortable place to watch over Nineveh. Who knows? Maybe God will change his mind again and decide to destroy them after all. Of course, this is where God shaded Jonah from the heat by sending a vine. This made Jonah happy. Then, God sent a worm that killed the vine and Jonah was angry again. Again, Jonah just wants to die. This brings God to question Jonah:
'You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow...But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?" (Jonah 4:10-11)
I love the line about the cattle. This is almost as though God inserts a bit of humor. (Remember they covered the cattle with sackcloth) Well, God wants to know how it could be that Jonah could be concerned for a vine, but not a city full of innocent people. And, he wants Jonah to tell him why he (God) should not be concerned for it. With all the killings and attacks we have experienced in our country in the last few years I fear that we have forgotten the horrible day of April 19,1995. On that day Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. There were 168 people killed, including 19 children. One of the pictures that emerged was that of a firefighter carrying the limp and bloodied bodied of a little girl who had died. Timothy McVeigh, who was executed for this crime, was asked about his reasons for such an attack. Of course, it was an attack on the government and their were various reasons why he was angry. But then he was asked about the children. "But, there were children. The children were innocent." Timothy McVeigh's response was bone-chilling: "The children were collateral damage." Were the children collateral damage to Jonah? When so called prophets today declare such events as Hurricane Katrina to be God's wrath causing many people to lose their lives because of some wickedness within the city are they declaring the children who died to be collateral damage? God is asking Jonah for an answer. What about it, Jonah? Should I, the creator, the one who gives life, not be concerned for these little ones who are completely innocent? Tell, me Jonah! Oh, by the way the Hebrew word for merciful is rahum. It is related to rehem which is the word for womb. Rahum is an adjective that is used thirteen times in the Old Testament as a reference to God. Now, there will be some who may not like to know what this word indicates. Are you ready? It is a word that indicates "motherly love." God is saying; "These are my people too. I created these people too. Why are you angry with me for feeling this way?"
One little boy asked a very important question in response to Jonah. My Old Testament professor in seminary (Dr. Lisa Wolfe) shared this story. The little boy asked: "Why would Jonah be angry because God showed grace to these people? After all, didn't God show Jonah this grace first?"
Well, join me tomorrow as we take a quick look at the Book of Micah. -Pastor Rick