I recently studied the book of Jonah with a couple of ladies from our church. I'm entitling this blog Journey through Jonah because this bible study was not just a study to me, it was a journey with God. I just wanted to put down into words some of the things I learned through the life of Jonah and his mission.
When I was in 5th grade I was in the Wizard of Oz play at school. Can you guess which part I played? I was Glenda the good witch! Ha! Even today I still love that movie and enjoy singing songs from it. One of my favorites is "Follow the Yellow Brick Road." Whether we do it on purpose or not, I think that sometimes we as Christians try to chart out our yellow brick road as the path that we are going to take for our life and no matter what comes our way we are going to stay on our little yellow brick road and ask God to conform to our schedule and our plans.
This bible study was about life interruptions that come unexpectedly. These interruptions can be good or bad. Even though we may try to avoid them we just can't. Life is full of them, almost daily at times! How do we react to these interruptions? This is where the journey through Jonah begins. Jonah knew how a life interrupted feels. We can see through his life and the choices he made on what not to do and also what to do. He was the only prophet who ever ran from God! I think we can all learn a lot from him!
We pick up in Chapter 1 of Jonah and find him minding his own business and doing what God had called him to do. He was a prophet to Israel. Now God was calling him to go to Nineveh. I think that Jonah felt like this call was an interruption. He was already comfortable being a prophet right where he was. Why did he need to go somewhere else and especially to Nineveh? Those people were evil! God was calling Jonah to leave behind his own countrymen and preach to his enemies. He placed no value on Nineveh or the Ninevites. God didn't need Jonah to complete His purposes, yet He still chose Jonah to partner with Him on this mission. I think it is neat that when God calls us it means that He has chosen us above everyone else to do what He is asking us to do. We are the ones singled out as His partner for a particular project. I don't know about you but for me that makes me feel really special. I learned that we need to look at the interruptions in our lives as a privilege. I think it will cause us to handle them differently and even look forward to them if we will see these interruptions as a privilege and not a burden. Hey, it's possible! Interruptions have a way of revealing whether we really mean it when we say, "Lord, not my will but Yours be done" or sing "where ever He leads I'll go."
So, getting back to our story. God told Jonah to go. However, Jonah decided to get up and flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and started his journey. Tarshish was in the opposite direction of Nineveh. Nineveh was 500 miles to the east while Tarshish was 2000 miles west. Jonah was trying really hard to get as far away from God as he could. Romans 6:16 says,"Don't you realize that whatever you choose to obey becomes your master? You can choose sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God and receive his approval." The decisions we are making today will impact our tomorrows. Sin does have consequences. For Jonah, his consequences were the men on the ship throwing him overboard and being swallowed by a great big fish! If I had been in Jonah's shoes I don't think I would have advised the men to throw me overboard. In fact, if they decided to throw me overboard on their own they would have had to catch me because I would have been running all over trying to get away from them. It appears that Jonah did not try to fight the correction God allowed. I think he learned that he couldn't escape God and neither can we! The woman who wrote this bible study gave this fish a name which I liked a lot, "Grace." God showed grace to Jonah by supplying this fish to swallow him and carry him to land and then spit him out. God will rescue us out of the pit when we find ourselves in one. It says in Jonah 2:2 that Jonah called out in his distress to the Lord and God answered him. He cried out for help from the depth of Sheol and He heard his voice. How exciting! We serve a God who is waiting to hear from us and He can't wait to respond! I love that! (Sometime look up Isa. 30:18-19) We have all made messes out of our lives when we did what we wanted instead of what God wanted us to do. When this happens we just need to give it to the master and He can make a miracle out of it.
I think it is interesting that the fish took Jonah to Joppa and not closer to Nineveh. In Jonah 3:2 the bible says, "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you." Jonah was spit out at Joppa where he started off on this journey. Then he would have to travel by putting one foot in front of the other obediently to go to Nineveh. I love how God is a God of second chances! Jonah may have thought that he would never be used by God again but God still had plans for him. I'm sure Jonah was still not thrilled to be going to Nineveh but he chose to be obedient anyway. It is also interesting that what God had called Jonah to do had not changed. It was still the same command as in chapter 1, "go to Nineveh." It was at least a 3 day walk to Nineveh. I wonder what Jonah was thinking about during that little journey. God had told him to go to Nineveh and then when he got there he would tell Jonah what to say. Somehow I think Jonah was probably wanting to know ahead of time what exactly he was going to be saying to these people that he disliked so much. Nineveh was the biggest, strongest, and wealthiest city of that day. It was known for its importance and its large size. It was also an extremely evil and corrupt city. I imagine that Jonah wondered if he could really make a difference. I kind of think that he was obedient to what God called him to do but didn't think that it would make a difference in the lives of the Ninevites. He probably thought they were too stubborn to turn from their wicked ways. God told Jonah what to say and he set out through this great city proclaiming that "in 40 days Nineveh will be overthrown!" That is a pretty simple thing to proclaim but it had an overwhelming result. The bible says that the men of Nineveh believed in God. They proclaimed a fast and dressed in sackcloth-from the greatest of them to the least. God had gone before Jonah and prepared the hearts of the Ninevites already. Jonah just needed to be obedient to what God had called him to do and then God did the rest. God worked in their hearts which caused them to repent and turn from their wicked ways.
I love how in chap. 3 vs. 9 it says these two words, "who knows?" It then goes on to say that, "God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish." Too many times I think we doubt and think something may be impossible or that someone can't change because that is how they have been forever. Anything is possible with God!
You would think that Jonah would be happy that all these people repented but he was not. It basically says that next Jonah threw a little temper tantrum(4:1). He still didn't like these people. He didn't want them to change. He wanted them to be destroyed. This was not turning out like he had hoped. God had shown mercy and grace to these people and he was not happy about it. God listened to Jonah and then in a very matter of fact way the Lord said, "Do you have good reason to be angry?" I guess that maybe from a human perspective he may have thought he had a right to be angry. However, we really need to look at things from God's perspective. You see, God had provided a plant to grow up and provide shade for Jonah. Then later he provided a worm to come and eat the plant. Jonah was not happy about that and was uncomfortable because he didn't have any shade. Jonah cared about a plant but God cared about the people. What do we care about? Do we care about people or do we care about our comforts and our plans more?
Back to my analogy of the movie: I love how the Wizard of Oz ends. The bad witch is destroyed and Dorothy clicks her heals together and says "there's no place like home" and then she finds herself back at home with her family. We don't really get to see the ending of Jonah's story. It just kind of stops. Almost like you get to the end of the chapter and you turn the page just knowing there is something else there but then there isn't. We don't know what Jonah did next or where he went. What is important is what we are going to do when we have divine interruptions. Are we going to choose to be obedient and do what God wants us to do? Are we just going to do what we want to do and follow our own path? Will we be willing to seek out the Ninevites in our lives and offer them the same mercy God has extended to us? I hope that we can all answer yes to this last question.
Blessings to you all! We are leaving America on Sat. and will arrive in Zambia on Monday. Please pray for us as we say our good-byes and travel. I guess the next time I write it will be from Zambia!