You can read my first post from Jonah here.
Jonah ran from God’s call. In the end, he does turn around and go. He comes to the end of himself, and God gives him a second chance. Often, in Bible storybooks, this is where the story of Jonah ends, on a happy note, but there is another lesson to learn in the last chapter that is critical for Christians today.
The people of Nineveh repent after hearing the message from God spoken through Jonah. They mourn and fast, broken before the Lord. True to His character, He relents the coming disaster. He shows them kindness and love.
Jonah Builds A Booth
Jonah is angry. Not wanting to believe they are really off the hook, he sits down to watch the destruction he hopes is still coming. Ironically, he makes a booth and sits under it. Israelites made booths every year during the Feast of Booths. This feast was during harvest every year. It was a time to remember God’s faithfulness in bringing them from a land of slavery, reflect on His goodness which fed them on their journey, His mercy that dwelt with them even while they ran after idols, and ultimately led to freedom.
God sees Jonah in his little booth and causes a plant to grow over him, providing more shade from the sun and a barrier to the hot wind. All is well and comfy for Jonah, and he waits to see the show of power that will destroy the people he still hates.
God Makes A Point
In the morning, there is death, but not how Jonah hoped. God sent a worm to destroy the plant. It withered away, and the sun grew hot.
Jonah did nothing to grow the plant; he settled in his booth without it. God sent it out of mercy, but Jonah was angry when He took it away. Angry enough to die—for the second time in this short book.
God asks Jonah, “Do you have a right to pity a plant that you did not work to raise up or make grow. It came up in one night and withered away in one night? But you do not pity a great city in which there are more than 120,000 people who do not know their right hand from their left (meaning they sin in ignorance, unable to discern right from wrong), and also many animals.”
Jonah responds arrogantly, “Yes, I have a right to be angry enough to die”.
The story ends there on a sullen and convicting note.
What Are We Supposed to Learn?
Many messages that come out of Jonah teach that the main lesson of Jonah is, “Obey God at once or you will suffer.” The story supports the thought that God expects us to obey Him, but is obedience the main point? I do not think so.
Jonah eventually did what God asked. He did go to Nineveh and preach throughout the city. If obedience is the crucial issue, shouldn’t everything have been alright between Jonah and God? Yet the story ends with God correcting Jonah because of his heart issues and Jonah refusing to listen to that correction.
I think the main point of Jonah is a call to examine our motives. There are three characteristics Jonah displayed that are common in the American church. Entitlement. Nationalism. Indifference.
The belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges, rights, or special treatment.Oxford Dictionary
During Jonah’s years as a prophet, Israel stood tall among the nations politically. The reign of evil King Jeroboam II saw Israel’s borders expand to their greatest extent since the time of Solomon. This increase of prosperity resulted in a materialistic culture that thrived on injustice to the poor and oppressed.
Jonah’s actions and words tell us that he felt entitled–entitled to the comfort of staying amongst his people, to safety in not sharing a message that may not be received amongst a hostile nation, to salvation because he was born into a chosen people.
Radical patriotism. Identification with one’s nation and support of its interests, to the exclusion of other nations and detriment of the interests of other peoples.Oxford Dictionary
Perhaps back home, Jonah’s friends would call him patriotic. They would celebrate him for wanting the good for his own country. Maybe to enter Nineveh’s territory would cause a problem for his nation? The Israelites believed they were heaven-bound because they were a nation founded on God. (Sound familiar?) Israel was the greatest of all countries. The most Holy. The most deserving.
Jonah probably told himself that it was okay, as he was running from his calling. He could not obey because he had a right to hate the nation and people that opposed his interests.
Lack of sympathy, interest, or concern. Callousness. Detachment. Coolness.Oxford Dictionary
Jonah didn’t care what happened to the Ninevites. He had his reasons to hate them. And because they were valid in the eyes of everyone around him, he saw 120,000+ people as a threat rather than individuals in need of mercy.
Jonah failed to accept that every person, made in the image of God as he was, was of no less value to God than him. He didn’t realize that though they were lost while he had the truth, their deaths were no less important to God.
God’s Opposing Heart
God’s heart was the opposite of Jonah’s in every way. While Jonah’s life pointed forward to the death of Christ and salvation, we see a great contrast between them.
Jonah ran from his calling to preach salvation to the lost. Jesus sweated blood as he said, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
The three days in the fish were a result of Jonah’s disobedience. But Jesus went willingly to the tomb for three dark days.
The ascending from the pit for Jonah was stinking and messy, while Christ rose from the grave victorious and beautiful.
Jonah hated all who were not of his nationality. He felt superior to them and that they were undeserving of God’s mercy. Jesus, the God of the universe, humbled himself as a servant to man because He loved all—no matter background, ethnicity, or nation.
Don’t Miss It
Jonah is not primarily a story of disobedience but a warning to examine our hearts to see if we are of the faith. The title Christian means little Christ.
God’s primary concern is not that we keep all our rights, that our nation is applauded as the best, or for our safety. He will and does sacrifice His people for the good of the lost.
We do not deserve salvation because we were born in America, a Christian nation. We are not entitled to our rights to happiness and life. We, along with all mankind, deserve the opposite. We deserve Hell. Eternal punishment. Sorrow and pain.
But Christ—being rich in mercy, willingly went to the cross for us. For us, and every person, of every nation, on every corner of the earth. If I refuse to show mercy to another or wish for my land to succeed while others fall, I am no better than Jonah.
There are many Jonahs in this generation. Men and women born into privilege grasp the idols of Nationalism and entitlement, indifferent to the suffering of the person at their doorstep.
You see, Jonah saw the idols Nineveh worshiped with disgust, but he was blind to his own. Let that not be us. Open your eyes to see God is no respecter of nations. He loved all and died for all, no matter their nationality.