In-person worship services will be held as scheduled this Sunday. Please use discretion when determining whether roads are safe for your personal travel.
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1 The LORD’s word came to Jonah, Amittai’s son: 2 “Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it, for their evil has come to my attention.”
3 So Jonah got up—to flee to Tarshish from the LORD! He went down to Joppa and found a ship headed for Tarshish. He paid the fare and went aboard to go with them to Tarshish, away from the LORD. 4 But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, so that there was a great storm on the sea; the ship looked like it might be broken to pieces. 5 The sailors were terrified, and each one cried out to his god. They hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to make it lighter.
Now Jonah had gone down into the hold of the vessel to lie down and was deep in sleep. 6 The ship’s officer came and said to him, “How can you possibly be sleeping so deeply? Get up! Call on your god! Perhaps the god will give some thought to us so that we won’t perish.”
7 Meanwhile, the sailors said to each other, “Come on, let’s cast lots so that we might learn who is to blame for this evil that’s happening to us.” They cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 So they said to him, “Tell us, since you’re the cause of this evil happening to us: What do you do and where are you from? What’s your country and of what people are you?”
9 He said to them, “I’m a Hebrew. I worship the LORD, the God of heaven—who made the sea and the dry land.”
10 Then the men were terrified and said to him, “What have you done?” (The men knew that Jonah was fleeing from the LORD, because he had told them.)
11 They said to him, “What will we do about you so that the sea will become calm around us?” (The sea was continuing to rage.)
12 He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea! Then the sea will become calm around you. I know it’s my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”
13 The men rowed to reach dry land, but they couldn’t manage it because the sea continued to rage against them. 14 So they called on the LORD, saying, “Please, LORD, don’t let us perish on account of this man’s life, and don’t blame us for innocent blood! You are the LORD: whatever you want, you can do.” 15 Then they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased its raging. 16 The men worshipped the LORD with a profound reverence; they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made solemn promises.
17 Meanwhile, the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah. Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.
You will read the entire short book of Jonah in the first four days of this week’s GPS. 2 Kings 14:25 referred to a prophet named Jonah, but it didn’t mention any of the events in the book of Jonah. The prophet is clearly not the book’s “hero.” As the story began, he flatly defied God’s call—he set out “to flee to Tarshish from the LORD!” (1:3) “Readers should receive Jonah as an extended metaphor marked by wordplay, suspense, intrabiblical allusions, satire, irony, hyperbole, and humor.” *
Lord Jesus, you may have large, difficult calls for me, or simpler, everyday kinds of callings. Give me a heart that listens and answers “yes” to whatever you call me to. Amen.
If there were Oscars for Bible characters, Jonah would be a strong contender for the “Most Human” award. Jonah is sometimes called the “reluctant prophet.” He paid to go 2500 miles in the wrong direction, lived in a fish for 3 days, and then when he finally went to Nineveh, his preaching left a lot to be desired.
But don’t we all have a Jonah story? I know I do. We have all been busted, we have all tried to talk ourselves out of situations. We have all directly disobeyed what we knew to be God’s will for our lives. We all criticize Jonah for being this way, but Jonah is just like all of us, and I think one of the most relatable things about Jonah is how he feels about the Ninevites.
Jonah didn’t think the Ninevites deserved God’s love. He wanted them to be punished; he wanted them to suffer for all of the hateful and horrible things they said and did. In this way, Jonah is just like all of us. It is so hard for us to forgive people who have hurt us or the people we love. It seems that being worried about what other people are doing and what other people are getting really matters to us—and at the end of the day, we don’t want the people that we don’t like to get good things. We want justice, not mercy, just like Jonah.
This past weekend my social media has been filled with two things: us and them. The people who share my values and beliefs and the people who don’t seem to—and of course the millions of memes that divide us. Any time a major event happens in the country, social media no longer seems safe. I don’t want to see people I like and care about saying things I don’t want them to say. Even though I don’t want to see it and I know it is going to make me upset, I still look. In fact, I pour over post after post, and then I want to post my own angry rants and wait for them to come argue with me so I can really put them in their place. I want to prove they are wrong, and prove I am right, and for them to get what they deserve. It’s absolute insanity. It wrecks my peace for hours. Yet, as much as I might argue, or as much as I fume and fight for what I believe is right, God does not send his wrath down. God loves them, and God asks me to do the same. There is no us and them.
It’s hard to love, but love is the answer, always. That is God’s heart. It was his heart for the Ninevites, and it is still his heart for everyone today—even me when I am wrong and I fall short. He offers ALL of us endless mercy. Jonah really struggled with that, but we don’t have to. We can seek to love and forgive as God loves and forgives us.
Who or what is your Nineveh? Where are you needing to show more mercy and love? Because THAT is how we can change the world.
* James D. Nogalski and Anna E. Sieges, introduction to Jonah in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 1475 OT.
** D. J. Wiseman, article “Nineveh” in The New Bible Dictionary, Third Edition. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, USA, 1996, p. 826.