Reading through the Minor Prophets section will certainly give you some perspective on life. Some might see it as a lot of doom and gloom, but, remember, when God warns about coming punishment, there is always the implied, “You can always turn and this could be avoided.” Many times, though, people were set in their ways and refused to turn, to repent, and be saved the hassle of the coming trouble.
We get this idea when we read Obadiah, who comes right before Jonah. Obadiah, besides being the shortest book in the Old Testament, also comes across as fairly harsh. There seems to be very little room to maneuver for the people on the receiving end of judgment. It would seem their hearts had become so enmeshed in their way of life that the possibility of repenting had all but disappeared. Which is where Jonah comes in to challenge that idea.
See, Jonah was called to preach judgment to the Ninevites. Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria, a historically notorious country for violence, cruelty, and harsh treatment of its own people and conquered peoples. Assyria had also been the nation to conquer and capture the northern kingdom of Israel – so Judah would be right to fear Assyria, especially later when Assyria showed up on their doorstep. Anyway, Jonah received his call and promptly “noped” right out to the coast to catch a boat to Tarshish. The Bible is almost comical in its threefold repetition of Jonah’s destination, as if to say, “No really, Jonah is dead-set on removing himself from this whole going to Nineveh thing, and don’t try to stop him.” There are times when people can choose to not go with God’s calling… this was not one of those times. God was not taking “no” for an answer.
So a storm comes up, some plot devices happen, and Jonah is tossed overboard and sits inside a sea creature for three days praying. While it is a lovely prayer, it is odd that the idea of an apology or acknowledgment of wrongdoing never come up. It’s as if Jonah recognizes God’s power, but is continuing to hold his heart just out of reach of being softened or changed. God gives Jonah a second chance, and Jonah is vomited out onto shore. Vomited, ya’ll… Ugh.
Jonah walks the length of the city, and the entire city, nay the nation, begins fasting and mourning their behavior and repents. And, well, God relents. See, Jonah’s message wasn’t “turn or burn.” Jonah’s message was, “This place is gonna be toast in a month or so. Good luck!” The Ninevites turned on the off chance that God would relent – and God did.
So why tell this story? Well, there are groups here in America that you probably see as Ninevites: Republicans, Democrats, Northerners, Southerners, Liberals, Conservatives, etc. Are they in need of God’s love and message? Or do you really just want to watch them wallow in whatever destruction you see coming?
At the end of the story, Jonah was mad at God. He was angry because God had relented from allowing destruction to fall on the Ninevites. Jonah was angry at God’s character, revealed at Sinai and in Jesus: “For I know that You are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, renouncing punishment.
How would you react if you found out your “enemies,” or those you see as doomed to destruction had received God’s forgiveness? What would you do if you found out your scope of God’s grace was too narrow? Would you pout like Jonah? Would you refuse to celebrate like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son?
I wonder sometimes if the American church, in particular, really wants to go out and reach the lost. I don’t wonder if it doesn’t secretly revel in its “special” status while watching the world continue on its path. I don’t wonder if that’s a similar attitude the Israelites held before the exile…
How does the way you speak about others model to your children the values of evangelism, grace, mercy, and forgiveness? How does your lifestyle set you apart from the world without removing you from the world? What may you need to repent of in order to extend grace to others?