Belief, but not like Jonah’s belief

Jonah is possibly the worlds’ best-known Bible character story, with an unwilling prophet running from a determined God. There’s a giant fish happy to swallow human flesh, and a massive enemy city with a long and violent history which surprisingly turns in repentance to God. It has the making of a great movie and you can read it all in 4 short chapters of Jonah. Intertwined throughout this story are the extreme attitudes and behaviours which typify humanity. However, for today, it’s the later part of the story that interests me, as we watch God and Jonah both expose their innermost heart affections.

Belief, But Not Like Jonah’s BeliefFrom the outset, the Lord knew how this episode would play out, with nothing taking Him by surprise. Irrespective of Jonah’s belligerent attitude, the Lord remained faithful to His mission for the salvation of sinful Nineveh and the sanctification of a wonky prophet.  Despite Jonah’s’ turbulent start, he did eventually carry through with the evangelistic mission to Nineveh, even though under duress.

Having survived three days and nights in the dark acetic belly of a smelly fish, Jonah is projectile vomited across the beach onto dry land (Jonah 2:10). Having poured out his heart to God in prayer from within the fish’s digestive juices, Jonah is beached with no prophetic response from the Lord (Jonah 2:1-9). Then, Jonah is confronted by the Lord with the same instruction for the second time; “arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you” (Jonah 3:2).

Jonah had the opportunity of a lifetime with the protection of Jehovah. He walks the one-day journey into Nineveh proclaiming the coming judgement (Jonah 3:4). He then witnessed the largest and quickest revival this world has ever seen (Jonah 3:5-9). Yet this displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry” (Jonah 4:1). He moaned, indignant that God acted graciously toward his enemies, as he knew God would (Jonah 4:3). “For I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2). Jonah was one seriously conflicted prophet.

To start with, Jonah’s belief in God somehow permitted deliberate gross disobedience. Yet, he also knew the Lord well enough to accurately predict God’s gracious response to his bloodthirsty enemies living in Nineveh. Jonah’s poisoned conscience empowered such strong prejudice against the Ninevites that God’s grace was dismissed as irrelevant. His distorted sense of justice battled to overrule God’s sovereign mercy, and he thought that was Okay.

Now, the Lord could have responded differently to Jonah’s attitude, but as is typical of our patient God, He suffered long with Jonah in order to teach him the Saviour’s character. When God challenged Jonah’s self-perceived right to be angry, Jonah replied, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die” (Jonah 4:9). Jonah preferred death to helping in the Ninevites salvation. Jonah was more disturbed by the death of the plant which shaded him, than the coming judgement on Nineveh (Jonah 4:6-7).

Jonah was missing the whole point of this mission. God was saying, “I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000…” people (Jonah 4:11). For sure, God was living out His character; “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19).

God’s sovereign mercy is supreme, and it’s not for Jonah, or any of us, to challenge or defy His mercy. Just think of the celebration Jonah could have had with the Ninevites, rejoicing over God’s grace. Unlike Jonah, may our belief in the Lord “rejoice and be glad… May those who love your salvation say evermore, ‘God is great!’” (Psalms 70:4).

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