It Wasn’t About The Whale

Although I mention this in other blog posts, I have to state again that although I grew up in church, attending at least three times a week, but I never read the Bible completely until I was around 27-28 years old.

I could quote a lot of scripture, play hymns on the piano, teach a class with felt boards, repeating what I had learned in countless sermons over the years, but my relationship with Christ wasn’t real and my faith was artificial – compared to what happened to me in 2003.

A friend, who I cannot begin to explain how God has used her in my life, invited me to her church. It was huge. The worship wasn’t out of the Baptist hymnal (although I love those), and they even….raised their hands. It was awkward that first time, but her genuine smile and radiant peace that was a constant glow convinced me to give this church a second visit.

Now, don’t get caught up in denominations, okay?  This is about Jesus, and there weren’t church buildings on every corner in his day with quirky signs out front.

My visit to this church completely changed my life. It was like drinking from the Bibb County Schultz Creek well in the 1980’s when we were hot from riding three-wheelers and the water was crisp, clear and clean. We just scooped it up in our hands and were refreshed from the coolness against our skin.

I could not wait to get to church – a church that was roughly 40 minutes from my house, and I was a single mom with a one-year-old and five-year-old. I had to backtrack from work to my house or daycare, and then drive back in the same direction with car seats, diaper bags, sippy cups after being up since 5am and working until 5pm. But, I was not tired. That time in my life I had energy I didn’t know existed. I even went on Monday night visitations in addition to Sunday morning/evening and Wednesday evening.

The Bible came alive to me and I listened to sermons and podcasts from Adrian Rogers (Love Worth Finding) along with buying sermons on CD from our church bookstore. One of these sets leads me to my story for today. Yes, it took me long enough to get here, as usual, but you have to have the backstory.

Major Messages from the Minor Prophets

This sermon series by Dr. Steve Gaines was like opening that Willy Wonka bar and finding the golden ticket.  I’m not kidding.  First, I had no idea there was a differentiation between prophets in the old testament (Major and Minor), nor did I even know who all of them were. Those minor prophet books are so small you can flip past two or three and not even know they are in your Bible.

Jonah. I almost skipped past this one because everyone knows about Jonah and the whale. But, I really didn’t.  See, the title of that sermon was Jonah: The Vindictive Prophet. What? Vindictive? Didn’t he finally do what God told him to do? So, I start listening and reading.

Quick recap before we get to the ending I never knew about, because most stories stop at Jonah and the whale, then going to Nineveh and the city being spared. The end. God’s plans won’t be thwarted and even if you try and run from Him, he will redirect you with a storm, a great fish, or whatever is necessary. Wait, there’s more!

Chapter 1 

  • God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and “cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before me.” However, Jonah boards a ship and flees to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. Why? Because Jonah did not feel that Nineveh was deserving of God’s forgiveness.

  • The Lord hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a strong storm about the break up the ship. The sailors became afraid and “every man cried to his god.” They cast lots to determine why the calamity struck them and the lot fell on Jonah.
  • Jonah admits he’s running from the Lord and tells them in verse 12 to pick him up and throw him into the sea. The men were hesitant to do this, but they finally agreed asking the Lord to not put innocent blood on them.The sea stopped raging.
  • The Lord appointed a great fish swallow Jonah and he was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.

Chapter 2

  • Jonah prayed to the Lord and repents for for his disobedience.
  • The Lord commanded the fish to spit up Jonah on the dry land.

Chapter 3

  • Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it what I am going to tell you.”
  • Jonah walked through the city and cried out that in forty days Nineveh would be overthrown.
  • Now, the people of Nineveh believed in God, and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them, even the king. He even issued a decree asking for men to earnestly call upon God so that each may turn from his wicked way, and from the violence which is in his hands.
  • Verse 9 says, “Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.”
  • When God saw their deeds and how they turned from their wicked ways, then he declared He would not bring calamity upon the city.

Chapter 4 – Here We Go / The Real Ending

  • “But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry.”
  • What?
  • My Bible notes that Jonah was angry God would have compassion on an enemy of Israel. He wanted God’s goodness to be shown to only Israelites and not to Gentiles.
  • Jonah says in verse 3, “Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.” Although Jonah has just been delivered from death himself (the great fish), he now would prefer to die than see the Ninevites live.
  • Again, what?? Jonah wanted to now die? There’s a lot of that going on with some of the OT prophets, and people think depression or wanting to die is something new, or for people who don’t know the Lord.
  • The Lord said to Jonah, “Do you have a good reason to be angry?”
  • Jonah goes out of the city and made a shelter, and sat in the shade until he would see what would happen to the city. (He is still hoping for the city to be destroyed.)
  • However, the Lord appointed a plant and it grew over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from discomfort. “Jonah was extremely happy about the plant.”
  • I find that last verse very funny.  Jonah was “extremely happy” about the plant?  He’s not happy a whole bunch of people were just saved from God’s wrath, but let him love on this shade tree.
  • The last few verses of the book of Jonah are:

But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered.When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.”

Then God said to Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.”

Then the Lord said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight.Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”

I’ll admit…the last verse was strange to me at first.  There was no other conversation? Jonah was still pouting at the end? Why mention the animals?

Is this book, much like the life of Hosea, simply here to give us an example of how some people proclaiming the name of the Lord don’t really believe everyone deserves it? There are so many life lessons in the book of Jonah.

My Bible commentary says this:

God had the first and last word with Jonah. The commission he gave Jonah displayed His mercy to the Ninevites, and his last word to Jonah emphatically proclaimed that concern for every creature, both man and animal. Not only does the “Lord…preserve man and beast” (Psalm 36:6, 145:16), but He takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but (desires) rather that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11, 18:21-23).

Jonah and his countrymen traditionally rejoiced in God’s special mercies to Israel, but wished only His wrath on their enemies. God here rebukes such hardness and proclaims His gracious benevolence. 

When He said, “did not know their right and left hand,” like small children, the Ninevites needed God’s fatherly compassion.

What is my application from all of this and how did Jonah become a topic of conversation for me this week? Well, God wants me to forgive someone. More than one, actually. And, I don’t want to do it. They are wicked. They don’t deserve it (according to me). Their actions have resulted in so much pain, division, heartache, depression, broken homes, etc., that I just want to see them punished. Yikes, have I become a vindictive prophet?

I have waited under my little shelter, my chewed-up plant, anticipating the fire and brimstone to rain down on my enemies.

Nothing.

Nothing that I can see, anyway.  Maybe God dealt with them in a way that He doesn’t intend for me to know. Perhaps the last four years results in just this blog post, which one day becomes my book, and someone reads it and gains insight from the Lord, or feels at one with me, and my struggles because they are experiencing something similar.

Maybe the Lord needed to remind me that even the most evil people…the murderers, child abusers, sex traffickers, etc., are not exempt from His compassion. Is a murderer in 2017 any different from Saul, the murderer who became Paul, and then went on to write half of the New Testament?

God forgave him so much He even gave him a new name.

Now, the key to all of this is repentance. If Nineveh had not responded to the Lord’s warning the way they did, then they would have been destroyed. How do I know if my enemies have repented? Do I write them a letter saying, “God wants me to forgive you, do you repent, mark Yes or No?”

I am just not that special. God doesn’t owe any explanation to me for His ways, His mercy or His plans (Isaiah 55:8-9).

How many times have I read or heard that forgiving someone doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it keeps their behavior from destroying your heart?

Forgiving someone frees you from any hold they have over your life by their actions, and turns the situation over the Lord for Him to deal with.

That verse…the one about praying for your enemies and for those that persecute you…that’s real. Oh, but like Jonah we don’t want to do it because we think some people just do not deserve it.

I do not know how God’s decisions and modern day law/judgments tie in together, and when you should fight a battle on earth with pen and paper, or let it go.

I do know that everyone deserves God’s mercy and salvation, even me, whose sin nailed Jesus to the cross just like the sins committed against me and my family.

I wish I knew what happened to Jonah. Did he walk away kicking rocks and muttering under his breath? Did he see the error of his ways? Did he ever proclaim God’s word to anyone else?

There were books in the 80’s where you could choose your ending. Different selections changed the story, you’d flip the book around or skip to a different chapter.

The book of Jonah is like that for us. We can choose our own ending. Do we accept God will extend His grace to everyone, even the most wicked, and then rejoice that those people repented and were forgiven? Or do we let a root of bitterness take over when justice and evil aren’t addressed in the here and now?

For those that don’t repent, their choice of a story ending is far worse than anything we could wish for them on earth. And God has made it clear that He doesn’t want anyone to perish, but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

Where will He send us to share that message, and will we go?

To be continued.

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