Read Jonah 1-4
He didn’t ask for this. But here he was, just on the other side of a nightmare. Well, he thought he was on the other side, but maybe not so much.
He swiped a hand over his bald scalp, slick with sweat.
“Go!” God had told him.
Surely God meant to call someone else. Surely God could not mean he intended to give Nineveh a second chance. Anyone but the people of Nineveh. They took depravity to a whole other level. They made evil look good. They were horrible people; enemies of God. Why this sudden interest in saving them?
Jonah hadn’t bothered to question Almighty God. He knew an argument was pointless, so he just took off—the opposite direction.
It seemed like a good idea at the time?
He figured God would forget about him. God should be able to find someone with a compassionate heart toward these people.
He thought he’d gotten away with it too. From below deck, he was jarred from a sound sleep by the swaying of the boat, the wind, the rain, and the sailors’ panic. He squeezed his eyes shut as though pretending to sleep would will away a squall intense enough to alarm the professionals.
A few of them took issue with tossing him over the boat, but majority and his own insistence won out.
Survival instinct forced him to fight for life in the now calm, but icy cold sea. His limbs flailed, his lungs burned, and he was just about to give up when he saw the looming hulk of a sea monster baring down on him. He drew on adrenaline and fought the current, but he was no match for the giant fish.
He knew it was over this time. He would be chomped to bits; fish bait. Maybe Nineveh wouldn’t have been so bad, he thought as he slid from consciousness.
After three days in the belly of that enormous, stinking beast, he had finally recognized it as the vessel God used to save his life. He’d agreed to do exactly what God asked. “What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD.”
So covered in fish barf, he made the three day circuit around the vast city of Nineveh.
“Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” He just couldn’t stomach the thought of uttering the words, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” No, if he had to do it, he would focus on the doom.
But they believed God. Even the king! The ruler of this wretched nation believed God, repented, and demanded that his entire kingdom do the same.
Jonah had enough. He traipsed to a hill overlooking the city. He’d planned to wait out the destruction of evil from this rickety shelter. He’d hoped to watch God eliminate a blight on the face of the earth. But instead, these heathen were asking for help. “What must we do to be saved?” They wanted to know, and he ground out the answers through clenched teeth.
“I knew you would do this!” He shouted at the sky. “Don’t you know what they have done? You know how awful they are! They mock you and your name and now just because their hearts have changed for what, forty days, you just pretend they never did anything wrong? The king made even the animals put on sackcloth and fast. He doesn’t even know how to repent properly!
This is exactly why I didn’t want to come. I’d rather be dead than to see you forgiving them. I know you to be slow to anger and abounding in love, but with these people aren’t even you taking it a bit too far?”
God’s answer sent him to his knees. “Is it right for you to be angry?” When Jonah thought about it, when he dug deep down into the deepest parts of his heart, the answer he came up with was yes.
Yes! It was very right for him to be angry.
Sun blistered his head and face. He had been through hell and back in the last month or so. Maybe he hadn’t made it back.
When a vine began to grow beside him, he took it as a sign. Had God come around? God offered him shade and Jonah praised him for it. Perhaps he would witness judgment after all.
The shade of the vine made the heat of the day almost bearable. And then, just as quickly as it had sprouted and offered him shade, it withered away and died.
“WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?” Jonah screamed from the hilltop. “Nothing is ever enough for you. You demand my life and when I give it, you repay me with cruelty. Just let me die. Enough of this tug of war!”
“Is it right for you to be angry?” God asked again.
But Jonah was past the point of caring. He laid down and waited to die.
We don’t know what became of Jonah. His time in the belly of the giant fish gets a lot of press, but not so much the dismal non-conclusion of the story.
Jonah reminds me of someone. Me.
On many occasions, I obey so reluctantly, I might as well not obey at all. I forget that it’s not all about me. I forget that life isn’t fair. I act as if my atrocious attitude will change the heart or the will of God.
Like Jonah, I have a choice. I can lay down and die, living my life to the tune of woe is me, or I can change my heart to beat in time with his. It’s not easy. But it’s possible.
Jonah’s pride is tangible in his story. You can hear it in the fish’s gut as he reminds God that he, Jonah, has always been faithful, and he will go to Nineveh even though they have not. You can hear it in his heartless message to the Ninevites. Pride screams though his rant at God and his “thankfulness” for the vine. God explains that he used the plant as an object lesson and Jonah’s silence as the book ends rings of unspoken, un relinquished ego.
What’s easier? To lay down one’s life or one’s pride? For Jonah, his pride was too high a price to pay.
Me? I choose abundant life. Even if it doesn’t look like it’s going my way, someday I will be able to see it his