-Have you ever heard something that you considered a bad idea and totally rejected it?
-There have been times in my life that I’ve been given instruction by someone or an opinion, and completely put it out of my mind.
-There has also been times when I’ve heard God speaking to me with clarity, and yet I’ve done that same exactly thing.
In this scriptural reflection, we find Jonah, a prophet of God, in quite a pickle. His inclination is to tuck tail and run, and within 4 verses, he has decided his escape route, secured a ticket, boarded ship and left town in the opposite direction.
God hurls a great wind that threatens to tear the ship apart. To hurl is to throw forcefully. This was no still, quiet voice. God was not showing himself a God of peace and safety. I believe in this moment God was angry that Jonah had defied his order. And catch that other innocent lives were put into jeopardy due to one man’s disobedience.
And what does Jonah do? By the end of verse 5, he’s sound asleep at the bottom of the ship. The crew is frantic shouting to their gods, and the captain is beside himself that such peace could be over this man. Immediately lots are cast and it is determined that Jonah is the cause, and now everyone wants to know whom he is and why this is happening.
A prophet, a Jew and on the run. The only cure is to throw Jonah overboard. When they finally give up all hope that human effort can fix the problem, Jonah takes a dip, and a large fish has a seemingly easy meal. I don’t know about you, but 3 days of indigestion doesn’t sound like a pleasant experience to me. Jonah prays, God hears and orders the fish to vomit.
First God hurls, then he orders, and now he relents. Jonah preaches to Nineveh, everyone from the king to the poorest person goes on a fast in sackcloth and ashes, and scripture teaches us that God changed his mind…he had compassion on them.
Now here is where I want to bring this story home. Let’s read Jonah 4, please.
1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
4 But the Lord replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”
5 Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the Lord God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?”
“I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.”
10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”
From the very beginning of this story, Jonah had set in his mind what God was going to do, and that is why he reasoned within himself to run. He could have had in his mind Israel’s own refusal to heed to God’s commands that prompted his ill feelings. He could have questioned God’s willingness to forgive Gentile people. He could have felt like a false prophet, or even as a failed true prophet because he ran. There is definitely something underlying that is not spelled out for us that evoked his emotions in this moment.
Think about it. Scriptures say that 120,000 people who did not know their right from their left were saved, plus the cattle. It is believed that possibly 600,000 people total were spared and submitted to God in this revival of all times.
And here sits Jonah wanting to die because they lived; wanting to die because a worm destroys a plant that he had no control over. Wanting to die!!! For what?
We go about our days thinking about and arguing things that mean nothing in the light of eternity. Our focus sometimes is on matters that are trivial, and yet we give ourselves emotionally and mentally to them with everything within us.
I’ve been here for 7 months now, you’ve possibly sat in that seat, heard an altar call that spoke directly to you, and you didn’t budge. Maybe you’re waiting on me or someone else to be so specific in calling your number that you refuse to move when your heart is stirred.
There are people dying and going to hell. There is work to be done. Jonah looked beyond hundreds of thousands of people to mourn the loss of a weed. He wished to die because they were saved, and he wished to die because a weed withered. You may not wish to die, per-say, but you may be balancing a pencil on the tip of your finger waiting on someone to knock it off so you can retaliate or even leave or walk away from God yourself.
The end of your life’s story could result in the same thing we read here…sudden abruptness. Jonah ends asking the question “Shouldn’t I be concerned about that great city?”
Why run? Adam and Eve ran from God’s presence, and yet came back and fulfilled what God called them to do. Peter ran from Jesus’ presence and wept bitterly, and yet came back and saw thousands saved and healed and delivered. Judas ran from God’s presence and was eternally condemned, as were others…
Why are you running this morning?