As we continue to explore the story of Jonah, we looked at this reluctant prophet who tried to block his ears from hearing and heeding God’s call, indeed he tried to ignore it and run in the opposite direction.
Perhaps, we need to be people who echo the prayer of Samuel and say “speak Lord for your servant is listening”? Yes, if we hear his voice we have a choice, do we try and ignore what God is saying and harden our hearts, or do we take that step of faith and say “yes”.
When we admit to hearing God’s voice then we have to face the challenge of our own internal desires whether or not to be disobedient and sinful or obedient and righteous. Too often I fear we try to be disobedient in practice whilst seeking to mask this with righteous rhetoric.
Jonah, inside the belly of the fish, re-commits his life to God, and is restored and trusted afresh with his original commission.
As I pictured this story it reminded me of a self-correcting SatNav where due to God’s faithfulness being more potent that humanities faithlessness, Jonah is returned back to the destination that he should have gone.
Jonah faithfully proclaims the message of repentance and the people respond and repent, turning to God in sack cloth and ashes and begging for mercy and forgiveness. These people whom Jonah had originally written off were in reality fertile soil for God’s message of mercy, grace and transformation.
With our human eyes we often look at people incorrectly, not seeing what God sees, often we find the people most open and fruitful are the people we are in danger of writing off. Indeed, Jonah had assumed that they would reject the message, and now is confronted by their obedience contrasted with his sin.
Yet this is not the end of the story.
The people are spared and saved, just as he himself is spared and saved, and Jonah is angry. He falls asleep under a tree, which withers and dies and Jonah is scorched by the sun, and again Jonah protests to God.
God talks to Jonah and challenges him, Jonah tries to justify his behavior (isn’t that something we all do, rather than confess our sin we seek to justify it, even at times when our actions are unjustifiable?). Jonah said “I knew this was what would happen, after all you are ‘slow to anger and abounding in mercy” (Jonah 4.2).
Often when we are wronged we want justice, but when we do something wrong we want mercy, we are fickle, we too often overlook our transgressions but seek to highlight the transgressions of those around us.
The story reminds me of Jesus’ parable about the man who is spared a great debt by the King and then meets someone who owes him a few pounds and forgets about the grace and mercy he received as he demands payment from his kinsman. Jesus says “judge not lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1-3), reminding us that if we are to take the speck out of the eye of a brother or sisters’ eye we need to first take the log from our own eye (Matthew 7.5).
Yet, it is here that Jonah encounters God’s radical heart of compassion for the people of Ninivah –and for him personally-.
I wonder too often if sometimes we understand God’s instruction but maybe not his heart?
A modern worship song includes the line “Lord, what is on your heart, show me what to do, let me know your will and I will follow you”.
God does not want ‘robotic-servants’ but rather friends that carry his heart and seek to see his will happen, seeking to see in situations “mercy triumphing over judgement” (James 2:13).
Indeed another worship song we sing contains a dangerous prayer “break my heart for what breaks yours… living my life for your Kingdoms cause”.
1) Song “I want to serve the purpose of God in my generation Mark Altrogge.
2) Song. Hosanna (I see the King of Glory). Hillsong.