Have mercy

But Jonah went out from the city and sat down east of the city. There he made himself a hut and sat under it, in the shade, to see what would happen to the city.

Then the LORD God provided a shrub, and it grew up over Jonah, providing shade for his head and saving him from his misery. Jonah was very happy about the shrub. But God provided a worm the next day at dawn, and it attacked the shrub so that it died. Then as the sun rose God provided a dry east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint. He begged that he might die, saying, “It’s better for me to die than to live.”

God said to Jonah, “Is your anger about the shrub a good thing?”

Jonah said, “Yes, my anger is good—even to the point of death!”

But the LORD said, “You ‘pitied’ the shrub, for which you didn’t work and which you didn’t raise; it grew in a night and perished in a night. Yet for my part, can’t I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than one hundred twenty thousand people who can’t tell their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” Jonah 4:5-10 (Common English Bible)

God took away Jonah's shade and shelter and again, Jonah became suicidal. What a person focuses on, they will become engrossed by. This is why worship is not an event that we go to or do once or twice a week, but it is a place we live in. Everyone has problems that come at them and challenge them. Everyone has good things, blessings, that bring them joy or comfort. God is above our earthly problems and comforts. Both our problems and our comforts can distract us from God and our lifestyle of worshiping God.

Unbelieving believers delude themselves into thinking that they are saved, God-followers; while they themselves live in unbelief and lack of faith and are not really walking with God, but going their own way. We are all in process and becoming more godly and spiritually mature, until the day we die. But, the unbelieving believer is not in their process. So, God prepares circumstances and even disciplinary action to bring the unbelieving believer into the growth process.

God again questions Jonah about his anger. God does not rebuke Jonah directly or demand change, but is reasoning with him; again. God wants to develop Jonah (1). Again, rather than belittling Jonah, God meets him where he is and compares Jonah's pity for the shrub with his own pity on Nineveh. God does not say, "you are so far from where I am in this, that I can't even talk to you". God steps down into his world and finds an object lesson there. God took away his shade plant and blew away his hut, taking away his comforts that he prized so highly, to get his attention.

There is no final word about Jonah changing. God is who God is: merciful. We learn that in Jonah's book. We also learn that God uses deeply flawed vessels: cracked pots. We also learn that God can change His mind. We saw that some prophecies are conditional: the positive word will come to pass if you walk with God, or the negative word will not come to pass if you repent.

Jesus said, "The citizens of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it as guilty, because they changed their hearts and lives in response to Jonah’s preaching. And look, someone greater than Jonah is here." Matthew 12:41 (Common English Bible)

Jonah, the reluctant preacher-prophet, preached a simple and possibly harsh message to Nineveh for only a few days. He did no miracles. He was a stranger to them. He was prejudiced against his audience. Yet, Nineveh responded beautifully and found God. God had mercy on Jonah all along the way and God was merciful with Nineveh.

The assigner of the assignment is more important than the person who receives the assignment. God can use anyone. Jonah teaches us to heed God's call and let God move. The same mercy is good for the "professional" that is good for the "sinner".

Jesus saves.

1. A critical and exegetical commentary on Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi and Jonah,, Volume 23; By Hinckley Gilbert Thomas Mitchell, John Merlin Powis Smith, Julius August Bewer

God provides

Then the LORD God provided a shrub, and it grew up over Jonah, providing shade for his head and saving him from his misery. Jonah was very happy about the shrub. But God provided a worm the next day at dawn, and it attacked the shrub so that it died. Then as the sun rose God provided a dry east wind. Jonah 4:6-8a

Jonah's story tells us that God provides. At moments in the story, we are told that God provided. Here, it is a good thing: a shrub for shade. Then, God provided something that was not good or rather what it did was not good: a worm that killed the shrub and took away Jonah's shade. Then another thing was provided by God that did not feel good: a dry east wind.

Does the Lord provide good and bad weather? Does the Lord provide a good parking spot, on the one hand and a rude person on the other hand, who cuts in front of you? In these instances, Jonah believed that God provided these good and bad happenstance things and here it is written for us.

Does this mean that God provides everything good and bad for us? When Jonah says, "God provided", he is drawing our attention to the fact that God wants to take credit for putting this particular thing in Jonah's path for a purpose. What is the purpose of that thing in regards to the person (Jonah) and God? That is the question.

Earlier in this story, it said that God provided a storm to thwart Jonah. Then God provided a whale to swallow Jonah and save him. In the same way, God also provided the shrub that gave Jonah shade, but then provided a worm that killed the shrub and then God provided a dry wind that was not comforting.

God is active in Jonah's story. At certain points, He provides or prepares things.

God provided comfort and then took away comfort from Jonah. What was God doing?

God's goodness in our lives is to lead us to serve Him and repent, to be thankful and worshipful. Wisdom says to not take good things for granted, but to thank God for them and to come into alignment with God, by repenting of sin and seeking cleansing through God's atoning work in Christ. To those who Christ has not been revealed, just being thankful for the good things is a start.

God provided things that took Jonah's comfort away to get his attention. Maybe he wanted Jonah to ask, "what's happening?" God might have said, "I want you to look to me and listen to me and get you eyes and ears off yourself." In the shade and comfort, in the luxuriating, Jonah might have just been satisfied with himself. God might have preferred a "thank-you", or a "now what". But, perhaps, there was just a carnal pleasure in the simple cool shade and a smug self-satisfaction, as he curiously hoped against hope for Nineveh's destruction. When the comforts were taken away, what will Jonah say and will he pray?

God provides good for his children, but maybe God wants more; as in listening and seeking His face? Perhaps God has to take away our "shade" and "cool place" to get our attention?

*painting by Tenet Worlds

Standing back

But Jonah went out from the city and sat down east of the city. There he made himself a hut and sat under it, in the shade, to see what would happen to the city. Jonah 4:5

Jonah was angry that the Ninevites were repenting. He told God, "it's not fair". God questioned Jonah as to whether he was getting carried away by his anger.

Jonah response was to:
  • Go out from the city. Get away from what God was doing. Detach. Withdraw. Get his space. He didn't run away, but pulled back.
  • He sat down and made himself a hut, for shade. He sought comfort on a perch.
  • Watch and see what would happen. He already knew what was happening.

Jonah did not:

  • Go into the city, to minister to the people. He did not help them connect further with God.
  • Rejoice over Nineveh's repentance and salvation and begin celebrating with them.
  • Proclaim that he was wrong about his prejudices towards Nineveh and repent himself.

We might have neighbors we don't like. We might have people in our city or town we don't like. What if God called us to go tell them the truth about where their life is heading. We may not want to speak to them at all, but when forced, we finally do it, reluctantly and not very compassionately.

Then, what if they respond to the message? What if they respond to God, want to get right with God? What if this is something we never expected? Suddenly, they are our brothers and sisters. This is what Jonah could not believe. The man of God had unbelief.

We can have the good news, be bearers of the light of the kingdom; but also have unbelief. The Ninevites were moving into belief from darkness into light. Jonah also has a challenge to move into a deeper realm of faith. God is even bigger than he knew. This is always the case. We are always growing in our faith and in our knowledge of God. He continually enlarges our capacity for faith and revelation knowledge about Him.

Jonah needed to be and we need to be "life-long learners" about God. It is said by wise people, that the more you know about God, the less you realize you know.

Every single person in the Bible was on a journey where they were called deeper into knowledge of God. Except for Jesus, they all made mistakes, based on their not fully knowing God. From Adam to the last human person mentioned in Revelation. Jonah is right in the middle of all of them. Serving God, but in need of a deeper knowledge of God. This is the case for everyone who walks with God and speaks for God.

"Jesus came to teach us that we have a Father who loves us more than we know. If we could sort this out, we would learn how to treat each other." From an atheist, distilling down what Christianity should be all about, but sadly is not, in his eyes, as he has watched Christians.

"One of the great tragedies in life is that, historically, the Bible gets interpreted by people who are not in love." -Bill Johnson

Have you left your first love? You know what the antidote is, right? Return. Fall in love again.

Jonah's and Yonina's, be encouraged and stand back and see what He will do:

Good King Wenceslas (re-post from 1-3-07)

The Christmas carol "Good King Wenceslas" tells the story of a king who goes out with his page to give alms to a poor man on the day after Christmas. Wenceslas is a real person, born in 907. His father was converted to Christ through the work of two Greek brothers Cyril, known as Constantine; and Methodius in the 860's. These brothers became known as "the apostles to the Slavs". Wenceslas' father died when he was only thirteen and his grandmother, Ludmila, raised him as a Christian. His mother, Drahomira, remained pagan as did his younger brother and arranged Ludmila's murder in 921 and regained control over raising Wenceslas. History is sketchy on what happened during the next 5 years, but when he was 18 years old, he assumed the throne and had his mother exiled. He then promoted Christianity throughout Bohemia. The nobles did not like the Roman influence that they saw coming in through Christianity and plotted to kill Wenceslas with his pagan younger brother, Boleslaus, who murdered him in a brutal manner outside of a church building.

The author of Good King Wenceslas is John Neale (1818-66). He was an English clergyman, hymnologist, scholar, linguist, theologian, and prolific author of over 30 volumes. He won prizes for his poetry. He also wrote the popular carols, "O Come O Come Emmanuel" and "Good Christian Men Rejoice".

He spent his last 20 years of his life as the Warden of Saksville College in Sussex, which was a charitable institution for the aged, at a salary of 27 pounds a year. He had a heart of compassion for the poor, ill, aged, and children. Historians write that his bishop barred him from official duties out of jealousy.

Neale's succinct biography with more references is here.

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath'ring winter fuel

"Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know'st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither."
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather

"Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

Angry man

The LORD responded, “Is your anger a good thing?" Jonah 4:4

God usually does not need information, when he asks questions. He enters our space and seeks to communicate with us. God wants our hearts revealed to us, so he asks us questions to draw us out. God is asking, "is it right (a good thing) for you to be angry that I am a gracious, forgiving, merciful God?"

God gives Jonah a chance to explain how his anger is good or right. Perhaps God is addressing the anger because Jonah did not pass through his anger. The Psalmist and then Apostle Paul echoes, "be angry without sinning", (Psalm 4:4 and Ephesians 4:26). Anger is something we feel, go through, or express; then we move on. What is beneath the anger? Sometimes it is hurt or loss. If this is so, we need to get past the anger and feel the hurt or grieve the loss.

Jonah was angry about what was happening before his eyes in Nineveh. He expressed his anger to God. That was good. Now, it seems, that he isn't moving on to repentance and reconciling himself to God. Jonah has good theology about God. As he feared it would, his theology about God was confirmed as completely correct when God dealt with Nineveh.

Jonah's anger was completely out of line with God: who God is, and God's acts with Nineveh. God was correct, right or true; and Nineveh, who had been all wrong, turned and came into alignment with God through repentance in word and deed. Then God responded to Nineveh and a wonderful thing happened. But then Jonah came out of alignment with God, and so, to mix metaphors, he blew his anger fuse.

Jonah's capacity for God's mercy had "blown a fuse". "I know you are good, but that's too good", Jonah might have said.

God's capacity for mercy should blow ours up. We can only try to grasp that His will and His abilities are so much bigger than ours. God loves the worst people, that we believe or see as "beyond hope". When we judge people as "beyond hope", we're out-of-line.

If we are stuck in anger, living there, rather than just passing through; that is not good. When we feel ripped off or hurt; when we've suffered an injustice, or when we are humiliated by the truth that we were wrong and that makes us angry; we need to move on to grief: grieve it. When we continually tell our story of loss or injustice or humiliation (where we were perhaps wrong), but refuse to do our grief work, that is not good and we are stuck.

What is grief work? Grieving is a process that moves beyond the shock, denial, and anger of loss towards healing, spiritual growth and intimacy with God. We need to have funerals, cry, wail, remember, voice regrets, and receive condolences.

The person that refuses their grief work is a forever angry person. They might not rage all the time, but their anger is simmering below the surface. They have not grieved their losses, so they are angry at everyone all the time. That person is overly critical of everything and everyone. They smile, but there is a lack of joy, because of the undealt with losses.

"It's not fair" prayer

He prayed to the LORD, “Come on, LORD! Wasn’t this precisely my point when I was back in my own land? This is why I fled to Tarshish earlier! I know that you are a merciful and compassionate God, very patient, full of faithful love, and willing not to destroy. At this point, LORD, you may as well take my life from me, because it would be better for me to die than to live.” Jonah 4:2-3

We have here, an angry prayer and a sinful prayer. Recall the prayers that came out of Jonah when he was trapped in darkness, facing a certain death. They seemed so pure, but were they just pious scripture quoting by a man in desperation?
"Anger is a short fit of madness."
It is a bit shocking that he would get angry with God, when something wonderful is happening! What kind of a model is Jonah for someone that God called to the highest level of Old Covenant ministry?

But Jesus does not shy away from Jonah's prophetic preaching ministry, but endorses it. We are seeing here again, that this man is very flawed. God uses cracked pots.

Jonah's prayer is negative intercession. He is interceding against what God is doing. Nineveh has attracted God's mercy. God's mercy is coming to Nineveh. But Jonah is seeking to block it. But he can't block it. So, he lectures God on how this was a mistake.

In these verses we find out the "back story" on what was in Jonah's mind that caused him to flee from God's assignment to him. He knew how good God is and that, given the opportunity, that the Ninevites would respond to God and become God followers and God seekers, like Jonah's own people were; and Jonah did not want that.

Jonah was choosing to forget that all of mankind were created by God and God loves the whole world. Maybe he didn't know this. Jonah wanted to keep God for his own people and let other people groups be damned. Jonah had the delusion that Israel owned God. This would be like a church group that only welcomed their own family members, while the surrounding community and the whole world were not welcome, with the exception of lost family members that lived far away.

As we read Jonah, we have the luxury of the author telling us that God changed his plans for destroying Nineveh. To someone who heard of Jonah's prophecy against Nineveh, that did not come true, Jonah would seem to be a false prophet. Did Jonah fear that his reputation would forever be stained as either a false Prophet or as the Prophet who messed up so bad he helped Israel's enemy find mercy from God?

Jonah reminds me of the older brother in Jesus' parable of the prodigal sons. The older brother was offended by the younger brother's repentance. Sometimes, from our place of spirituality, we unconsciously or consciously view ourselves as superior to "sinners" who are far from God in our view. While we do this, we are actually resisting God's work in our lives, while we busy ourselves with religious activity. When a pagan comes to Christ, lock-stock-and-barrel, no-holds-barred; we are shamed, because we are not following God whole heartily.

Jonah's desire for his own death, while Nineveh is coming to life, is more evidence of his temporary insanity. Jonah was so over committed to an opinion contrary to God, that the only solution, in his mind, is for God to take him out. The man who spoke for God found himself in complete disagreement with God.

Jonah had somewhere confused his thoughts with God's thoughts, his opinion with God's opinion. Preachers, teachers, prophets, and all who speak for God always are vulnerable to giving their opinions as God's truth. They start with God's word, but as they preach on it, their opinion, prejudice, bigotry, sectarianism, and theological bias can pollute the word. Even patriotism can pollute God's word if we allow it to.

The positive side of Jonah's, "it's not fair", reaction to God's mercy is that he prayed to God about it this time. Jonah's anger got the best of him, but he took his thoughts to God in prayer. Jonah's prayer may have been misguided and off-the-wall, but he did go to God in prayer. He did not run or turn his back, but expressed his displeasure. It is better to express ourselves to God when we disagree with God than to run or turn our backs or stonewall.

Like Jonah, we may find out that we have a strong opinion that also involves God's will. When we are shown, by God, that we were wrong; it might be very humiliating. What if we have built our life on what turns out to be a lie? Like with Jonah, good news feels like bad news, because if we were so wrong, we feel bad or ashamed. In our shame, we want to "flip the board" (or flip the bird), on life. We feel like dying, we feel like we are dying; but we are not. God actually cut out a big cancer from our lives, and now we can live. That thing that we thought was a part of us was actually death itself and God just got rid of it. We are confused. Why didn't God take that thing out sooner? Maybe God has been working on that issue for years, but we resisted.

The key for Jonah and each one of us, faced with an eye opening paradigm shift, is prayer. When faced with confusing circumstances and then choosing anger that opened him to the irrational, what did Jonah do? "He prayed to the LORD". It wasn't a model prayer. He was angry and in pride he sinfully told God what he thought, but he prayed. We can pray as well when we are not doing well with God and our circumstances. God will respond. What will God's response be?

Desert Song

Have you been through the desert in your journey? If you are new to your journey, get ready for the desert. If you have been on your journey for any length of time, you have been through several or many deserts. Deserts are a normal, necessary, and useful part of your journey; just as winter is an integral season each year.

Between leaving and arriving is the desert. God invites each one of us to do something better and to be someone better. God knows we are not ready and so He takes us through a desert of discipline to get us ready. In the desert, we ask hard questions. In the desert, we learn new things about God: our consciousness of God is enlarged. We get revelation knowledge. Things we believed in and read in The Book, but never experienced happen for us and to us in the desert. Something is built up inside us that was not there before. Forced out of our former comfortableness, we learned to receive comfort from God.

Death and tranquility exist side by side in the desert. Things die and we find simplicity. We learn about worshiping God in a tabernacle. We learn to feed ourselves on bread from heaven. Our lives are striped down to trusting God for everything.

The desert is designed to strengthen our spirit so that when we come out of the desert, we live more from our spirits.

Those who get it about the benefits of the desert cheer when their desert time comes. To them, it means more time alone with God or time trusting God to build up their inner spirits. Those who have grown from the desert experiences, carry it with them and have learned to retreat into a mini desert to come before God when their lives are busy and demanding. Jesus did this when he left camp to go up in the hills to seek the Father, when it was still dark, and the disciples were sleeping.

In the book of Hosea there is a beautiful word from God to Israel that may apply to his people today:

Therefore, I will charm her,
and bring her into the desert,
and speak tenderly to her heart.
From there I will give her vineyards,
and make the Achor Valley
a door of hope.
There she will respond to me
as in the days of her youth,
like the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.
-Hosea 2:14-15 (CEB)

Angry at God

But Jonah thought this was utterly wrong, and he became angry. -Jonah 4:1

Jonah didn't get it when God changed his mind. Maybe he liked preaching the message of destruction? Maybe he wanted Nineveh to be destroyed. And he was furious when the Nineties repented and God decided to not destroy them.

Have you ever watched something and assumed an outcome, based on your own calculations? We might believe that someone or something is beyond remedy, beyond hope. We might believe someone or something or some situation is too far gone.

God does not think the way we do. Someone may speak for God, but not know God. Someone might know God's acts, but not know God's ways. While God is the judge and judges purely and is completely wise, God also abounds in mercy and has the ability to extend forgiveness beyond beyond the abilities of the human heart.

We are taught simple forgiveness by God as a way of life, but we also have to practice hard forgiveness; forgiving inconceivably: forgiving the unforgivable. The only way to forgive the unforgivable is do it through God.

"But Jonah...", and, "But Steve..."; are footnotes. "But God", is the main course. But God, in the fullness of time sent his Son, his only Son; to die on the cross for all of humanity's sins. That is the "but" that really matters. We made a mess from day one and in Jesus, God came to clean it all up. God paid the debt of all sin at the cross. The only way that we can forgive the unforgivable is to connect with the cross, with the person who died on that cross, who paid for what is humanly unforgivable to be forgiven. Like Jonah, we are not God and can not conceive of God's mercy, but just agree with it when God extends it and we have to work out when that is.

What about when we're angry at God? Can God handle it? Yes, but how we handle it is what we have to watch out for. Pastor James says, "an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness"(James 1:20). Apostle Paul says, "be angry without sinning" (Ephesians 4:26). The first story with anger in it in the Bible, and it was anger that got out of control and caused destruction, is in Genesis, chapter 4:
The LORD was pleased with Abel and his offering, but not with Cain and his offering. This made Cain so angry that he could not hide his feelings.

The LORD said to Cain:

What's wrong with you? Why do you have such an angry look on your face? If you had done the right thing, you would be smiling. But you did the wrong thing, and now sin is waiting to attack you like a lion. Sin wants to destroy you, but don't let it! Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go for a walk." And when they were out in a field, Cain killed him.

The Lord warned Cain that his anger could turn to sin and it did. It didn't have to and neither did Jonah's. It seems that the antidote to anger's destruction for the believer is to lean into and onto God. What if you've got your anger in one hand. Take the other hand and reach out to God, like a lightning rod. Anger is a given in a fallen world. We feel wronged and our anger flashes. Do we lash out and run towards violent pay-back, verbally, physically, or in our thoughts; or do we cool off by reaching out to God?

Can we extend or give forgiveness to those who have triggered anger in us? Can we forgive God if he throws us a curve ball, doing something that we did not expect, perhaps something good for someone we still think of as bad? If we're Christians, are we taking up our crosses (instruments of death) and following the One who died and rose from the dead; or have we got it wrong and think we are God as we vent and judge and preside over the ungodly?

Jonah was a capitol P Prophet. He was the real deal, yet we keep seeing a flawed man who has issues. He is not Jesus and and he is far from perfect. Yet, God chose him and God would not let him retire early. God has a plan and a message he wants to do and to give through Jonah. Along the way, Jonah gets to learn more about God and his mercy.

Messengers need the message too. Preachers, teachers, and prophets need to be learners and people being transformed in the same way as the people they preach, teach, and prophesy to. I might give you something from God that I've gotten. I might also give you something from God that I am getting, but haven't got yet. I also might give you something from God that I'm not getting and have not got.

Jonah said one thing and it was the thing God told him to say and it was true. He thought he got the fact that it was over for the Ninevites and he gave them that message. It was true, but there was more. There was the back story part that God is merciful. He knew that, but didn't like it as far as the Ninevites were concerned. That's where the anger comes in and Jonah reaching back to God is his only hope. The Ninevites have come home to God and have a whole new life in God that they are passing through the doorway of. In stark contrast, Jonah is in a vexed and perplexed, angry place that he needs help to get out of. If that is ever you or me, we have hope from God.

God changes His mind

God saw what they were doing—that they had ceased their evil behavior. So God stopped planning to destroy them, and he didn’t do it. Jonah 3:10

The Ninevites made real changes and then God made a change. He changed his mind. God stopped the plans to destroy Nineveh. There was nothing in God's word that Jonah declared that was conditional. God did not say, "if you repent, I will relent." I read the word as saying, "it's over, but I'm giving you forty days."

The king on Nineveh imagined out loud when he said, "who knows? God may see this and turn from his wrath, so that we might not perish." Having not been schooled in how prophecy works and in the face of ruin, this king of a people who have a track record of evil is suddenly optimistic; while at the same time, being gravely certain of the truth of Jonah's word and leading his people in sincere repentance.

But why 40 days? Even the 40 day warning was merciful. The question would be, "what would you do if you found out you only had forty days to live?" The Ninevites, in whole, decided to spend the 40 days repenting, calling out to God, and stopping their evil behavior.

This story illustrates the fact that all prophetic words are not binding. A negative word that says, bad things are going to happen to you, even death, is perhaps God saying, "if you continue on the road you are on, you are going to get where you are going." If that person responds to that word by getting off the road they are on or turning back onto God's road, and they do not die, but live in God; that does not make God a liar or the prophetic person false. They were actually very accurate from Heaven's perspective. The word's purpose was to wake up the sleeper. Rude awakening precedes great awakening.

The opposite kind of prophecy is the positive one. The prophetic word foretells blessings in the person's life that are not presently evident. After receiving the positive word, the person's circumstances may get worse, perhaps for a long time. Was it a false prophecy? No. The word was meant to encourage the person about their future and give them hope. Is the positive word conditional? Sometimes it is. The person may have to walk with God, holding onto their word, through a desert; where they learn to trust God's word above all else, before their word of promise is fulfilled.

God's word to the Ninevites was true and said what was going to happen. But then, God changed his mind. God changed his mind because of the new evidence set before him. But being God, wouldn't God have known what the Ninevites were going to do and that he would not be destroying them? Either he was playing a game where the ends justified the means, or he really is not as smart (all knowing) as we thought, but is like a super computer or a super man.

No, no, no. None of these are correct. God is almighty. But what if God in his infinite wisdom, chooses not to know certain things? God is in control, but not controlling. What if God hopes for an outcome, but he does not know until we make our choice? It really is not a rigged game. What if God is like a parent that disciplines his child. Like the parent, God hopes the discipline will lead to obedience and reconciliation. God is a person. We were created in God's image.

What if God, since he is God, can know everything, but chooses to not know some things?

An intriguing example of this is in Genesis 22, when God sends Abraham up the mountain to sacrifice his precious son, Issac. The story opens by telling the reader that God tested Abraham. OK, it's a test, a really intense, hard test; that Abraham passed. Why did God do that to his friend? Abraham passes the test. He was about to kill his son and then God, through the Angel of the Lord, said, "Don't stretch out your hand against the young man and don't do anything to him, I now know that you revere God and didn’t hold back your son, your only son, from me.”

Notice the Angel of the Lord, speaking for God says, "I now know". In other words, he did not know before the test and needed to find out, so he tested Abraham. God didn't know. God didn't choose to know, for some reason in God's infinite wisdom. It doesn't say, "I knew (I'm God), but I wanted to see what I already knew". But it says, "now I know", implying that God did not know.

Back to Nineveh. God knew what could happen, for sure. But God may have been choosing to not know what would happen, but was truthfully declaring, through Jonah, that destruction was in forty days. As God, God had decided it was curtains time for Nineveh. Enough was enough.

But when Nineveh changed, God changed. God who is a rock and changes not changed. God's character did not change, but God's mind changed. God changed his plans after seeing what the people of Nineveh had changed about their behavior. God, who is the almighty and the righteous judge also is merciful.


The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles:

Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” Jonah 3:5-9

They simply believed God. Polytheists and idolaters suddenly became monotheists, listening to the one true God. When the real God speaks, it is different; and he spoke through Jonah. Jesus said, "they changed their hearts and lives in response to Jonah's preaching" (Matt. 12:41) Repentance. Jonah simply preached the word given to him and the people responded. The word God said to speak, cut to the heart of the Ninevites and they heard it!

Repentance is not just saying I think I will change, or that's a good idea and I agree; but actual change. There are physical signs of repentance. For the Ninevites, it was fasting and putting on sackcloth. They didn't just say "sorry", but did sorry. You say you are sorry, now show me. They did.

The king of Nineveh repented too. Jonah's message eventually got to him, and he responded as his people were responding and used his authority to encourage the nation wide repentance. The king added some more dimensions to the repentance, saying to call out to God and forsake their evil ways. He put more "shoe leather" onto his repentance, walking it out.

Jonah did not go to the king first because that was not his assignment. His assignment was to walk into Nineveh and proclaim the message God gave him, which he did.

What does it mean, that we hear God's word today that calls us to change, to repent; and we do not. We read our Bibles or listen to a message or read book, that is a written message from God; and we do not change. The actual message calls for change, but we detach from it and watch the message, like watching an entertainment, and keep ourselves above and beyond it's touch. We fold our arms to the message, over our hearts, and close our eyes and cover our ears. What happens to the person who does this over and over, while self-identifying themselves as "christian"? Remember where Jesus said he will say to them, "I never knew you"? But we cast out demons in your name! I never knew you. But I went to church, I learned about you, about God.... I was a good person..... I did things for you... I memorized scripture... I tithed... I spoke in tongues... I healed the sick.... I wrote books about you.... I NEVER KNEW YOU (Matthew 7:21-23)

What if the people that Jesus says he does not know are people who refuse to repent? Religious people who have taken on Christianity and "believed", but never belonged to God. Jesus contrasted the Ninevites who repented at Jonah's message to the people of his day who professed to be God's people, but approached Jesus (and John the baptist) with skepticism. Jesus comes and forces a decision onto each person. He says, "follow me", "I am the way", "I am the bread from heaven". He does not say, "vote for me", "read my book", "listen to me on my pod cast", "become my fan", or "join my club". When he says words like, "follow me", to all of us in one way or another, we have to respond and repentance is part of it. We make changes, U-turns in our lives, we leave things behind and follow him.

Do you remember what Jesus message was? It was, "Change your hearts and lives (repent), for the kingdom of God has come" (Matt. 3:2). Jesus called for repentance then and he does now. Jonah had a message from God and the Ninevites repented. In Jesus days on earth, some responded and repented while others did not. Today it is the same. Even if the church has lost Jesus original message, watering it down and adding hamburger helper; his message still stands. Are we turning from sin and walking with him? Are we faithful to him or are we just fans?

The Message

Jonah started into the city, walking one day, and he cried out, “Just forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!” Jonah 3:4

In his assignment to go to Nineveh, given a second time, God had told Jonah that he was to, "declare against it the proclamation that I am commanding you.” As promised, God gave Jonah the proclamation he was to proclaim, “Just forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!” This is what he preached on the streets of Nineveh. God had given Jonah a word to deliver to a group of people and he delivered it.

Jonah, "just did it". He didn't write it, he didn't look for key people, he didn't whisper, and he didn't try to be contextual in assimilating to the culture and finding a way to sugar coat this hard word. No, he just did and said what God told him to do and say. Was Jonah smiling or frowning, stern or genteel? We don't know.

Prophetic preaching is when God gives you a word concerning the future of a people and you proclaim it to them. The preacher, proclaimer, or messenger has to be careful not to add his or her words to God's word. This is just as important in prophetic ministry to individuals, couples, families, or small groups. The prophetic minister may often need to say, "I don't know what it means". Your interpretation of the word, if it needs interpreting, is not part of the word from God; and that needs to be made very clear to avoid confusion. So, a true word from God can be misinterpreted.

Prophetic ministers, proclaimers, messengers, or writers can pray to God for the interpretation. God may answer and give the interpretation or he may not and the person who received the word may have to submit his prophesy to the community of other prophets. In fact, we are admonished to weigh each others prophecies in the New Testament. In Christianity we have common prophecy in community where other prophetic people help to administer prophetic words. See 1 Corinthians chapters 12-16.

What about the good news? How does Jonah apply to His-story, or salvation history? Jonah's message was a wake up call. A wake up call is sent by a loving God. God cared enough to send a message to a sinful people, telling them that time was up for them, in forty days.

If God cared enough to send this message through a person, then perhaps the message is true? The sinful people are given a chance to repent before they are destroyed. Destruction is not good news, but the warning is merciful.

God has suddenly, "brought the bottom up", for Nineveh. Their sin has finally brought severe consequences. God perhaps engineers or allows circumstances for people that are rude awakenings. We need to help people turn to God for salvation and not save them ourselves. The message from God is designed for the recipient from God and the messenger should be clear that they do not write the message, but only deliver it.

Simply obedient

And Jonah got up and went to Nineveh, according to the LORD’s word. (Now Nineveh was indeed an enormous city, a three days’ walk across.) Jonah 3:3

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord. He did what God said to do this time. He got up and went. God specifically told him do do something and he did it. It's the same thing that God told him to do before, that he did not do, which he got in so much trouble for not doing. God gave Jonah a second chance and he is taking that chance now.

Jonah exercised his faith. Faith is an action. You say you have faith. Good, now show me. That's action. Faith is not just a belief, but belief acted upon. If you act upon it, it's real faith. When you act on faith, you also risk. John Wimber said that faith is spelled r-i-s-k. Jesus asked various people to do something often and complimented others who did something to express their faith like the guys who lowered the man through the roof to get to him (Mark 2:4). Remember when Jesus said to the disciples, "you give them something to eat" (Mark 6:37 & Luke 9:13)? Jesus told the man with the shrivelled hand to stretch it out (Mark 3:3 & Matt. 12:10). Jesus told the man at the pool to get up (John 5:8). Paul said that we must work out what God works in (Philippians 2:12-13).

What is faith? Is faith when we get the blue print or get the orders or plan from God and then go do it, go make it happen? No, that is not faith. It is God that does it, God that makes it happen. Faith is in God who does it, whatever it is. His faithfulness provides all the power. I put my faith in him. My faith is in his faithfulness. Even if he does not do it, my faith is in him, in his person. He is good no matter what happens. If it does not happen, whatever it is, it does not make me or anyone else bad; but he is always good. This is how Job could say, "though he slay me, yet I will trust in him", (Job 13:15).

Did Jonah perhaps get way ahead of God, in his mind, the first time and get overwhelmed? It says that Nineveh was enormous. It does not say that God's assignment was enormous. It was simple. Like the U2 song, Jonah got, "stuck in a moment", and he could not get out of it. But God got him out and gave him a second chance. Big plans seem overwhelming, but a big God is up to it. God tries to say to us, "don't worry, I will do all the heavy lifting." Yes, he says, "don't worry". When we worry, we are calculating without God in the equation.1 God gives us peace in the storm, the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). When we try to understand or figure some things out that are beyond us, we can get overwhelmed and depressed and anxious (Philippians 4:6). That's why we need to exercise faith in God by casting our cares on him (Psalm 55:22 & 1 Peter 5:7).

When Jonah again began his journey of obedience towards Nineveh, it was just one foot in front of the other, step by step; simple. To try to figure it out is complicated. Making our plans outside of God is sophisticated. God is not sophisticated, but simply brilliant. What God is looking for is simplicity. Simple faith. Simple trust in him walked out. Simply obedient.

1. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, July 5th, Don't Plan Without God: Psalm 37:5

Get up and go (again)

Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and declare against it the proclamation that I am commanding you.”
-Jonah 3:2 (CEB)

The Lord's second word to Jonah was almost identical to the first word he gave him. The first time, the Lord said, "Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it, for their evil has come to my attention.” God had patiently taken Jonah through the "hard way" and now again offered him the "not as hard way".

Jonah might have thought to himself, "remember what happened last time when I didn't go to Nineveh?" Obviously, Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh the first time, for some reason. We don't know what that reason was at this point. We do know that there was an evil in Nineveh that had come to God's attention. Something bad was going on with the Ninevites and Jonah previously had a strong aversion to them. Was it fear, prejudice, dislike, anger, or all of these?

Notice that both times, God said to him, "get up and go". Jonah was being commanded to specifically do something. Not to think about it, write about it, talk about it, pray about it, but to do it. This was a directive "now" word. Some or perhaps most prophetic words are future words, words in which God says, "I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope." (Jer. 29:11)

This word from the Lord was a command word. He did not obey the command the first time. Will he obey God the second time? What happens when we don't like God's assignment for us and refuse to do them? Sometimes when we take the wrong turn, the only way to get back on the right path is to go all the way back to where we missed the turn and retake it.

There was something that Jonah did not like about his assignment and we might not like our assignment either and try disobedience. If we focus on our selves, saying, "I can't do it", "I don't want to do it because I am afraid", "I don't want to do it because I don't like those people", or, "they are too far gone to hear"; we have missed it. We have gotten our focus off God! God has decided on this assignment in his wisdom. He knows best. Will we trust that where God guides, he provides? But, the proviso of God's provision is that he may not provide the way you think he should.

Maybe God gives us assignments we would not choose and do not like because he wants to stretch us? He stretches us to change us, to make us more godly and Christ-like. During the rest of Jonah's story, we will see how God wanted to change Jonah; how God wanted to give him a deeper revelation.

Where has God called you to get up and go to? Are you having trouble just getting up? Perhaps God has not given you an assignment like Nineveh, but he is calling you to get up and just go, to follow him, like Abraham. The rhythm of the kingdom, modeled in Jesus is going and resting. We go and we rest.

Obedience. Will we obey when God assigns us? Will we take our second chances when they are offered again?

God of the second chance

Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time. Jonah 3:1

Did you know that God is God of the second chance? The Bible is filled with the stories of people who got second chances and Jonah is just one of them. Jonah deliberately disobeyed God's assignment and some negative consequences followed.

Jonah repented and sought God. Then providence struck. Jonah was expelled out of the giant fish and found himself on dry land, breathing fresh air again. Then Jonah's life went on.

We can imagine that Jonah went on with his life. We can imagine that Jonah returned home. Perhaps he told his friends what happened. He had a testimony. God had saved him from death. Was he ashamed of himself? He had been one who spoke God's special messages and he had failed to do his unique job. He had failed to deliver a special message from God to Nineveh.

Life went on for Jonah. Did he feel like a failure? Was he thankful to be alive, but became the "former Prophet"? Did he live incognito, assimilating himself back into his Hebrew culture? When people who knew who he was or used to be would approach him and ask him, "what is the message from God?", did he look down and shake his head?

We don't know the answer to any of these questions, but we do know that life went on for Jonah. Was he happy to not be a Prophet any longer or did he miss it? Was he ashamed or just resigned? We don't know, but life went on. Days, weeks, month, or years; we don't know. From the time of Jonah being deposited back into fresh air and dry land to the "then" of what happened next could have been hours or years.

Some time went by and then God spoke to Jonah again, a second time. Since Jonah was a Prophet, God had probably spoken to him before the time recorded in the book of Jonah. He received and delivered messages. That was a Prophet's job. But the text here says, "God spoke to Jonah a second time". It's the second time in this story, in this part of Jonah's life; and it's the second time God spoke to Jonah about the same thing. Same orders, same message, same God, for the same people, to be delivered by the same person.

God gives Jonah a second chance at the same assignment. God does not stamp Jonah with "failed", but with "try again". God is a God of the second chance. There were consequences of Jonah's disobedience. He failed and it was painful, but he lived and he gets a second chance. Again and again in scripture, this is God's way. People blow it and fail, but God in a sense says that his plan is greater than us and he is willing to pick us up when we fall and help us get our bearings and then sets us on the path of his plan again.

We can fail a thousand ways and God can still bring us back. It does not mean that the failure never happened, but it means that God uses failures and gives them second chances. It's always, "the great God of man", and not the other way around. God likes using weak and broken people and giving glory to himself though them. We do not overcome our weaknesses so we can stand up and fight, but we stand up and walk in God's blessings and assignments for us in our weaknesses. God uses cracked pots that leak.

He said to me, “My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.” So I’ll gladly spend my time bragging about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power can rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

When God calls to Jonah the second time, it does not necessarily mean that Jonah is now, at that moment, ready for God's assignment to him. It means that God is ready and has something he wants done, that he wants said. All the heavy lifting is done by God, but God chooses to use people like Jonah, you, and me to be his representatives!

Grace Greater than Our Sin by Julia Johnson

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold,
Threaten the soul with infinite loss;
Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,
Points to the refuge, the mighty cross.

Dark is the stain that we cannot hide.
What can avail to wash it away?
Look! There is flowing a crimson tide,
Brighter than snow you may be today.

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
Freely bestowed on all who believe!
You that are longing to see His face,
Will you this moment His grace receive?

Back from the dead

And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. Jonah 2:10

Jonah had been saved from drowning and for that he was thankful. But, "what was next?", he might have thought. He didn't know, but he thought about God. He prayed to God, thanking him and worshiping him from that place of a living death. Jonah repented.

There is a time to get right with God and that time is always now. But to shake us awake, God provides awakening experiences for us that are rude and uninvited. If you are walking close to God and something bad happens in your life, you might cling to God and receive comfort from him. But, if you are distant from God, the pain is pointing you back to God. To be in need of God is good and normal. The crisis brings us into needing God and into coming home to the Father.

Jonah came to the end of himself and sought God. Jonah died to himself. Jonah's plans died. All he had left was God and to God he prayed to God he gave himself. Jonah surrendered to God. Jonah became subdued to God. In a sense, he became born again. He became a believer again, but this time, a surrendered worshiper and humble servant. Jonah had been humiliated and humbled.

Some have speculated that after three days inside the fish, Jonah's skin may have become permanently bleached from the fish's digestive secretions. This might be true, but we do know that his near death experience changed him, because of what he said to God after three days. He changed.

When we are filled with despair and hopelessness, do we seek God, turn from our selves, die to our selves, and repent? Do we consider God when we are at our lowest or forget him? Do we call to mind God's goodness when we are in trouble? Do we cast our selves onto God when we fail?

If we find our selves on a cross, suffering; will we look to Jesus and ask him to remember us, putting our hope in him who is also suffering but having done no wrong?

Prayers of a man facing death

“I called out to the LORD in my distress, and he answered me.
From the belly of the underworld I cried out for help; you have heard my voice. You had cast me into the depths in the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounds me.
All your strong waves and rushing water passed over me.
So I said, ‘I have been driven away from your sight. Will I ever again look on your holy temple?
Waters have grasped me to the point of death; the deep surrounds me.
Seaweed is wrapped around my head at the base of the undersea mountains.
I have sunk down to the underworld; its bars held me with no end in sight.
But you brought me out of the pit.’ When my endurance was weakening, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, to your holy temple. Those deceived by worthless things lose their chance for mercy.
But me, I will offer a sacrifice to you with a voice of thanks.
That which I have promised, I will pay.
Deliverance belongs to the LORD!”
-Jonah 2:2-9 (CEB)

Jonah's prayer is present focused. He is honest about where he is at. In that terrible place, he is thankful. He should be dead, but he is alive. He should have been obedient, but he still has God. He is God's child and a worshiper of God. Jonah is talking to God about what just happened. He recalls how that as he was about to die, he called out to God, and God saved his life.

Jonah quotes 8 psalms (1) in his prayer. Maybe this is a good idea for us too, as Bill Johnson says to, "read the Psalms until you hear your own voice". Jonah probably had memorized a lot of scripture, which is not a bad idea. If you have the Word stored up in your heart and mind, it can be useful when you are in a crisis or when you are lending help to another who needs God's Word.

From the deep and from the grave, as it were, Jonah prayed and God heard his prayer. God can hear our prayers no matter where we are. Jonah describes his hopeless situation, yet he was still alive and could still pray. Jonah recounts how he is a worshiper of the one true God and thanks God. In the dire straights, Jonah thanks God. What was there to be thankful for? That he was alive and could offer one honest prayer before dying, that he is a child of God, and he is thankful to God for all of who God is and what God does in his goodness. At death's door, Jonah is thankful. Jonah is getting right with God.

Jonah had been disobedient and he caused a bunch of people to get into trouble with the storm. Only after he was found out did he admit it was his fault. He requested that the men cast him off, into the sea. Reluctantly and after trying to get him to shore, the men sent Jonah to a likely death in the sea. Then, the unexpected happened when the great fish came along and swallowed Jonah. Jonah lived. With whatever life he had left, Jonah prayed. He didn't curse God, but praised him for deliverance from death. He didn't know if death was only delayed, but having the ability to pray, that is what Jonah did. After his ordeal in the sea and being in the fish for 3 days, Jonah prayed.

When we are trapped by life's circumstances, will we see the goodness of God and pray with thankfulness? That trap or cave or desert might be God's life-preserver for you. Can we thank God in all circumstances? Can we come into God's presence with thanksgiving? If we are facing death, can we be thankful and re-commit to be obedient, even if we only have minutes, hours, or days left? That is what Jonah did. He had a change of heart.

He also renews his promise to God. He does not strike a bargain, nor does he negotiate. He does not say, "if you", but just, "I will". I will keep my promise. He had not obeyed God earlier, but ran from God. Now, he says he will keep his promise. Jonah's heart has changed. Jonah's will has changed. His second to last words were going to be, "I'll be obedient now!"

Perhaps Jonah mused that God was going to give him a second chance? Jonah might have thought that God saved him from drowning for a reason and that God wanted a response from Jonah and what would it be? Jonah dug down deep within himself and prayed the scriptures he knew and sewed them together into a personal prayer.

Jonah's last words were not, "woe is me"; but, "deliverance belongs to the Lord". That was going to be his heart's final resting place. When we pray, how do we park it with God at the end? It is wise to surrender all and be worshipful at death. It is always good to have a thankful posture towards God and end up standing on words of God's faithfulness and goodness and powerfulness.

1. Psalm 3, 120, 118, 88, 42, 31, 69, and 50

Prayer time

Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish.
-Jonah 2:1

Jonah finally comes to the place of prayer. Jonah finally comes to the place when he will turn to God. Jonah finally comes to the place where he turns to God. Jonah comes to the place where his faith is quickened. He may be in pitch dark, but he gets clarity about God.

Sometimes it takes confinement by life's circumstances to get us to pray and for our faith to rise up into clarity about God. God may let us get boxed in so that we will cry out to Him and express faith that says, "you are my only hope and I am your child who puts his or her faith entirely in you".

There is no better time to start praying than now. It's never too late to start talking to God. Jonah waited until his circumstances went from bad to worse to terminal. God kept him alive, God saved him with the giant fish; so that he could pray, so that Jonah could reach out to God.

Jonah was headed towards death and God delayed and forestalled and kept death for Jonah at bay, so that Jonah could express himself and pray to God. Have you ever considered that people might have conversations, prayers, with God right before they die or think they are going to die?

Jonah was in the fish for some time before he prayed. He had time to reflect that he was not dead and that God had saved him. What was next, he did not know, but what he did know is that he was alive at that moment. From that place, he prayed.

We can pray to God from anywhere and at any time.

God saves Jonah

Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.
-Jonah 1:17b

Jonah's story looked like it was coming to an end with his drowning at sea and then something unusual and unexpected happened. A great fish swallowed him and he was kept alive. He was saved by an USV, an unidentified swimming vehicle. Why three days and three nights? Three is one of the Bible's most often used numbers.
Scholars have surmised that three means divine completion. Jewish sages, in their Talmud and Midrash literature, concluded that this scriptural phenomenon (of the third day motif) reveals a divine principle: God will rescue Israel, or a righteous person, on the third day of some great crisis. Also, Jonah's experience points to Christ and Jesus points back to Jonah.

Jesus talked about "the sign of Jonah" in Matthew 12:39-40 and in Luke 11:29-30:
But he replied, “An evil and unfaithful generation searches for a sign, but it won’t receive any sign except Jonah’s sign. Just as Jonah was in the whale’s belly for three days and three nights, so the Human One (Son of Man) will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. ”
When the crowds grew, Jesus said, “This generation is an evil generation. It looks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except Jonah’s sign. Just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Human One (Son of Man) will be a sign to this generation.”

Jesus authenticates Jonah's story. Jonah's assignment was to preach to Nineveh. Jonah's peculiar experience of being cast into the sea and swallowed by a great fish and kept alive or brought back to life after drowning was a sign, says Jesus. It was a miraculous sign, as Jesus’ resurrection from death would be.

It is ironic that a person's disobedience resulted in a sign from God that Jesus would later cite as an illustration of the sign to be given through his own life. Jonah may have had a prophetic ministry before the events in the book of Jonah, but in the events of the book he gains a testimony.

Jonah thought he was through, but God wasn't done with him. Jonah gave up, but God had a plan. Jonah "signed off." but God was prepared to make him a sign. A sign of God's mercy. a sign of God's sovereign grace. The man called dove would become a sign of God's mercy, of God rescuing, of God's care. When we see God's acts of mercy displayed, what will we do? After God shows us mercy, will we be merciful to others?

Going through a trial or through a dark night is an opportunity for growth. How much we grow in God is up to us. We have to process our experience in a way that we say yes to God for it to be transformative. Two people can go through the same trial or dark night and come out differently because of how they responded to God.

Jonah had the opportunity for growth and transformation in God. How much growth was up to Jonah. The experience in the dark, in the giant fish, is a big one. But Jonah's walk with God and his personal growth was not over. God walks with us and is fathering us for our maturing throughout our whole lives. Authentic maturity fosters humility in us that causes us to see that we need even more maturing from God.

Why all the sad songs (psalms)?

"My whole being is filled with distress; my life is at the very brink of hell. I am considered as one of those plummeting into the pit. I am like those who are beyond help, drifting among the dead lying in the grave, like dead bodies— those you don’t remember anymore, those who are cut off from your power. You placed me down in the deepest pit, in places dark and deep. Your anger smothers me; you subdue me with it, wave after wave.
You’ve made my friends distant. You’ve made me disgusting to them. I can’t escape. I’m trapped! "
Psalm 88:3-8 (CEB)

This is one of the most depressing portions of scripture. It's hopeless. There's no faith in it. But why are scriptures like this in The Book? Because the experience told by the writer is real and it's endorsed by God. What? Words like Psalm 88 are deeply comforting to the person on whom calamity has struck. If you hear your own voice in the words of Psalm 88, you are comforted to know that it is okay with God to feel hopeless and in despair, to feel like you are in a bottomless pit of pain.

The third chapters of Job and Lamentations are similar to this. If the "lights have gone out" in your life, these passages can be comforting in that you come to realize that God affirms and endorses your processing of your losses.

The Fire of Delayed Answers by Bob Sorge is my reference and inspiration for this post

God prepares ahead to save us

Meanwhile, the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah. Jonah 1:17a (CEB)

The original Hebrew language says that Yahweh, The Lord; numbered or appointed or assigned or ordained; a great fish to swallow Jonah. This was a very unusual fish in that it could swallow and house a man, with enough air for three days. What is amazing and wonderful is that this was God's plan. God had a plan for Jonah, in Jonah's disobedience. God's plan defies human logic. A human plan might have had Jonah stay on the ship and repent there.

Maybe Jonah was not repentant on the ship. To me, repentance means to turn around and go the other way. To admit one's fault is only a step. Sometimes a person will admit fault, but not be willing to change their ways.

God selected a special vehicle to keep Jonah alive. God had an ordained plan for this large fish. The fish was numbered in that God had that fish's number, meaning that God always had this assignment on this fish's life. This fish would be born and grow to this huge size and end up crossing paths with Jonah at this very moment, swallow him, and save his life.

God knew beforehand that Jonah would be disobedient and planned for it. Isn't that good? Isn't that merciful? While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. All those Christians who are in Christ today: Christ died for them while they were being obstinate. God, who stands outside time, goes ahead of us and prepares things for us.

God's saving work is out of left field. God saves us in unexpected ways. God saves us in creative ways. God saves us in miraculous ways. His ways are not our ways. God has people or animals along our path that he will use to help us. I was in real trouble once in the ocean myself, due to a rip-tide. A life-guard named James rescued me. Many times in my life, when I was going through a disorienting time, a mentor would come into my life and help me. God placed someone in my life who interceded with tears when I needed prayers the most. I remember a day when I was in humiliation (which I needed), among a group of men who were rough, and the leader was a Jesus filled, gracious man, who God sent into that day to bless me and care for me.

Jonah's worst day, the day he thought he would die, and die a failure; ended up being the day God saved him. Prodigal followers of God will get disciplined, but they also get saved. When you are a prodigal and your life is going south and you feel the discipline of your being out of sync with God and out of sync with the world, you may think that either hiding or dying is your only hope; but God wants to save you. God wants to reveal himself to the prodigal and show that person mercy, so they can show the person who has no idea of God his mercy. God has a plan for his mercy to be revealed and given and to capture men and women from the devil. We're all a part of that plan and his-story is of that plan. God can use anything to help his chosen ones to see his mercy and to get in line with his mission of mercy.

The terrible price of sin

They said to him, “What will we do about you so that the sea will become calm around us?” (The sea was continuing to rage.)
He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea! Then the sea will become calm around you. I know it’s my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”
The men rowed to reach dry land, but they couldn’t manage it because the sea continued to rage against them. So they called on the LORD, saying, “Please, LORD, don’t let us perish on account of this man’s life, and don’t blame us for innocent blood! You are the LORD: whatever you want, you can do.” Then they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased its raging. The men worshipped the LORD with a profound reverence; they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made solemn promises. -Jonah 1:11-16 (CEB)

Jonah has been found out and he admits it is his fault. He has progressed from hider to confessor. Those found to be guilty do not always admit guilt. Jonah finds mercy for others in his own heart, and says, "cast me into the sea and you and your ship will be saved."

Jonah is now putting others before himself. The ship's men have been kind to him and he is now being kind to them. In return, the sailors did not follow Jonah's advice. They instead had more mercy on him and tried to remedy their situation through their own efforts by attempting to row the ship to shore. This did not work. Sometimes our mercy can go beyond God's. Sometimes we are willing to settle something with someone before God has completed that person's discipline. It is good that someone has finally fessed up and admitted their sin, but God may be after a larger change of heart in that person. Yes, the change has begun, but it is perhaps not nearly complete. You rejoice at the person's course correction, but God may want them to completely turn around one-hundred and eighty degrees and in fact give him the steering wheel of their lives; to die so that they may truly live.

The ship's men's over extenting of mercy was an enabling of Jonah rather than the help he needed. The Prophet discerned and declared that the only way out for them all was for him to be thrown overboard. The sailors doing something else to try to save themselves without obeying the directive was not helping them nor Jonah, but made things worse.

After their failure the men didn't stubbornly continue to resist the terrible and difficult direction given by Jonah, nor did they quickly just do it. Instead, they cried out to God in prayer, getting honest with God and laying out their fears. Then, perhaps in solemnity, they cast Jonah into the sea as he had told them to. These men who had previously been afraid, were now in great fear of God; reverential awe of God and worshiped him.

The sailors have met God in an unusual way. A man who has been a follower of God, the one God, the creator; has sinned by running from God. His sin has brought trouble upon people that don't yet know God. In the midst of this trouble, the storm, these pagan men gain a knowledge of the one God and the man who is actively sinning against God pays the price for his sin and thereby saves the others from the destruction.

We see here how one person's sin affects others, even strangers. The calamitous storm affected them and the judgement that was due for Jonah affected the men also. For some reason, Jonah did not say, "I need to jump into the ocean", but instead he said, "hurl me into the sea". There is a picture here of how sin and the price to pay for it is not purely individual, but communal. Even nature is negatively affected and the animals suffer because of Adam & Eve's sin. The sailors had to touch Jonah and physically send him to his fate which they assumed was a sure death. But they could only do it solemnly after solemn and ardent prayers to their new found God, the almighty God. They might have wept. There is nothing in the story about their desire for revenge of a desire to bring justice.

We have a picture in Jonah of the terrible price for sin that Jesus paid. Unlike Jonah, he was obeying God. But like Jonah, he died so that others could live. The penalty for sin is death. I love the song, "oh happy day, oh happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away...", but that day when Jesus suffered and died was not a happy day. John and the two Marys were not happy about it as they watched him die. It was a very horrible event. But, paradoxically, it gloriously paid the price for all of our sins. That's where the fear of God and awe inspiring worship come in. If you can connect your sins to Jesus suffering to pay the price for them, does it not make you want to stop sinning? If you willfully go against God in disobedience, there might be a lack in your revelation of Jesus' suffering on the cross. I believe that salvation is not just an event, but a process. Some would say that a sinning believer is not a believer, because believers do not sin. I would say that believers sin because they are immature and God wants us all to grow to in Christ which is a partnering between us and God's Spirit in us. Unbelieving believers will encounter discipline from God if they are God's children in order to teach them obedience.

The unbelieving believer and his God

And he said to them, "I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land." Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, "What is this that you have done!" For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. -Jonah 1:9-10 (ESV)

Finally Jonah speaks. His self-disclosure goes straight to the point of why he is the cause of the storm. His 'people group' is Hebrew. He says that he fears the creator God. Most less literal Bible translations have Jonah instead saying that, "I worship the LORD". Jonah is saying that in the midst of this calamitous storm, in which you believe that someone has upset a god and the lots pointed to me as the one who has caused it; here is the information about me and my God.

But, the sailors had asked him, "what is your occupation, and where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?" Jonah simply answers what people he is a part of, which tells you what religion he embraces, what God he worships, and the geographic area he is from. This is Jonah's identity, a God fearing Hebrew. That's who he is. What he is doing (running from God's presence) is the other important part of his disclosure. There is no mention of Jonah's occupation, line of work, or what he "does". We can imagine that in his homeland, he might have been known as a Prophet, but at this moment, he only identifies himself as a God fearing Hebrew. Prophets were perhaps know as such because of their prophetic ministries. Jonah is running from his calling, gift, function, role, and office of Prophet.

Jonah had just witnessed what we might call a pagan sailor's prayer meeting. We don't know if there were any other Hebrews in the group, but it was implied that they were calling out to a variety of gods other than the God of the Hebrews that Jonah worshiped. Jonah says, "this is who my God is and I'm running away from him."

Notice that Jonah did not say, "and I am afraid of God". Fear of God and afraid of God are different. Fear of the Lord or God has to do with reverence and awe, respect and a bowing down to worship. Reverential fear of God leads to a life of obedience and worship. Reverential fear of God comes from a belief in God's almighty power. Most people who have this experience also believe in God's goodness, His love and mercy. But to walk in reverential fear of the Lord is to always have in mind the almightyiness of God, that God is supreme; supremely to be loved and obeyed and served.

The problem with Jonah's story that does not add up is that if his modus operandi or way of life is that he is a God follower, a follower of the top God, the creator God; and he says that he is a follower of God in that he says he fears this God. Then why is he disobeying God? Jonah will go on to tell the sailors that he is on the run from God, but at the same time he says it is the capital "G" God who surely has the power to get him back. He believes in God, is a God tribe member, and fears God; but he is willfully disobeying God. What?

On hearing Jonah, the men become afraid and say, "what is this that you have done". Literally, they say, "how could you do this?" Edward B. Pusey, in The Minor Prophets, writes, "The inconsistency of believers is the marvel of the young Christian, the repulsion of those without, the hardening of the unbeliever... Faith without love, knowledge without obedience, conscious dependence and rebellion, to be favored by God yet despise His favor, are the strangest marvels of this mysterious world. All nature seems to cry out against the rebellious Christian, "why hast thou done this! ...But to know, to believe, and to disobey! To disobey God in the name of God!... Such unrealities and inconsistencies would be a sore trial of faith had it not Jesus, Who knew what was in man (John 2:25), forewarned us that it would be so."1.

So, what do we make of this paradox? What will Jonah's story tell us about the unbelieving believer? Even though the book of Jonah is named after this man who's name means "dove", he really is not the center of the book or the story. God is the central person in this story. So far, the story seems to be telling us that when we run from God, he pursues us. God's mercy is relentless. God acts with mercy toward the disobedient, unbelieving believer; but God does it with discipline that is firm but gentle.

There's a wideness in God's mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.

There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings
Have such kindly judgment given.

There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior;
There is healing in His blood.

There is grace enough for thousands
Of new worlds as great as this;
There is room for fresh creations
In that upper home of bliss.

For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

There is plentiful redemption
In the blood that has been shed;
There is joy for all the members
In the sorrows of the Head.

’Tis not all we owe to Jesus;
It is something more than all;
Greater good because of evil,
Larger mercy through the fall.

If our love were but more simple,
We should take Him at His word;
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the sweetness of our Lord.

Souls of men! why will ye scatter
Like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts! why will ye wander
From a love so true and deep?

It is God: His love looks mighty,
But is mightier than it seems;
’Tis our Father: and His fondness
Goes far out beyond our dreams.

But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

Was there ever kinder shepherd
Half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Savior who would have us
Come and gather at His feet?

-Frederick William Faber, 1854

1. Pusey, The Minor Prophets, p. 404; Funk, 1885

The picture above is taken from the cover of Tara Soughers book Fleeing From God

Tell us about yourself

So they said to him, “Tell us, since you’re the cause of this evil happening to us: What do you do and where are you from? What’s your country and of what people are you?” -Jonah 1:8 (CEB)

The finger of God had pointed to Jonah in the lots and now the sailors gathered round him and began to question him. When we go on a journey in a vehicle with strangers, we don't always get the chance to become acquainted, but sometimes we do. In the story of Jonah, the other passengers and crew members were happy to let him remain anonymous. He was just "passenger x" to them. But, the crisis that arose and the determination of the lots that pointed to Jonah brought up the question of, "who are you?" "We would not have asked, we would have let you remain anonymous; but now your problems have become our problems", the sailors might have said.

The sailors and the author of Jonah are illustrating a communal cause and affect of sin. One person's sin or disobedience is affecting a whole group of people. The way we live today is with the notion that each individual lives their own separate life and we all have our little box we live in and we do not affect each other and our box is no body's business but our own. Husbands, for example, might have a separate life from their wives that is secret. In spiritual or religious fellowships, we may keep much of our lives and our selves secret. While we need privacy and we may not be ready to "tell all", it is possible that in our culture, rugged individualism has trumped self-disclosure and transparency. How can you walk with me if you don't know me?

The sailors have four questions for Jonah, in order to try to learn more about him and why he has invited this calamity. They don't judge him or jump to conclusions about him. While it's pretty obvious that he is in some kind of trouble and that his problem has become their problem, they remain compassionate or at least clinical. How often do we condemn someone before hearing their story? How often do we judge someone by appearances? Asking questions aimed at learning more about a person and nudging them towards self-disclosure is very different than just judging them. How many times when we find out the whole story, does our opinion about someone change. Suspending judgement is a very good default position to be in towards people. Isn't that why the Bible is so clear on the fact that we are not to judge or condemn people. Only God knows the whole story of a person and has the right to judge them.

We can break down judgements into two categories. The judgements of God are like when a judge makes a judgement. Only God is "the judge". We are not the judge. But we can make judgements or exclamatory evaluations. Unlike the evaluation that it is warm outside, when some one is talking too loud, I make that judgement and ask them to talk softer. When someone almost hits my car or is about to drive in front of me, I can make a judgement that they don't see me and that danger is imminent and honk my horn. When there are 12 pieces of chicken on a plate and we have 4 people at the table who all are sharing the chicken and someone takes 6 pieces, we have a right to judge that action and say "hey" to that person; but that isn't a final judgement or condemnation of them.

Rather than judge Jonah, the sailors sought to know who he was are where he was from. They didn't get him at all. They wanted to know his story because they have been thrust into the position of helping him get resolution. No shaming, or condemning; but just, "who art thou?"