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?