DG Blog #21
I want to illustrate a valuable lesson from an Old Testament prophet named Jonah. He was God’s man, God’s voice to a people who had reached their point of divine retribution. God sent Jonah to the city of Nineveh, which was so large it took him three days to walk through. That’s a lot of real estate to cover.
God gave Jonah the message that the city would be destroyed in forty days. That’s all Jonah told them. He didn’t invite them to repent; he just told them what God was about to do because of their sins. Then they did something Jonah was afraid they’d do (Jonah 4:1-2), they actually listened to his message and took it to heart. They believed God was speaking through him and declared a fast. The king of Nineveh then issued this decree to the citizens:
“Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let man and beast 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.”
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened (through the prophet’s words).
We as disciples, must understand that God’s eternal purposes are always in motion as his kingdom advances through and within all the kingdoms of humanity. In the book of Jonah, we do not see an Old Testament, merciless God saying, “Okay, that’s enough, I’m going to wipe you people out.” No, he compassionately gave Nineveh a window to repent by sending Jonah.
Jonah ran from this assignment because his perspective of the Ninevites had been limited to his own prejudice (Jonah 1:1-2, 4:1-2). He didn’t want to go, so he fled in the opposite direction and wound up in the belly of a great fish. Can you blame Jonah for not wanting to be anywhere near Nineveh when God judged it? Why should he care? They weren’t God’s chosen ones. They were Gentiles. “Let them perish,” was his mindset. He just wanted to be someplace where God’s judgment couldn’t touch him and shake up his life. Let the Ninevites reap what they had sown. After all, their problem wasn’t his problem; they deserved what was coming to them.
Jonah’s attitude cannot be the mindset of a disciple. A disciple understands and knows that we are left in this world to expose its darkness by the contrast of “the light of the world” in us, the kingdom of heaven that resides in us as we live within and among the kingdoms of the world. We aren’t taken out of the world but left in the world for a purpose.
To think we are exempt from experiencing God’s judgment upon the nation we live in is not only an illusion but self-centered. In the story of Jonah, that’s exactly how he acted. Self-centered. He thought his assignment was only to proclaim God’s judgment and then go far enough away, east of the city, to watch it be deluged by fire (like Sodom and Gomorrah) while he was left untouched. In reality, Jonah’s bias was evidenced by the fact that he didn’t care if the Ninevites paid attention to his warning. So he was angry with God for responding to their repentance and turning back his wrath from destroying them.
Jonah’s attitude was unacceptable, so God gave him an object lesson by providing a gourd vine for shade and then a worm to destroy it. God exposed Jonah’s callousness in that he was more concerned about a dying vine (that provided him shade) than 120,000 lost souls in Nineveh who could not tell their right hand from their left.
As disciples of Jesus, we are responsible for remaining ambassadors of Christ in the world and to the world. True disciples will be more interested in the lives of the lost than their own lives. We will not run and hide in the mountains, or head in the opposite direction from a corrupt city like Jonah did. Instead, we must remain where God puts us to be lights in the darkness, not hiding our light under a bushel, but shining brightly as compassionate instruments of God’s mercy.
Grace and Peace!