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Friday, July 23, 2010

Thoughts on Jonah Chapter 4

In chapter 3 we saw that God has held his judgment against Niniveh and saved them. Jonah was the unhappy means of communication.  Why was he so reluctant to go on this mission? The answer is found at the beginning of this chapter.  This was exceedingly “evil” (the same word in Hebrew-ra’ah- is used as in chapter 3:10) to Jonah. Why? He knew God’s character.  He knew God is “gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” (ESV) Most people would be glad to have a God like this, but at this point in his life, Jonah does not agree. Jonah goes even further. He gets so depressed about it that he asks God to kill him. I have to say that as I read these verses they are a bit comical. Jonah is acting like a child. But I understand him.  You might say you would never do this, but I can assure you that you would do the same thing as him. God does not strike Jonah dead for behaving this way. He just asks, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Notice God doesn’t use psycho babble either. He points to right and wrong. Is it right? Of course it is not right. Jonah new it but he could not admit it.

Jonah decides to go relax somewhere away. There, God “appoints” a plant to cover him from the sun (to take away his discomfort-ra’ah-evil). God takes care of him. But He has a plan as well.  Jonah becomes quite happy. In fact, he goes from “exceedingly” unhappy to “exceedingly happy.” It is interesting that a plant makes him change his state of mind. Oh, how human we are. We care so much about our physical condition but not so much for our spiritual condition and of those around us.  We want to take care of ourselves without taking care of others. 

God not only takes away the plant but adds some heat to Jonah.  Some hot wind and sun made Jonah faint and got him to ask God again to kill him. God asks him again if he does well asking this only because of the plant. And this time he answer yes.  “Jonah, really? You do well? You ask this all because of a plant that has withered and died. A plant that gave you benefits without you doing anything.” God doesn’t tell him it was all His doing. But I get the feeling Jonah knew.
Now comes the lesson for Jonah. “You care about a plant been destroyed but don’t care about 120,000 people been destroyed? Plants and lives are not on equal plain Jonah. You know this.” Jonah’s ethics were wrong.

Did Jonah get the message? We don’t know, but I assume he did. But it has no response so that we can answer it when we find ourselves in similar situations.  And we will.

Here are the lessons from Jonah:
1. Obey God or else be ready to pay the price (God will pursue you!).
2. God uses imperfect, temperamental people like Jonah (and me). He can use you.
3. God is compassionate, graceful, loving and slow to anger and wishes to save everyone. So should we.
4. God cares about us even when we are not obedient to Him. He will teach us what we need to learn.

Jonah was referred to by Jesus in Matthew 12:40. Jesus was the opposite of Jonah.
Jonah was disobedient = Jesus was obedient
Jonah was a reluctant messenger = Jesus was a willing messenger
Jonah was not compassionate = Jesus was compassionate
Jonah was didn’t sacrifice anything to save anyone = Jesus sacrificed everything to save us
Jonah spent three days and three nights in a fish = Jesus spent three days and three nights in the grave 
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