I’ve felt compelled for a bit to go back and look at Jonah. And I did tonight, putting together a simple study my Facebook girls and I can do this coming week.
And here’s my takeaway – Jonah is a hot mess.
He started as a mess, crazy enough to think he could run from God and God wouldn’t see him – or care. He plants himself on a boat, deciding to sleep away any guilt or remorse he felt. And he winds up sleeping through a storm strong enough to toss the ship and tear it apart at the seams – without care for himself or his fellow passengers. His denial runs all the way to apathy, until his boat mates finally force him to wake up. And when made to face the consequences of his choices head on, he proudly proclaims “I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (1:9). Really? You know He rules the waters, yet you got on a boat on the waters heading far away from Him. Makes total sense – NOT.
And sure, in the middle chapters, he has an upswing and seems to have gotten on track. He starts in chapter 1 as “But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (1:3). After a few natural disasters and three days among the rot of a fish’s belly, he becomes “So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh” (3:3), having repented of his bad choices and deciding to walk in obedience to God’s call – with the grace of three days and no other choice but to think.
But then there is chapter 4. He gets mad at God. Oh, yeah. That helped his cause. This prophet who had just sat and “remembered the Lord” (2:7) when he was down and out sees no other recourse than to beg for death (4:3,8). He storms out of the city in a hissy fit and sits on a hill watching them, hoping God will actually strike the city and pouting at God’s compassion toward people so undeserving.
Maybe I am slow or confused. But doesn’t it seem more likely that he would have begged to die after being tossed into the raging waters with his only hope being drowning (1:15)? But no. He seems calm and repentant in the fish’s belly, floating among who knows what. He sees the error of his choices, being shown the garbage in his heart with the garbage floating around him – and he hopes for God’s mercy.
But it obviously doesn’t last. Because he winds up alone on a hillside, frustrated to the point he either wants God to destroy the repentant city or kill him. He won’t be happy for the 120,000 people who just heard and saw God for the first time – and it changed their lives AND history forever.
Nope. Even after experiencing amazing grace personally and then seeing an entire evil nation repent in an instance – his only reaction is anger. How dare God save those people! Do You know how many people they have killed? Did You count how many villages they destroyed? Do You care how much damage they have done? Stop and think, oh mighty God – then reconsider and destroy them. I will be so happy when You do.
But Jonah missed the point. He was Ninevah’s great fish, and they responded the same way he did. They got it. God did a miracle only He could do – move an entire nation, including its king, to change. Yet, according to Jonah, God shouldn’t be so liberal and free-flowing with His grace. “A gracious and merciful God” (4:2) should be so only within reason.
But God has great compassion for everyone. He tells Jonah so (11). Jesus tells us the same thing in Luke 15:7 – “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance”. God LOVES a repentant heart. God is looking for any and all hearts who cry out and turn to Him.
But Jonah couldn’t let God grace be big enough to accept the wayward city turning. He refused to let God’s love work miracles for the unworthy city. And thus he sat outside the city, being tormented by the anger within himself and the elements around him (4:8).
He had a moment in 2:8 when he had the truth, profoundly – “Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy”. God is mercy, and He will shower it upon us even when we deserve it least. But this truth only lasted as long as Ninevah was consumed by wickedness. He who so desperately needed mercy in the fish’s belly could not find it within himself to share or give it away to a city who saw their great need for it. He who proclaimed the truth “Salvation is of the Lord” (2:9) never fully grasped its applications outside of his world.
So I’m left to wonder – did Jonah change?
Did God manage to get through to him?
Did he repent and go back into the city to celebrate with them?
Or did he return home to sulk and brood the rest of his days?
I really want his story to have a happy ending. Because then I, as a hot mess myself, could look at Jonah and have an example to follow. But God doesn’t give us the “ah-ha” moment David had in 2 Samuel 12. Instead, God leaves us to wonder. Because Jonah’s story ends with him still sitting and brooding, a seemingly bigger mess than he started – one who found grace but never grabbed hold of its truth.
But God is truly “a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm” (4:2). For He shows us through Jonah the power and punishment of disobedience, the power and possibilities of obedience, and the power and pulverizing effects of emotions left unchecked. He shows us through Ninevah the redemption and restoration that true repentance brings. And He reminds us that we all have a great fish (1:17) and worm (4:7) awaiting us when we won’t choose Him.
And again, I admit that I am hot mess like Jonah. I can only pray that I am not stubborn and hard-hearted like Jonah was. That I can rejoice over any person turning to God. That I balance emotions with grace and frustration with compassion. That I can let His grace and goodness be available and abundant to all. That when I am wrong I will turn quickly to God’s will. That the cry of my heart is never “it is better for me to die than to live” (4:3,8).
Help me, loving Father, be the person You know I can be. Let me run toward You with everything I am and everything I will be. Remove anything from within me that will get in the way of this. AMEN!
Marie Fremin. 6/1117 and 9/8/17