Monday, June 1, 2015

The Great Pursuit: When God Won't Let Us Get Away, Jonah Week 3

Suburban Stereotype, Jonah, Bible Study, Obedience
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So far, we've read about Jonah running away from the Lord's call on his life to go preach to the Ninevites. He was afraid, so he hopped a ship to Tarshish. Once a storm kicked up and scared everyone on board the ship, the crew threw Jonah overboard and the storm stopped. 

Jonah thought he was a goner, but God sent a large fish to swallow him. While inside the fish, Jonah prayed a gut-wrenching prayer asking the Lord to forgive him and committed to fulfill what God called him to do. 

The fish spit Jonah up on the shore of Nineveh and that's where we pick up today...

Verse 1:

"Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 'Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.'"
I love the way chapter three describes Nineveh:

"Now Nineveh was a very important city--a visit required three days." 

Jonah wasted no time in getting to work:

"On the first day, Jonah started into the city."

The chapter goes on to tell us that Jonah was bold as he proclaimed "'Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.'"

A striking statement, slipped ever-so-nonchalantly in at verse 5 is short and sweet, but packs quite a punch! The first part of that verse reads:

"The Ninevites believed God."

Just like that! Lickety Split!

At first reading, we might ask ourselves, "What was all the fuss? Why was Jonah so worried to preach in Nineveh? That was cake!"

In fact, as we read, we see the king himself  "rose from his throne, took off his royal clothes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in dust."

He then went on to issue a proclamation that every man and beast would also be covered in sackcloth and would fast from food and drink. He told everyone to urgently call on God in the hopes that the Lord would have mercy on them.

"'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.'" Jonah 3:7b-9
It would be easy to skip over the end of verse 8, the part about giving up their "evil ways and violence."

The commentary in my Quest Study Bible explains that the Ninevites were "international terrorists  who fueled the Assyrian war machine." It doesn't take much for our thoughts to jump to a similar group of people in our current-day culture: ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, etc.

Given everything happening in our current generation (beheadings of Christians, massacre of children, the systematic slaughter of entire villages, and the ongoing bold assertion that they will not stop until they have full dominance), it doesn't take much to understand why Jonah may have been terrified to go into that environment to preach about God.

But then...we see them (seemingly) quickly repent and call on the name of the Lord.


My Bible adds this to say about why the Ninevites listened so easily:

"Jonah may have looked peculiar, perhaps bearing the acidic effects of three days inside the digestive system of a large fish. Whatever captured their attention, Jonah's news of coming judgment was more important to them than who he was or where he came from."
Also? I think Jonah was worried so much about his own skin and angry that God would even consider forgiving such egregious acts of violence and blasphemy that that's why he refused to go at first.

But...mostly...I think he neglected to consider that when God calls us to something, God provides a way and paves the path. He softens the hearts of those He's sending us to and has His ultimate goal in the end: Repentance, not destruction.

Verse 10 rounds out this short chpater like this:
"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."
This was an entire city...and a large one, at that.

Does it surprise you that God would forgive them, these people who were so terrible? People who were violent and murderous?

Does it give you hope that if God could forgive them, surely He can forgive you?

Does it inspire you to pray urgently for these groups: ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and the like?

Have you ever felt God call you into the crosshairs?

Ask yourself these questions as we close out Chapter 3:

(Download your FREE PDF Study Guide HERE.)

  1. Have you ever found yourself with a second chance to listen to God's calling on your life? Are you in that place now? Write about it.
  2. When seeing how the Ninevites responded to what Jonah was preaching, were you surprised? If so, why?

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