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Monday, June 8, 2015

The Great Pursuit: When God Won't Let Us Get Away, Jonah Week 4



So, this is it, friends! We've arrived at the last week of this study of Jonah! Let's dive right in...

{Find Chapter 1's Discussion HERE.
Find Chapter 2's Discussion HERE.
Find Chapter 3's Discussion HERE.}

Chapter 3 ended with the people of Nineveh repenting and mourning for their wrong-doing and violence. And Jonah leaped for joy because all his hard work paid off, right?

Uh....no 

In fact, Jonah was TICKED.

Chapter 4 opens like this:
"But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry." (Verse 1)
His prayer that follows in verses 2-3 is raw and angry. I can see the spit flying as each word tears from his mouth. I feel the hot, angry tears on my own cheeks as they stream down his face. I feel the rage, the bitterness that he must have felt.
"He prayed to the Lord, 'O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? This is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.'"
And there it is: The REAL reason Jonah fled in the beginning. Was he afraid? Maybe. But the center of his disobedience lie in God's grace! At first glance, it makes me shake my head. I mean, really?

But then...when I sit back and really think about it...it doesn't seem so strange.

In place of the Ninevites, we have already discussed ISIS and how the two groups parallel one another closely. We discussed how it would be understandable for anyone to be hesitant to go toe-to-toe with them. And we can probably even understand how Jonah would be angry with the Lord for forgiving them--for giving them a second chance.

The following is a section taken from www.muumc.org and it offers a grisly account of exactly who the Ninevites were:

The Assyrian Empire, at its greatest under Ashurbanipal, reached from Egypt to southeastern Turkey to Iran, including all the fertile river valleys of the Nile, the Jordan, and the Tigris and Euphrates. This was the largest empire yet seen in the world; and it got there using a new military weapon: terror. The Assyrian army was notorious for its brutality, and the Assyrians themselves made sure their enemies knew about their reputation. Their powerful bows, battering rams, and archers on horseback were also effective; but mutilation of prisoners, resettlement of whole populations, and a general rejoicing in butchery were what their victims told others about. Assyrian kings bragged in stone about their atrocities.
The Lachish murals from Sennacherib’s throne room are as detailed as the evening news. We see the huge ramp the Assyrians built against the walls, and we see the battering rams on it pounding at the wooden gates. The defenders on the wall above sling stones and throw burning torches at the rams to try to burn them. Captured Judeans are brought to the king on his throne nearby. Other prisoners are being skinned alive, stabbed, beheaded, impaled on poles, their hands or feet or tongues chopped off, and their eyes put out. The barefoot and malnourished survivors leave the city with all they still own slung over their shoulders. They will probably be marched to Nineveh on foot. Some may be drafted into the Assyrian army to conquer other lands. 
But let's go a little deeper, kay?

Instead of ISIS or Al Qaeda--groups it's understandable to be angry and abhorrent about--let's put a less militant, yet perhaps in some ways,  harder-to-forgive face on these Ninevites.

What if God sent you to preach to the friend who betrayed you...

The spouse who cheated...

The parent who abandoned you...

The murderer....

The liar...

The pedophile...

All the sudden, it isn't so easy.

When you read the above examples, did your knee-jerk response kick in? Did you want to slam your fist down and call me ridiculous? Did anger rise up in you at the thought of God forgiving the man who cheated on you and broke your heart? The friend who lied to you and slanders you behind your back? The person who took advantage of your innocence as a child?

Then you know exactly how Jonah felt.

He moved past angry and landed solidly at indignant.

God asked Jonah:
"'Have you any right to be angry?'"
Jonah did again what had become his knee-jerk response: He ran away from the Lord. He "went out and sat down at a place east of the city" (verse 5).

Jonah made a shelter and sat in its shade. Verse 5 says that he waited to see what would happen to the city.

I never want to place in the Scriptures anything that isn't there, but I wonder if while Jonah sat there, he hoped to see it explode in a huge plume of smoke. Did his thoughts dance with visions of  horrible fates for the Ninevites? Was he counting on the Lord to come to His senses and finally smite the Ninevites once and for all? Was he recounting all the ways the Ninevites had failed and all the reasons they didn't deserve grace and mercy?

The Lord sent a vine to grow up over Jonah and ease his discomfort. Verse 6 tells us that Jonah was very happy about the vine.

At dawn, the Lord provided a worm to eat the vine so that it withered. Then the Lord sent a scorching east wind and the sun blazed. Jonah said that it would be better for him to die.

God asked Jonah if he had a right to be angry about the vine.

Jonah stuck to his guns. He replied that he did have a right and he was so angry he could just die. And the Lord responded with:

"'You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?'"
It's at this point that we turn the page of our Bible, awaiting the rest of the conversation and Jonah's reaction. But turning the page leads us into the book of Micah.

Say what??

THAT'S HOW IT ENDS???

One might think the rest of this book are lost somewhere and that the story is unfinished, but if we take a minute to let it all sink in, I think we will understand the purpose of the Lord including this book in His Holy Word.

Is there someone in your life who has wronged you? Who has committed such atrocities that you can't fathom how you can forgive them, let alone how God could forgive them?

Are you so angry and eaten with bitterness that you would rather die than forgive...or know that God has forgiven?

The Lord showed Jonah--and us, by extension--that no one is beyond the Lord's abounding grace and mercy. No one.

We easily place caveats on His grace and forgiveness, but His love knows no bounds. His grace covers any and all sins. His forgiveness is offered freely to all.

Because He created us all. He tends to us all.

He cares about us all.

And our limited, convoluted, human thinking and logic often dictates to our wounded and bruised hearts just who is worthy of forgiveness and who isn't.

But God says it all in verse 11.
"'Should I not be concerned about...'"
Jonah is a book much deeper than I originally understood it to be. Long gone are the sweet nursery rhyme, Sunday school thoughts I once had about Jonah and the "big whale."

Instead, I have a mirror held to my face and I'm asking myself if I really believe God will and wants to forgive anyone. Everyone.

When the Lord calls (and He will!) will I be obedient to step forward and tell others about Him? Will I pre-qualify those He calls me to based on my own scale of justice? Or will I step forward and simply obey?

As we close out this study, please take some time to journal on the last page of your FREE Downloadable PDF Study Guide. Really think about--and pray about--any emotions you noticed while doing this study, reading the book of Jonah, and particularly during this last chapter when we're called to recognize God's sovereignty.

Ask yourselves these questions:


  1. Have you ever been angry with God for sparing someone(s) you feel should be punished? If so, why?
  2. Do you struggle with feeling God's mercy for your enemies is unfair? If yes, why do you think that is?
  3. Has the Lord ever provided a "vine" for you? If so, describe it.

I can't thank you enough for going along on this study with me. There is nothing that will grow us better than being in the Word and actively studying it, pondering it, and praying for the Holy Spirit's wisdom to help us understand it. 

As we finish, I'd like to pray for us all:

Dear Heavenly Father,

We thank you for Your Word, We praise You for Your sovereignty. We also thank you for Your grace. We are so undeserving. Please gently remind us of that as we hold out forgiveness from others or hope that You will do so. Please give us hearts of love and not condemnation. Please give us feet that are obedient to go wherever You call us, without fear or reservation. We thank you for Jesus, who provided us with the payment for our sins, that we could never pay. It's in His precious name that we pray, amen. 


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