Jonah’s stubborn will refused to go in the direction God was leading. Sometimes God nudges. But in the reluctant, run-away prophet’s case, God did more than nudge.
Why didn’t God wipe His hands, and move on? Find a guy with a passion for souls? Someone who wanted to partner with the Divine and play on the winning team?
But Jonah knew something we don’t.
The Assyrians were cruel. Unimaginably violent.
If I had been Jonah, maybe I’d have done the same thing.
Nineveh was Assyria’s capital city – possibly the largest city in the ancient world. Half a million people and founded by Noah’s great-grandson, Nimrod.
The area wasn’t a destination. Except for their enemies. And only by compulsion.
The Assyrians had perfected methods of torture. From what I’ve read, they would skin a human being – alive.
Drowning looked good compared to what awaited in Nineveh.
Israel’s residents kept their distance from the pagans. But the Hebrews also held an air of superiority – they were the ones chosen to receive God’s covenant blessing, and they knew good from evil.
And Nineveh was worse than evil.
So, when God called him for missionary work, Jonah refused and ran the other way. Even though it took him on a detour through the swampy insides of a huge fish.
Whether it’s scientifically possible or the result of a divine miracle isn’t the point here. (Jesus spoke of the incident as fact in Matthew 12:39-41).
In the belly of a whale Jonah had time to spare with no place to go, until God was ready to release him.
Until Jonah submitted.
As uncertainty and hours stretched, Jonah changed his heart. He relinquished his rights and set aside his will. He humbled himself, and overcame personal and national fear, disgust, abhorrence – literal terror. And headed toward Nineveh.
And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. – Jonah 3:7-8
The Ninevites were a wicked people.
But they repented. Like, Wow!
They draped themselves and their animals in sackcloth, and for a time, worshiped the one true God. And their enemies could relax.
From the preaching of a man with a DRA (dirty rotten attitude). Miracle after miracle, plus a huge revival, and all Jonah could do was throw a temper tantrum. He wanted God to judge the Assyrians. He wanted them to suffer, the same way others had suffered by their hands.
But look at what God did! A whole city turned away from sin and to the Lord!
Not once, though, do we see Jonah voice his thanks. Maybe he could have used a bigger dose of compassion. A little more maturity. And praise. Faith.
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Jeremiah had everything Jonah didn’t: humility, yieldedness to God’s will, obedience, compassion, a burden for souls, and a desire to serve – even at personal expense. He never married. Never had sons or daughters or grandbabies to carry on his name.
And this sensitive, faithful prophet saw no repentance or revival, no fruit from his preaching.
Instead, he was beaten, and thrown into a deep pit (probably an old well) by his own neighbors. Rebels – uninterested in listening to messages from God or God’s men – they opposed him, persecuted and attacked, and left him for dead.
Any wonder Jeremiah was ready to give up? He vowed he’d never speak God’s words again.
But when a heart and life belong to God…
And because Jeremiah’s did, he couldn’t remain silent. He accepted God’s call, followed God’s will, even while suffering man’s abuse. Heartbroken over the disobedience of his own nation, he preached. Through tears. With barely any results.
The name Jeremiah means, God is high or God is exalted.
And Jeremiah penned some of the most encouraging words of all Scripture in the two books, Jeremiah and Lamentations. Words inspired, God-breathed, and still very much alive today.
How often do we pick up our Bible because we just can’t get enough of Jonah’s story? Which one of us has ever been inspired by the pouting prophet?
Yet, time after time I open the pages to read lessons learned by Jeremiah, about the faithfulness of his God, and the faithfulness of mine.
The classic hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness” comes from the deep heartache in Jeremiah’s life, from the lessons learned and penned in the book of Lamentations, and from lessons learned centuries later by the composer of lyrics that are still sung today.
Sometimes success comes in disguise. Inspiration comes from brokenness. And the greatest blessings come while we’re stuck at the bottom of a hole.
I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath. He has led me and made me walk in darkness and not in light. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I hope in Him! The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. – Lamentations 3