Read: The book of Jonah has always been one of my favorites. When I start to read it, I get “hooked” and can’t put it down until I have read the whole book. One biblical scholar says it is “exquisitely written”. So, read it now for the fun of it, get caught up in the story, pretend you are Jonah and feel what he felt. Now that you have read it, what did you learn about Jonah, or yourself? I suggest you read it a second time, searching for the answer to this question: “LORD, what is your message to us in the book of Jonah?”
Reflection: Have you ever felt or thought the LORD was asking you to do something or that the Bible was commanding you to do something, you did not want to do? If so, spend some time remembering that situation. What were you being asked to do? Why did you resist? What were you afraid of? Were you angry at the LORD? This has happened to me many times. I met and fell in love with Joyce, who has been my wife for almost 59 years, in the spring of 1956. In the summer of 1958, after my freshman year in college, I worked helping to unload logging trucks. One Monday the thought came to me, “You have to tell Joyce that our relationship needs to end.” My reaction was, “Ralph are you losing it? That is a crazy idea!” Well, the thought persisted, and I realized the thought had come from God. An intense struggle with God raged within me. On Friday Joyce and I went to a movie together. I said nothing to her about the battle within me. After I dropped her off at her home, I left for my home which was 15 miles away. The struggle with God was so intense I couldn’t take it anymore. So, I said, “Lord, I will do that which you are asking me to do!” The peace that flooded me was overwhelming. What I had decided to do was crazy, but I was at peace. As I drove on home, I realized I had been tested, in the same way Abraham had been when he was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22). The issue was: Would I be obedient to whatever God asked me to do, no matter what it cost?”
Go back to Jonah: have you ever wanted the LORD to respond to someone with revenge instead of forgiveness and mercy? Is there someone who has done wicked things to you or one of your loved ones and you feel lead by the LORD to confront them with the intention that they will repent, ask for forgiveness and be redeemed?
The book of Jonah is listed as one of the minor prophets, but the book does not call him a prophet. However, he was asked to do what prophets did – proclaim “…the word of the LORD that came to him…” Many times, prophets were told to voice the anger of the LORD. But that is not the case with Jonah. The LORD clearly identified the people in Nineveh as wicked and told Jonah to confront them. But in the book, it is Jonah who is mad, mad at God! It is Jonah who needs to repent and be forgiven. Did he repent and receive forgiveness? It doesn’t say.
It is interesting that the pagan sailors, captain and king and people of Nineveh were the ones who cried out to the LORD, trusting the LORD would change his mind (repent). What do you make of this?
In the 4th chapter a big deal is made of Jonah’s anger: Twice “The LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Once Jonah ignored the question and once, he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Have you ever been angry at the LORD, I mean, livid? I have. The book of Jonah suggests to me that it is ok to tell the LORD when we are angry at Him, that is, to deal with it openly and honestly. It is the only way I know of to resolve the anger and restore the peace.
One more question: what does the book of Jonah tell us about the heart of God?
Pray: LORD, through scripture or your Spirit within us, speak to us even when we do not want to hear what you have to say. Help us discern your word from our own or the many worldly words with which we are constantly bombarded. Give us courage and wisdom to speak the hard words and live in ways drastically different from the world.
When we have gone astray and are going our own way, make our lives miserable so we will come to our senses and turn to you for help and forgiveness. In the powerful name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.
Practice: I suggest you select someone or a group of people with whom you are angry and desire revenge and pray at least once a day for a month that they will repent of their wrong and seek the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness. Also, ask the Lord to help you work through your desire for revenge, and forgive them.