The Wake Up Call of Jonah
January 21, 2016 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
The book of Jonah has one of the most curious endings in the entire Bible. The last verse contains a question for Jonah from God: “And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” There is nothing recorded after this. How did Jonah respond? Did he continue in his callous response to the pity of God? Some even ask, will Jonah be in heaven? Scripture never answers these questions.
This odd ending is very strategic for the writer of Jonah. The writer doesn’t want us to dwell on Jonah and his response. The writer, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wants our attention to turn to ourselves. How would we respond? Is God right to pity the people of Nineveh, even though their ways proved to be evil in His sight? Jonah didn’t think so; how about you?
The story of Jonah is a wake up call for the people of God (Israel in the Old Testament, the church today) to remember the core of God’s character. He is a “gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jon. 4:2). God’s grace and mercy are the only reasons why there even is a “people of God.” This repeated refrain of God’s core character is first stated in Exodus 34:6, right after the whole incident with the golden calf. God had every right to wipe out the Israelites right there at Mount Sinai, but by his mercy and grace, he relented and forgave them! That’s astonishing!
You and I are not much better. Dead in our sins. Following Satan. Living in the passions of our sinful flesh (see Ephesians 2:1-3, it’s not a pretty picture). “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5). That’s astonishing! Our story is identical to the Israelite’s story at Sinai. Why? Because God is the same, always! His core character (“he is a gracious God and merciful) never changes and sets the course for his actions with his people.
Jonah had good theology (the confession of Jonah 4:2 is from his lips in the midst of a complaint). His heart and life had become sleepy to the reality of God’s mercy and grace. Let’s avoid that same sleepy condition.
1. Revel in God’s Mercy and Grace for You. Celebrate. Rest in. Delight in. Be satisfied with. Long to know it. If God’s mercy and grace is the core of his character and the foundation of our relationship with Him, then his mercy and grace are the core of our life with Him, defining our identity, our hope, our future, our sanctification, and our purpose. Somewhere along the line Jonah did not let God’s mercy and grace be the center of his relationship with God. He stated that he believed God was merciful and gracious, but there was something more for Jonah that assured relationship with God. Jonah deemed the Ninevites to be unworthy of God’s grace. Perhaps it was ethnotricity, or maybe works-righteousness. He forgot, though, that he, and all of Israel, add nothing to God’s grace and mercy for their “privileged” relationship with God.
2. Strive for God-Like Compassion for All People. The writer of Jonah makes it quite clear that the people of Nineveh did evil in the sight of the Lord. God had every right to judge them (he eventually does pronounce judgment on Assyria because they return to their evil ways; see Isaiah 14:24-27). Yet he demonstrated that he is “slow to anger and relenting from disaster.” Should we not also act in compassion for people, even those we may deem to be “unworthy”? Through the prophet Jonah, God seeks to wake up his people to lives of compassion.
“Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1-2).