Jonahs, Where are You? On a Ship, against a Storm, beneath the Sea, in the Vomit, inside Nineveh, or up a Hill?

It would intimidate me, too.

Jonah was a prophet who had no problems delivering the Word of the Lord to his own people. However, the day came when God gave him a new assignment--Nineveh.

Nineveh was the capital of the powerful empire of Assyria, known for its brutal treatment of enemies, which included Israel.

Never before had God sent a prophet to a foreign land; Jonah was puzzled as to why the Lord would even bother with a people that were so licentious and cruel. And to his utter astonishment, God wanted him to waltz right into town and tell them to repent or destruction was on its way!

Jonah thought it was a suicide mission, for sure. The mighty Assyrians repent--- just because a lone, little Israelite says so. Uh, yeah.

Finally, after enough images of being drawn and quartered in the town square and pierced through the belly with the king's sword, Jonah devised a plan.

He would run away from God. He bought a ticket to far-away Tarshish--the exact opposite of where God wanted him to go.

You know the story. He got on a ship, encountered a storm, realized he was the source of the trouble, asked to be thrown overboard and was summarily swallowed by a giant fish.

Let's stop here for a moment and examine how God dealt with national sin in the Old Testament.

He sent prophets, and patiently waited for them to turn from wickedness. Finally, God didn't have to DO anything! He stepped out of the way when the seeds of sin ripened.

After years of self-willed sowing, the people reaped a harvest of calamity as invading powers took them into captivity.

Today, however, since every human being is capable of receiving the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit unto Salvation in Christ, God calls individuals, not nations to repentance.

We do not pray for nations, but people within those nations to come to Christ and begin to affect change all around them--in education, commerce, the arts and sciences and they rule. God is not interested in saving man-made governments, but the people who govern!

In Christ, all natural boundaries and distinctions are removed--nationalities, ethnicities, gender, color, and creed. Believers become part of a new, holy nation--the only one God recognizes.

Either we are in this Kingdom or not. (1 Peter 2:9)

Nevertheless, God still raises up prophetic voices to speak uniquely to individuals within modern nations.

I bet you wonder, just like Jonah probably did, why God can't just BOOM His voice from the sky at the unsaved, or perform some tremendous sign and wonder that will leave them stupefied.

Wait. He already did that. He raised Jesus from the dead, and they STILL don't believe!

God has always chosen to partner with man as He works in the earth, beginning with Adam. He is looking for partners today, especially  Jonahs...but where are they?

Many think they've outsmarted and outrun God. I wonder if they are aware the roots of Tarshish in Hebrew mean "refinery; beat down, shatter"? They'll know it soon enough if they don't turn around!

Others are struggling in storms of their own making and endangering others.

Some, swallowed whole by something they can't get out of, are ready to give up.

So what was the turning point for Jonah?

Right there-in the smelly belly of his circumstance--he repented! He admitted: "They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy." (2:8)

Lying vanities: in the Hebrew, it's a combination of "useless" and "to lead astray"...therefore, "emptiness that leads one astray."

Heavenly Father, how often your children (this writer included) dwell on useless, empty things that lead us astray!

Jonah goes on to say in verse 9 that if given the chance again, he WILL obey the Lord with a thankful heart.

And here's one of my favorite verses in the Bible:

"And the Lord spake unto the fish and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land."

Our prophetic Jonahs can't preach repentance within the nations and people groups until the Church is willing to preach repentance unto them!

Confront the Jonahs on the run; tell them although they think they've gotten a bargain, they'll end up paying a price they never expected.

Instead of always enabling Jonahs in the storm, get real and admonish them to throw themselves overboard into the merciful, but corrective dealings of God! The longer you protect a man or woman from God's chastisement, the more both of you will lose in the fire before the Throne of Christ.

Intercede for the Jonahs in the belly of a hellish situation. Pray for them to quit looking at their surroundings and know that even there, God is near (Jonah 2:7).

It took Jonah three days to come to himself and regain clarity. The truth is that with God, there is always a way out of the darkest, bleakest situation--even if it is self-inflicted!

Stand on the shore expectantly; step into the vomit if you must and help them up. Assure them of your love. Give provisions for the journey, not just a pat on the back. Cover them in prayer as they pursue God's call.

The real Jonah, most likely draped in seaweeds and bleached white from the fish's digestive juices, went to Nineveh and obeyed God.

Astonishingly, the people received the message--even the king! He declared a fast of both people and livestock. He sat in sackcloth and ashes and cried, "But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands...

"Who can tell if God will turn and repent and turn away from His fierce anger, that we perish not?" (3:8-9)*

Rabbinic tradition says that word spread to Nineveh about Jonah's miraculous deliverance from the fish before he got there. A great, supernatural testimony always helps!

But I simply believe the tremendous, life-changing power released for others came from the Holy Spirit working through one finally yielded, totally surrendered, living sacrifice. In other words, "I'll obey God--even if it kills me."

What you release to God may be the key to releasing others

Jonahs have to die to their desires for respect and a good reputation. They have to be willing to embrace ridicule, scorn, and mockery for the sake of Christ. They have to let go of fears, doubts, and self-consciousness before a host of "Ninevites".

But once you're empty and ready to die, you just may be surprised! Jonah was. He couldn't believe ALL of Nineveh repented!

So what did Jonah do after he preached? He sat smugly on a hill with a great view of the city, hoping to see the fireworks. But in his heart, He knew that God always keeps His word and delights in mercy. He sulked; he sat...and sulked some more.

God finally had enough of the prophet's whining.

"Should I not spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand, and also much cattle?" (Jonah 4:11)

Theologians remain divided as to whether this 120,000 refer only to children (which would have made the city much larger than archaeological evidence suggests today) or simply to the spiritual ignorance of the populace. I agree with the latter interpretation.

We not only need to intercede for our Jonahs to come forth, but once they're out preaching, we need to pray they don't fall into the same ministry trap as their famous predecessor--a lack of compassion.

This is especially true as I update this post in 2010. Bigotry against American Muslims is at unprecedented levels in this country--even greater than right after 9/11. Sadly, many conservative Christians--ignoring clear facts--are at the forefront of stirring up irrational fears, and even calling for the First Amendment rights of generational, Americanized Muslims to be violated.

Interestingly, Jonah's call came at a time when when the Assyrians' power was resurging greater than ever before. Sound familiar?

God commands us to, "do justly, and to love mercy..." (Micah 6:8).

Since He commands us to pattern our lives after His virtues, we know that we are to always be just (truthful) in our dealings with others and generous in mercy.

The merciful receive mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

"There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you." NLT (James 2:13)

Notice in the closing word to the prophet, God cared about how judgment would affect the livestock (economy) of the Ninevites! Have you ever noticed this before?

As our country imposes sanctions against innocent populations--today in Iran, previously in Iraq where 500,000 children died--we must soberly heed this lesson and raise our voices as God's true representatives in the earth.

Also, God's rhetorical question to Jonah is the last verse in this narrative. Jonah's reaction is not recorded.

Did he repent of his anger at God's show of mercy? Was Jonah allowed to continue his prophetic ministry or did this hilltop attitude cancel his next assignment?

The silence is a deafening and unnerving lesson for all of us! What will the end of your book record (or not) about your finish? Just as important, what are the chapters saying about you now?

Before we gather on our hillsides to watch judgment come upon others, let's recall that God said judgment begins first with the Church.

"For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?" (I Peter 4:17)

Now, hold on. Remember, I said that God doesn't have to DO anything in regards to trump up punishment. He merely steps out of the way. So, before you imagine a cruel, old man throwing lightening bolts from Heaven, keep in mind that judgment is simply when the seeds we've sown come to maturity!

Yes, praying for crop failure is helpful, and God in His mercy has wiped out acres of consequences for me, but not all of them. God is not an enabler or co-dependent, now is He?

That's why I repeatedly teach that repentance is positive! The threshing of conviction, if heeded, leads to repentance...and that removes chaff BEFORE it rots the grain!

Chaff, the unprofitable, outer coating around grains, is removed from smaller plants by the beating of a staff or rod; larger grains must have the dead covering stripped by a heavy, oblong stone with teeth. Oxen drag the instrument over the grain--bruising, but NOT crushing.

Sometimes, the Holy Spirit is able to bring conviction with rods and staffs. At other times, the potential of the grain for the Lord's Harvest or the thickness of the smothering chaff requires a greater threshing.

This process crushes our pride, ego, and stubborn wills...but NOT our spirits! If you do not know the difference, you will get angry and bear an offense against your Maker.

"For godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation, a repentance which bringeth no regret..." (2 Corinthians 7:10)

It is human nature to stop intrusive procedures. Many of us are satisfied to regret our sins and that's it. Occasionally, we may experience remorse when our words or actions have incurred painful circumstances to us or those we care about.

But rarely do we allow the Holy Spirit to work a deep, godly sorrow that won't lift until we ourselves are broken for breaking the heart of God.

In those deep recesses of our hearts, consequences don't matter. We're not saying "sorry" in hopes for a quick pass. We are without excuse at the foot of the Cross and a crucified Savior.

You can pray for revival or an old-fashioned awakening here at home and abroad, but why not pray first for:

those who bought tickets to Tarshish to turn them in and turn around,

those on ships headed in the opposite direction to throw their exalted selves overboard,

those in the belly of the whale to quit dwelling on lying vanities,

those wallowing in the vomit of self-pity on the shore to realize their miracle, get up, and go finish their assignments--seaweed and all,

And those parked on hillsides to come down!

By the way, Jesus spoke to the CHURCH at Laodicea about vomit, too:

"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold not hot: I would thou was cold or hot. So then because thou are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of MY mouth.

"Because thou sayest, ‘I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing: and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, blind, and naked.

"...As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent."(Revelation 3:15-17; 19)

Note: I wrote a response to a reader on another site as to what it really means when we read a passage in the Bible about "God repenting". Just ask for your free copy.

No comments: