When God Makes You Look Bad
Here we are at the end of June! It was five years ago today that Debbie and I moved into our home in Fort Collins. At this point I am still in recovery mode from my back surgery. After feeling I had “turned a corner” a few weeks ago, I have had some challenges with some pain in my left leg and foot. This may be part of the healing process for the nerves, but it does present some challenges. My surgeon said that it may take up to three months to know the final outcome of the surgery. It looks like patience is the watch word.
BIBLE VERSE FOR TODAY…. When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened. This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish!…” (Jonah 3:10; 4:1,2 NLT)
Jonah is often referred to as the “reluctant prophet.” His story is known for being swallowed by a “great fish” and being spit out on the shores of Nineveh. There are many events in scripture where we don’t know all the details or have all the questions answered that we would like to, but this doesn’t apply to Jonah’s attitude and perspective.
The text of this book and Jonah’s own words are very clear as to why he ran from the Lord. He knew that the Lord was a “merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.” (Jonah 4:2 NLT) It is important to remind ourselves that Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrians the greatest threat to the existence of Israel and Jerusalem. The fact that Nineveh was going to be destroyed would seem to many like good news.
The Lord instructed Jonah to go to that “great city” and to announce His judgment due to their extreme wickedness. That seems like an appropriate message for a prophet. But what if…..the people repented and God relented?
Jonah’s message was not a call to repentance, but simply a pronouncement of judgment. The message was brief and to the point, “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” (Jonah 3:4 NLT) When the message was heard it was the people who believed God’s messenger. To them the proper response was to repent with genuine repentance. Even the cattle were put on a fast. They didn’t “party hardy”, until judgment day came giving into their fate. No. They took action to escape their coming doom.
Remember, Jonah was a prophet, not an evangelist. As a result, he was very well aware of God’s word about prophets. “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.” (Deuteronomy 18:22 NIV)
So we get some insight into Jonah’s anger when he says to God, “You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” (Jonah 4:2,3 NLT)
How does a prophet have any credibility is what he declares does not come to pass?! His reputation would be ruined and his future as God’s voice would be undermined. God tries to teach Jonah a lesson by having a vine grow up overnight to provide shade from the sun, only to have it quickly whither. The Lord was trying to show Jonah that he cared more for a vine and his own comfort and his for own reputation than the lives of people who need the Lord and turn to Him and seek forgiveness.
James would later write in his letter, “… judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13 NIV) God is absolutely true to His character. The problem for Jonah was not that he didn’t realize that, but that he did. In our lives we need to remember that our task is obedience to the Lord and leave the rest up to the Lord, letting God be God.