February – the Book of Jonah
“In the eye of the storm, You remain in control. In the middle of the war, You guard my soul. You alone are the anchor when my sails are torn. Your love surrounds me in the eye of the storm.” This song by Ryan Stevenson has been on my heart all month. When I was a chaplain in a hospital, I would sing it almost daily. It resonated with all the trauma and pain I was seeing. The focus of this book many believe is a rebellious prophet or perhaps a heroic whale, but the real Hero is God – Lord of all chaos and storms. He will show Himself mighty in a land where the gods of chaos and the gods of the sea were regularly worshiped.
GOD SEES Everywhere and Everyone!
Jonah – or in Hebrew Yonah has been a favorite of mine since childhood. As I read and reread this book, I’ve come to a new appreciation of both the prophet who runs and the God that pursues. Jonah’s life starts out on a sunny day when all is calm and bright. Rabbinic tradition states he was a p preacher and prophet’s kid, you PK’s will appreciate him even more. Jonah goes the opposite direction of God’s leading. At the very front of this book there is a crisis we are not expecting from a “churched guy”. Then he descends to Joppa, then to a ship, then to the bottom of that ship, then to the bottom of the ocean, then to the bottom of the whale and then to the lowest recesses of that whale. (Forgive me for singing “how low can you go from Grease”) at this point because it ranks somewhere between shocking and amusing). That’s low – and he sunk to the lowest not just physically but metaphorically as well! When things go from bad to worse, we can look to Jonah’s example. “Can things get any worse?” some ask, and the answer is yes, absolutely things can get worse– if there is no pause, no prayer, no repentance.
I delayed writing the blog this month because I became so fascinated with this story. We know the fish part and the miracle part but there is so much more to this narrative. Did you know the people in that area believed in a sea goddess? Her name was Nina. The Mariners on that boat were thought to represent 70 different nations – a plethora of gods they could call on from their own cultures. Chaos and darkness lurked in the sea. When the sailors were sailing along, everything was calm and they could not fathom (pun intended) things going any different, the winds picked up and the sails began to shake. At first, they thought it was something they just “picked up”. Then they investigated where each were from and questioned Jonah’s occupation, then familial background. His answer wouldn’t bother them, in fact it should have allayed their fears. A righteous man on board, no less the son of a righteous man should earn them brownie points with his god, right? Do the ritual, wear the robe, sing the song and dance the dance and all is perky and well. Kind of sounds like American religion doesn’t it? We put the quarter in the plate slot and out comes some earned favor at the job or maybe a special parking space at Walgreens. It should work that way; we hear it works that way but on this day…. It didn’t. A professor friend of mine wrote this week on FB, “Holiness is not earned, it is a gift.” These guys didn’t quite get that. Big muscle guys with ugly mugs and sensational tans were poking at Jonah’s pedigree and resume. When we can’t figure something out, we tend to blame things like race, gender, career. Jonah had to spell it out to them that his presence among them was the source of chaos and he needed to be thrown overboard.
How bad is God’s assignment if death looks better? Yikes!
Well you can do the math. Modern day Nineveh is Iraq. How many of us would want to tick off Isis or get blamed for bringing harm to someone in Isis? Drowning is not to difficult compared to torture.
Ever wonder why their gods didn’t work? Ever wonder why in the midst of all these other gods, none of them were listening or paying attention? Ecumenical folks say all religions are the same but as we see here that is simply NOT true. Tradition suggests Jonah paid for the whole ship, not just the ride. The goods, weapons, furniture were thrown overboard so there would be consequences for this cruise that went awry. Who do we blame says the insurance company? Who has angered their god? Even in that generation ALL GODS WERE NOT THE SAME.
The guy trying to blend in – the skinny, pale preachers’ son was not around when the storm first stirred up. He was no where to be found. Tradition says he was the widow woman’s son who was raised from the dead in 1 Kings. I’m not sure about that but it would make sense if he didn’t fear death quite as much since last time, they just woke him up. There he was –snoring in the bottom of the ship. He was resting which once a week is a great idea. He was resting however when the donkeys were drowning, not just in a ditch. He was resting when lives were at stake. He was snoring when there was work to be done. Time was almost up for him and his fellow sailors and he was in dream land.
This guys story often centers around his disobedience and a large fish. That is cool but when I discovered that he came from a religious family, “Jonah – the son of Amittai” I grew suspicious of this guys motives. He believed in the One True God – could even articulate sound theology about Him. Jonah knew God to be loving, patient, kind and slow to anger. He had a concise message. What he didn’t have was the love of that God – full of mercy for ALL in his heart. There lies the problem. Those who have been personally touched by that LOVE, can NOT keep silent. He knew of and about God’s love, but he didn’t know the God of love – great message for Valentines month.
Yonah – go to the 49ers, sure you choose the Chiefs, but I am directing you to the 49ers. Yonah, go to the Democrats. Yes, I know you prefer the Republicans, but I am commanding you to join the democrats. Yonah- go to the Irish. Yes, I know you prefer Jamaicans, but I will that you go to Ireland. We could list a million options here but there is only ONE decision to make – follow God or do our own thing. Yonah’s “thing” ended up in danger for EVERYONE and he became a “bottom dweller”.
By accident the captain of the ship woke Jonah up from slumber saying the exact same thing God had said when he found Jonah napping – “Get up (arise), go and proclaim. By accident Jonah preached the Word of the Lord. By accident he and the others called on God. By accident they figured out who was to blame. Then these mariners did the exact same thing you and I do when we can’t figure out where the source of chaos is coming from – we foolishly try harder. Harder. It does not seem to occur to us to worship, pray, repent or ask God for answers. We double down, we white knuckle, we blame the pastor, we blame the vessel carrying us (job, spouse, ministry). Row harder, row faster maybe we can outrun this chaos and get to smoother waters. The Bible states the storm then matched their intensity and grew worse. Side note: we are never a match for God’s intensity, if we try, we will always fail that test. Finally, like bad seafood needing to be vomited out, they throw jaded Jonah overboard. His body weight didn’t make a difference in their sail, but it did make a difference in their waves. Nothing, no sound, no flapping of the sails, no wind, no rain, everything slowed to a luxurious rhythmic cruise. (You can add Celine Dion singing “My heart must go on” here if you choose). Peace came and all realized prophetic, wrong direction jobless, no joke Jonah had been right.
The sleeping sluggard affected his first congregation, but his papa wouldn’t have been proud. Instead of collecting an offering for his sermon–they had thrown everything out. When the chaos came these guys realized the only God who had listened was Jonah’s. Pretty significant insight- note that it came from the pagans on board, not the prophet.
The sea goddess had been shushed and Jonah’s God had been appeased.
All the pieces of conversion are present – they call on God, they change their course, they offer sacrifices and make vows. That’s more than we had seen in Jonah up to this point. The disobedient had challenged them and they became obedient. Preacher or Teacher, those reading this who struggle with their very human lives before getting up to speak, you understand this better than most. It is a daunting task to present a holy word when we know full well how unholy or weary, we can be in our daily lives. What a fresh reminder that it is the Message of God that is effectual, the power of the Spirit that is possible to transform men and women’s lives and we are just vessels. Jonah was in open rebellion when God used him to speak to the sailors. That’s hard to square with our evangelist requirements isn’t it? Wouldn’t that make our hiring and releasing standards change? Hmm – “you, the one running, full of sin I think we could use you.”
Mariners from 70 nations (according to the commentary’s) are Jonah’s first audience here. He explains with ease what has taken place and forces them to abort his mission to Tarshish. Four times in this story Jonah will display suicidal tendencies and straight up beg God to take his life in death. Depression did not prevent God from mightily using this PK. In fact, it kind of catapulted him into his destiny.
This is a compelling story, a cute whale of a story but the question still stirs us today. It is not a parable, as Jesus affirms its truth in Matthew 17. The book of Jonah strongly reminds us that God is forgiving, compassionate and slow to anger. It’s what he wanted the Ninevites to know then and what God wants YOU reading this now to know. God is forgiving, compassionate and slow to anger. How then can we not share that compassion with the world? Who do we withhold this love from? Who do we think does not deserve it?
Let me offer you some options:
Kanye West – not a theologian yet drawing the biggest crowds to hear the Gospel. Many ignore his message since he is not “seminary trained”.
JLo – beautiful, physically fit actress and singer who is from New York of Puerto Rican Descent. She’s the first person ever challenged thru lawsuits for a half time performance while years of white women and cheerleaders and Americas Got Talent performers continue to do the same without rebuke. Do they not deserve the love of God but the sponsors who paid them to dance do? Who decides arbitrarily who gets mercy and who gets punishment? The viewers who innocently or intentionally watched – are they more or less deserving of God’s grace?
North Korean or Iraq leaders
Presidential Candidates or politicians and which ones get it and which ones don’t?
People in your church who are on welfare or maybe have enormous wealth
Perfect people with made beds and clean garages
People who do not look, smell or act like us.
Which of these is beneath or not deserving of God’s love or compassion or salvation? Who decides? Can you see where our standards of “deserving” break down pretty quickly?
Does that mean we don’t hold Biblical standards? No. Does that mean we toss holiness out the window ourselves? No. Does that mean people can harm or hurt others without being disciplined? No.
What it does mean is that God loves the Ninevites from Assyria despite the stories of cruelty and torture. I honestly don’t understand why at times, but my heart is limited, my grace is cut short, my compassion has a due date. These awful people offered up their family as burnt sacrifices, they served pagan gods. I would say that is worse than adhering to a different political party! God wants us to reach them? Which Ninevite? Which Ninevite is unworthy of God’s grace? How many stones are left in the ground for us to throw and who among us is clean enough to throw it? Who is worth saving?
ALL of them, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Why? Because HE CREATED THEM. Pro-life means Jesus is for giving all abundant life. We forget He loves adults TOO. Regardless what designer dress or jean they wear today, one day they were tiny babies that He designed and made plans for, full of hope and promise. One day they may turn from their wicked ways and make Him Lord and on that day, He will let them know His love was always available – they just needed to ask. He could not love them less yesterday or more tomorrow because He is constant – and He never changes. His mercies are limitless, new every morning (Lam.3).
Who God loves – that’s His decision and for His timing – not mine. I’m thankful that He reached me.
One day, He came and rescued my soul. One day, He showed me that He was faithful and present and oh so loving. If He can love a sinner such as me, who am I to deny another His grace and love? He reached low and pulled me up. That was Jonah’s moment of hope – He picked ME up.
This blog is not about equality or diversity or political opinions. It is merely a chance to look at Jonah’s fears and justifications for why he could not share God’s love with the unlovable or unlikeable. It challenges us if we don’t acknowledge God’s character or if we don’t truthfully say that He does not change His desire for ALL of those He has created. My question from this book to you is this– Which of those God wants to save now as adults in their full belief system, fully living in wretched or righteous actions would you prevent from hearing or sharing God’s lavish love?
Jonah- son of Amittai, born into a structured, sacred religious system chose four times to DIE rather than bring God’s message to someone that did not fit his structure of belief. I cannot cross the aisle to Nineveh (or xyz…) because these people are too gross, too sinful, too different. Today we face the same questions.
- What is YOUR theology of the One True God?
- Is He only those things (forgiving, loving, patient) for people who act, speak or vote like YOU?
I pray we will no longer try to abort God’s precious proclamations to those He sends us to. I pray no one will drown while we nap, perish while we run the other way. I pray we will all live out our purpose under Heaven, sharing the love that first touched our families and our hearts. Lord, help us to see with YOUR eyes. Lord, now, use us however, whenever, wherever and ….to WHOM ever You send us.
When I shared this post with my family throughout the month the boys said it reminded them of a song their friend wrote:
Watch “A song about perfectionism ft. Justin Binnicker Music” on YouTube
Ivy Brillhart, Hadley Brillhart, Justin Brillhart – great job!
Every month we pray over the blog and those who read it. I was really touched by their song and the wisdom that went into it. In the group Jonah reached were countless children and teens – all headed to destruction if no one reached them, no one loved them or told them the truth. The smart, the pretty, the rich, the poor, despised – who deserves to hear the full Gospel of Jesus Christ? Ask Him, then arise and GO FIND THEM.