Summary: Jonah Experiences God’s Mercy…Again
An election of a prime minister wasn’t the only exciting thing to happen last Tuesday. October 14th was also the day the latest Indiana Jones movie came out on DVD. I admit. I ran out to rent the movie and watched it that very night. But the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a disappointment. Of the four Indiana Jones movies it is my least favorite. The reason may be that Dr. Jones, played by a 65 year-old Harrison Ford, is 17 years older than he was in the first movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indy just didn’t seem to have his usual spunk.
Coincidently the last chapter of the book of Jonah is also the least flattering for that prophet of God. In today’s adventure, Independent Jonah and His Incredibly Thick Skull, the prophet throws a tantrum over God’s mercy for the Ninevites. The bad news is that we’re often like Independent. We think that there are some people that just don’t deserve God’s mercy. The good news is that God treats us with love and patience as he did Jonah to get us to see things his way so we don’t miss out on his mercy for us. Let’s find out more.
Although it’s been a few weeks since our last Independent Jonah adventure I’m sure you remember what happened to the prophet. After being spit back onto dry land by that huge fish, Jonah received a second chance to go to Nineveh and preach repentance. This time Jonah went and God blessed his message. Everyone in Nineveh, including the king, repented and God forgave them. He did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
You would expect Jonah’s reaction to be one of joy and celebration. I mean if you made a spectacular save to stop the last penalty kick to secure a World Cup victory, you would shout: “Whoo-hoo!” not: “Boo- hoo! This makes me really angry.” Yet that was Independent’s attitude when he saw that God wasn’t going to punish the Ninevites. Jonah grumbled: “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:2b, 3).
Doesn’t it make you sad to hear Jonah carry on that way? It certainly makes you look at Jonah chapter 3 in a different light. That chapter records how Jonah obeyed the Lord and made the long trek to Nineveh to call the people to repentance but it’s obvious now that he did the right thing for the wrong reason. Independent went to Nineveh because he felt he had to, not because he really wanted to.
We’re masters of doing the right thing for the wrong reason, aren’t we? We clean our room because if we don’t, we’ll lose an allowance, not because we want to show our thanks for all our parents do for us. We drive the speed limit (most of the time) because if we don’t, we’ll get fined, not because obeying the law is a way to show respect to our fellow drivers and give thanks for the blessing of government. We offer smiles and handshakes to each other because we want to be thought of as kind and warm, not because we really care about the other person. But do you see the consequence of doing the right thing for the wrong reason? Misery. Jonah was miserable because he hadn’t done God’s work with God’s heart. Likewise when you set up for an outreach event like Fall Festival or clean the bathroom at home because “someone’s gotta do it,” there’s no joy in the task. There would be though if we remembered the Apostle Paul’s words: “23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23, 24).
Because Independent was really serving himself and not his savior-God, he was so miserable that he wanted out when God didn’t do what Jonah thought should be done to the Ninevites. If God wasn’t going to kill the Ninevites, then he wanted God to kill him. Jonah was acting like a little child who demands to know whether his parents love him or a sibling more.
How do you deal with an ungrateful little brat like that? You teach him a lesson that’s what you do. Yet the lesson God taught Independent was a lesson of mercy. After his initial exchange with God, Independent went off to build a little shelter outside of Nineveh. He wanted a front row seat in case God changed his mind about punishing the Ninevites. It seems though that Jonah was a better preacher than carpenter for the shelter he made didn’t offer much shade from the searing sun. In his mercy the Lord caused a plant to grow big enough in one day to offer Jonah the shade he craved. And Jonah was very happy about the plant. But then the next morning God sent a worm to attack the plant so that in a single day the plant withered and died. Then God sent a scorching wind off the desert making conditions unbearable. Jonah was furious. Why couldn’t God have protected the plant that had sheltered him from the oppressive heat? God now seized his chance to teach Independent a lesson. He said to his prophet: “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (Jonah 4:10, 11) Couldn’t Independent see the irony of his anger? He cared more about a plant than he cared for a city full of people! And the only reason Jonah cared about that plant was because it had given him shade. In other words, Jonah’s love for that plant was purely selfish.