Summary: God gives Jonah very few details and Jonah has to step out in faith to get the job done.
Jonah’s to do list: “Things to do today: Take a walk to the city of Nineveh – check; Give God’s message to the hated Ninevites – check; Have dinner in a nice Assyrian café – check; Go to bed and get some sleep – check.”
When we read our Scripture today, it appears that Jonah treats the people of the city of Nineveh as something to check off on a to do list. But what Jonah is doing is not about getting a task done, it is about relationship with those who are not following God. His work in Nineveh is not simply making a statement and leaving, it is about establishing relationships. We commonly take a look at these first few verses of chapter 3 and see Jonah finally being obedient to God, doing what he is told, and being effective because he is obedient. Now that is all true to some degree, but again it is a bit more complicated.
In our story, Jonah who got on a boat going the other way when God told him to go preach to his enemies, has just been vomited up by a large fish on a beach on the Mediterranean sea, and now he has to walk over 500 miles to Nineveh. I think we need to note that had Jonah listened to God the first time – he would already be there in Nineveh by now, and so here he is, back to square one. God wants his will to be done, and in spite of Jonah’s lack of having it all together, God is determined to make his will happen.
A question I have is this: What if Jonah decided to not go to Nineveh again? What if he just walked the other way, perhaps to Egypt? My guess would be that God would let him walk so far and then somehow bring him back to where he started – square one. For us, sometimes we feel like we are starting over again, and maybe we are, maybe like Jonah, we have not listened to God, and he is bringing us back to square one – giving us another try – but sometimes with that second try, there is still 500 miles to walk to our Nineveh.
So as Jonah walks this 500 miles or so, he certainly has time to think. Is he thinking about what he is going to say to the people of Nineveh? Absolutely not. We see in verse one that “Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time:” but God just gives him the basics doesn’t he, verse 2: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” The command from God is the same, but without reason. See Jonah, was told before why he needed to go in chapter one: Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” And apparently God’s reason wasn’t good enough for him, so he didn’t go. So this time, God withholds a reason, and basically says: Start walking and at some point, I’ll tell you what to say.
I think that in our lives…and we see this over and over again, circumstances and events come into our lives and we ask God, “Why is this happening to me?” – And God is silent. We repeatedly ask, and there is no answer. Perhaps, he is not telling you because if you knew what was at the end of the road, or what we even next, you wouldn’t go. You just wouldn’t go.
I tell you what, years ago if God had told me that if I started looking at seminaries I would end up living in the state of New Jersey for four years – I certainly wouldn’t have even started looking into seminary. The last place on the face of the earth I would ever want to be was New Jersey. So I think many times the reason God doesn’t let us in on the whole picture is pretty simple: We can’t handle the whole picture. So for Jonah, God doesn’t let him know even what is next, because he knows Jonah will chicken out again.
Jonah – start walking.
Now, I know that many of us here are right n the middle of circumstances or events which we cannot see how in the world they could fit into God’s plan for our lives. Isn’t it frustrating to not know the whole picture? But God’s command in our lives is: start walking in faith. I mean Jonah’s walk certainly was a walk of faith, for he has nothing to say to the Ninevites. What is he going to do? Is he going to show up at the gates of a large city as a prophet and have nothing to say? I bet this was nagging Jonah the whole 500 mile walk. “Ok God, can you tell me now?…..How about now?…..I’m ready for your next word God.” But God’s time is, God’s time – not our time, we think we might be ready, and usually we are wrong, but God is ready, when God is ready. So we walk in faith. Some people don’t want to walk, because they insist on knowing what is next; they insist on knowing the whole picture – but by doing that they miss the obvious; If you’re not walking, you won’t get anywhere.