Summary: Prayer is not an antidote to worry. Have you ever prayed about a stressful situation just to discover that you’re still worried about it? Faith is the antidote to worry. Prayer is about asking God for the supernatural.
I would like for you to consider for a moment if God appeared to you and said, “The people of Kabul Afghanistan are ready to hear about my Son Jesus and I want you to be the messenger to go speak of His resurrection and offer of grace.” Would you go? Would you go, knowing, that it’s against the law to openly preach about the gospel of Jesus in Afghanistan? Would you go, knowing, that if you did you would probably be imprisoned or more likely killed for doing so? There are preachers for the good news of Jesus in the Middle East right now, even in Afghanistan, but, they have to be very careful about how they present the message. I’m pretty sure I would pull a Jonah, too, if God told me to go preach the good news of Jesus in the streets of Kabul.
God told Jonah to go to a foreign city and tell them to “announce my judgment against Nineveh because I have seen how wicked its people are.” Jonah 1:2
God had never directed a prophet to do this in a foreign city before. Jonah was the first foreign missionary. Nineveh was one of the greatest cities of the ancient world. It was the nerve center and capital of the Assyrian empire. For most of its existence Assyria was a military society and success was measured by conquest. And the Assyrians had a horrific reputation of being especially brutal to those they conquered. The Assyrian kings were the first to adopt a policy of replacing citizens of cities they conquered with their own. They would take a city find the prominent citizens seize their assets then either kill them or make them slaves, then they would take their own citizens and reward them with the assets they took. Basically creating a new demographic, a fresh conquered city would be mostly Assyrian in a matter of months. Does this sound familiar? The Israelites did the same thing when they conquered the cities of the Promised Land, although, God told them to do something different. The Israelites were commanded by God to totally destroy all assets and people in the land God gave them, but, they didn’t. They more or less adopted an Assyrian tradition. I wonder if the Assyrians felt like Israel stole their M.O.
As Israel grew especially under David and Solomon empires like Assyria got nervous. It’s never a good thing for a strong militaristic nation to be nervous. These ancient empires were designed to conquer and they fed on the fear of their reputation. Most city states offered to be vassals, to provide some kind of tribute to the Assyrian king so they could live in relative peace. There were constant clashes on the borders of Israel and Assyria and the city of Damascus and other cities changed hands many times as a result. In 2 Kings 13:22-25 we have an example of this ongoing conflict. But what does all of this have to do with Jonah? I think it’s important to understand the historical narrative, although this is brief and incomplete because we don’t have time to engage in a full history lesson of this era, and I’m thinking most of this information is starting to put people to sleep anyway. It is important to understand why Jonah disobeyed God at first. Why did Jonah run?
Most of us learned in Sunday School that Jonah ran because he was scared. We understand fear. We relate to fear. If God directed me to Kabul fear would be my primary and overwhelming emotion. So we think Jonah was afraid. But that wasn’t why Jonah ran from his mission. Jonah was actually a very brave guy. When the ship was in the storm and every career sailor on board was scared out of their minds, you know what Jonah was doing? Sleeping. He wasn’t scared. He wasn’t a man of fear. He ran because he didn’t want Nineveh to be saved. He wanted Nineveh burned to the ground. Every red blooded patriotic Israelite hated Assyrians. It wasn’t that Jonah felt fear about preaching to the folks in Nineveh, he would’ve felt more like a traitor to his country. This is why a very angry Jonah says, “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord!” Jonah 4:2
He hated the people that he preached to. Now maybe I should put my original question in a different context. What if God told me to go to Libya and preach the message of Jesus to those who just bombed the Embassy and killed my fellow American J. Christopher Stevens and 3 others? Maybe now in this context I understand Jonah’s feelings a little better. Did he have relatives who were killed by Assyrians or perhaps family who were taken into slavery or brutally tortured by them?