Tag Archives: Jonah

Jonah and the Animals

One last post regarding the Book of Jonah.   The book is loaded with animal images, beside the whale.  First, Jonah’s name means “dove,” and how he likes to fly.  After the great fish comes the animals of Nineveh: the cattle, pigs, goats, chickens and dogs all dressed in ashes and sackcloth (3:8).   That sight alone would be worth the price of admission.  Then in the final chapter, a bush grow quickly in a day and then shrivels when eaten by a worm.  In each case (except the “dove” named Jonah) the creature follows the commands of the Creator.

Jay and Molly dwarfed by the Grand Tetons

The book of Jonah proclaims the tremendous power of God as creator, managing the natural order of land, sea and sky.  In this summer travel season many of families are rediscovering what a marvelous and awesome world we live in.  I loved this recent photograph of Jay Hickey and his daughter Molly.   First I have always loved the fierce beauty of the Grand Teton Mountains.  But this picture also captures how small we humans are in the vast order of God’s creation.  In a gentle, ironic way the book of Jonah calls us to be faithful, loving creatures of God, serving our place in God’s creation.  Even Jonah, the wayward dove, discovers his place in God’s plan.

In the book of Jonah, God is the LORD of creation, but he has given humanity tremendous freedom.  Will we use this freedom to bless God’s world or to curse it?  To discover God or to ignore the Spirit?

Lord Jesus, create within me a sense of wonder and awe at your marvelous handiwork.

Jonah the Gardener

Pure speculation but I think Jonah was a gardener prior to his call as a prophet. 

"Sower with Setting Sun" by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

How else can the reader understand his roller coaster of emotions in chapter four?  When God is merciful and does not punish Nineveh, Jonah plunges into despair and wants to die.   He pouts outside the city.  God causes a “bush” to grow up rapidly.  Its shade provides Jonah comfort; “so Jonah was very happy about the bush” (v.7).  The next day God sends a tiny worm to attack the bush so that it withered.   Without the bush, the hot sun and sultry east wind hit Jonah so that he wants to die (v.8).  Jonah’s passion for a plant reminds me of a gardener’s deep identity with her garden.

Castor Bean Plant

Scholars speculate as to what kind of bush it was.   The Hebrew word here is qiqayon which is used nowhere else in the Bible.   Some think it was castor bean plant which can grow very quickly, up to ten feet in a few months (but not overnight, which is God’s doing in the story). Whatever kind it was, Jonah immediately sees its value.  He has it for a day and then it is gone.

After the bush dies, God confronts Jonah again, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?”Clearly Jonah valued the bush and its comfort and he makes the judgment that he is angry enough to die.  God challenges Jonah’s perspective and judgment.

God said, “What’s this? How is it that you can change your feelings from pleasure to anger overnight about a mere shade tree that you did nothing to get? You neither planted nor watered it. It grew up one night and died the next night.  So, why can’t I likewise change what I feel about Nineveh from anger to pleasure, this big city of more than a hundred and twenty thousand childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong, to say nothing of all the innocent animals?”   Jonah 4:10-11 The Message

The book of Jonah ends with this question.  The tension between God and Jonah is left unresolved.  It is as if God is now the gardener, planting a seed of compassion and mercy in the reader’s heart to see if it will grow.  Will it grow in you?

Lord Jesus, Master Gardener, plant and water the seeds of compassion and grace in my life.

Is it right to be angry?

Last night we wrapped up the study of Jonah for Summer Lite Worship.   Most remember Jonah’s attempt to escape from God’s mission to Nineveh and how God sends his pet whale to retrieve him.  What happens next is even more fantastic, because when Jonah finally reaches Nineveh, a city renown for sin, he preaches a one-sentence sermon and the ENTIRE CITY REPENTS, including the cattle, sheep, dogs and cats.   It is a marvelous scene with everyone wearing ashes and gunnysacks, seeking the mercy of a God they did not know prior to Jonah’s arrival.    And wonder of wonders, “God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them and he did not do it.”  Jonah 3:10

The reader would think that Jonah would rejoice.  After all, what preacher has ever had 100% positive response to her sermon?   But not Jonah; he despairs!   He wants Nineveh to be punished for what it had done to Israel.   Jonah starts to argue with God,

“O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.  And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah 4:2-3  

The mercy of God causes Jonah pain because he sees others getting away with “murder.” Even though he received mercy when the great fish rescued him from the depths of the sea, he cannot stomach others receiving mercy.  God’s mercy irks him so much that he wants to die.

So God asked Jonah a fateful question, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Almost all emotions involve some kind of judgment.   We are sad when we are deprived of something that we valued.  We are happy when we receive something we value.  A Garmin Forerunner 410 as a birthday present could give joy to an avid runner and disappointment to a six-year-old.  

God asks Jonah if his anger towards God’s compassion is right.  Should God be merciful to all sinners, even the most horrendous ones? Should God be gracious towards those who have hurt you?

Lord Jesus, wash me in mercy, that I might be merciful.

Jonah, Nineveh and Nahum

Tomorrow night (Tuesday, June 14), Resurrection will host its first Summer Lite Worship at 7:00 pm.  A central component is the study of neglected, yet vital Bible stories.  Our first four weeks will be the book of Jonah.

"Jonah Prophet 1" by artist Reza Badrossama

Many Christians see the book of Jonah simply as a children’s story that has no relevance to today’s world.  The only part they know is that Jonah was swallowed by a whale (or great fish).  Yet the book has a great message that is told with humor, style and grace that speaks to us today. 

Jonah is listed among the prophetic books of the Bible, yet it is so different.  While the other prophetic books are composed of primarily prophetic poems, Jonah has one prophetic speech that is less than ten words.  Whereas most prophetic books have some description of how God called the prophet to speak, Jonah goes into great detail in how he runs away from God’s call to go to Nineveh.  The contrasts all have a purpose that drives Jonah’s message for us.  I am looking forward to our study.

One key feature in the story that is challenging to understand is the city of Nineveh.  Nineveh was not a city in ancient Israel, but of an arch-enemy.  Nineveh was the capital of the great Assyrian empire.   The Assyrians captured the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE and destroyed it as an independent nation.  The Assyrians nearly captured the southern kingdom of Judah as well.  The brutality and cruelty of the Assyrian empire was legendary. Nineveh became a symbol of all that was evil and hated.  The book of Nahum is a long Hebrew poem celebrating Nineveh’s destruction by the Babylonians in 612 BCE.

O King of Assyria, your people are scattered on the mountain with no one to gather them.  There is no assuaging your hurt, your wound is mortal. All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you. For who has ever escaped your endless cruelty? Nahum 3:19

 As Americans, we have trouble identifying with such hatred, because we have not been dominated by other nations. Yet Israel had a deep hatred of Nineveh as symbol of raw power and brutality.

In what ways is hatred appropriate ever appropriate for Christians?  

Lord Jesus, help me to follow your call no matter what.      

The Folly of Ashes

"From dust you come, to dust you shall return"

Ash Wednesday brings the strange custom of placing ashes on the forehead of  Christians.  This custom was not so strange in ancient cultures.  People would sit in ashes as a public confession that they had done wrong, that they deserved to be punished and that they seek God’s mercy.  Jesus noted this custom when he cursed two cities that did not receive him, For if the deeds of power were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes (Luke 10:13).

Ashes are a symbol of our sinful, broken, self-serving character and our desperate need for God’s mercy.  Unless we acknowledge and confess our sin, God’s grace has no power, Christ’s death has no purpose.  But with such confession comes the brilliant healing light of God’s love.

The most powerful (even ridiculous?) image for the use of ashes comes in the book of Jonah.   The King of Nineveh heard of Jonah’s preaching on Nineveh’s impending destruction.  He rose from his throne, removed his rob, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.  He even declared all men and animals to be covered in sackcloth, with the hope that God would be merciful.  The king showed his wisdom in this foolish behavior.

 This morning I read something on a blog that took God’s mercy deeper.

With that in mind, I’ve been wrestling the last few days: Isn’t it ironic how casually we are willing to talk about God’s mercy, as if we deserve it? As if it’s owed to us? At the same time, we cringe at the idea that God might be calling us to live on less; to give some stuff up. We pile on excuse after excuse about why God would want us to live cushy, comfortable, safe lives… Yet, the God we follow wasn’t willing to cling to the glory he deserved, because he was so moved by his love for us. We, on the other hand, don’t even deserve the breath in our lungs. It’s a gift. How, then, could we ever justify our security?

via Perfect Choreographed Dance. « The Trees Will Clap.

How does God’s mercy impact you?