“He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” ~ I Thessalonians 5:24
I’ve mentioned the After the Boxes class (a support-group gathering for seminary wives) that I regularly attend. Well, there is another class after the After the Boxes class called Meet the Prof which I also attend. The class is designed to give seminary wives a chance to meet and hear a lecture from the seminary’s various professors.
Two weeks ago, I missed a Tuesday night Meet the Prof class. I had heard that Dr. L had presented and had spoken on the book of Jonah. I was so disappointed I had missed his lecture that I tried to piece together the lecture from three different attendees and their notes.
By trying to play catch-up, I learned enough peripheral information on the popular Jonah story to motivate a two-part blog: the first part – a personal reflection, the second part – a summation of the book of Jonah. However, because I wasn’t there for the lecture, the reportings of my friends, their notes, and consequently this blog, are a bit piecemeal, and will not do justice to the original presentation by the distinguished Dr. L and his many years of Old Testament research. Oh well.
When reading through the book of Jonah, one word stuck out in my mind. Appointed. Because Toby is currently studying Hebrew, I can share with you the original Hebrew word for appointed is manah, meaning “to reckon,” “number,” or “ordain.” Did God manah Jonah to go to Ninevah? Nope. The word manah is actually used four times to describe God’s ordaining, not of Jonah, but of a great fish, a plant, a worm (my personal favorite), and a scorching east wind on behalf of Jonah.
In my last post, I shared with you an abbreviated autobiography. The reason for this reminiscing was simply to report things or people that I believe were Rachel-specific manah from God (i.e. Mr. D., Disney’s Mulan, Texas Chicken, etc.) all of which helped to move me – whether spiritually, mentally, or physically. This blog, however, is about Jonah-specific manah.
The interesting thing about Jonah is that we typically regard his greatest sin as running away from God. That definitely was a big no-no, considering God appointed a big fish to swallow him (Jonah 1:17) and make him think about what he had done. Dr L. said that refusing a call from God is never a neutral decision. A refusal is a dangerous choice sending “the refuser” in a downward spiral away from God and towards death – which is ultimate separation from God. And that step in the wrong direction is against God’s will. Remember, God “is not willing that any of [His] little ones should be lost” (Matthew 18:14).
But that wasn’t all. After Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of that appointed fish, God “spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah upon the dry land” (Jonah 2:10). God then called Jonah a second time and Jonah “arose and went to Ninevah” (3:3), calling the people to repentance. Because of Jonah’s obedience to God’s call, the people of Ninevah believed in God and repented. (3:5). Hallelujah! Happy ending! Well, yes and no. There is one more chapter in Jonah. And God appointed three more things to deal with Jonah’s deep-seeded sin. Jonah’s crime? He was not happy about Ninevah’s “happily-ever-after.”
In fact, he was “exceedingly displeased and angry” (4:1) and told God that the reason he had originally refused God’s call to Ninevah was because he knew that God was “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (4:2). Wow. Jonah was so angry with God for forgiving the Ninevites that he went even further to say, “take my life from me” (4:4), which I interpret to mean, “A friend (or God) of Ninevah is no friend (or God) of mine.”
Before we are too hard on Jonah, let’s take a look at the history books. According to Dr. L (via my informants), Ninevah was a major city of the Assyrian nation. Historically, the Assyrians were very evil, cruel, ruthless, terror-seeking people. They were Israel’s national enemy. When God told Jonah to go to Ninevah, Jonah said absolutely nothing and headed in the opposite direction to Tarshish (equivalent to Springfield, USA). He wanted nothing to do with those people, and can we relate?
Although Jonah seemingly had every earthly right to hate the Ninevites, he had no Godly right. So God appointed a plant, a worm, and a scorching wind to teach him that. “Do you do well to be angry?” (4:4) God asked Jonah. Jonah again didn’t answer; instead he left Ninevah and went east of the city to see if God would destroy Ninevah like He had warned the Ninevites He would (3:4). While sitting there, God appointed a shade plant to miraculously grow over Jonah and give him relief from the sun. The Bible says that this plant made Jonah “exceedingly glad” (4:6). But the next morning, God also appointed a worm to eat the plant so that it withered (4:7). And after it withered, God appointed a scorching east wind along with a hot sun to make Jonah miserable and faint.
Jonah again became angry with God, but God reprimanded His chosen by saying, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Ninevah, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left…?” (4:10-11).
And that is where the book of Jonah ends. It ends with a question. We do not know Jonah’s response. We do not know whether or not his racial prejudice is corrected. And that makes the story of Jonah a challenge to us. The title of Dr. L’s lecture was “I am Jonah. And so are you.” God has shown mercy on us as He did with Jonah. Dare we, in turn, be merciless to those around us? Those who have been equally created by a God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Dare we deny others the same grace God has afforded to us?
You see the Bible is not just a story about how God has redeemed you. Yes, of course, God loves you! But our own individual stories and appointments are only the beginning. We are appointed to spread God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness over everyone, because the Bible is a story about how God’s will is that all may believe, that all may come to know His love, and that all may be pulled out of death and drawn into His abundant Life.
“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” ~ I Thessalonians 5:9