‘Change, Anger, Questions, Animals, End’, Jonah 4, July 12th 2020.
Luke 15:11-32. Jonah 3:10- 4:11.
Lord, before your eyes, everything is uncovered and laid bare: speak your word – living and active, sharper than any double edged sword; let it penetrate our souls and spirits: Examine our thoughts, and by your Holy Spirit renew the attitudes of our hearts, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Years ago, the prophet Jonah saw it happen. The population of Nineveh repented from their sin. An incredible radical change came because he preached and God’s Spirit worked. Almost on the same spot, between 2003 and 2013, in the city of Mosul – modern Nineveh – the city climate changed. These events took place, before ISIS grew, and conquered parts of Northern Iraq, including Mosul in 2014.
After 2003, Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city became a place with increasing violence. Car bombs, attacks, and all kinds of violence were normal in this old city. Civilians of whatever religion and police and soldiers were targeted. In the beginning of 2010, there was a significant increase in violent attacks on Christians. In the month of Feb 2010, 8 were killed in just 10 days. This all caused an exodus of Christians.
Young Iraqi, Dawud 21 years old – in 2013 – shared: ‘Thousands of Christians have left out city – and that hurts. I saw a lot of my friends leaving too. ‘’ His family have been Christian for generations as is the case with many Iraqi Christians.
Before the fall of Saddam Hussein, the number of Christians in Mosul was estimated at 200000, out of 1.5m inhabitants. By 2013, the number was far less than 100,000, many of these not living in the city itself but in the Christian villages around.
Dawud continues: we started some years ago, to pray for our city. It started small with our family. But soon there were more believers coming to the prayer meetings. Now we pray weekly on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 5 til 7 in the afternoon. Some 50 Christians in our city regularly participate. Because of our prayer, ‘ he says’, ‘ the city started to change. The situation is different now What I see now, is that my generation doesn’t want to leave, we want to stay. This is God’s Place for me. I’ll stay. I’ll never leave. And if I will be killed, I will be killed.’
‘’But’’, he goes on, ‘’the situation is much better now. We can go out as youth again, even in the evenings. We can go to our meetings without being afraid. We don’t feel insecure anymore.’’ His Father at one of the churches in Mosul, confirms, that the climate in the city improved after they started prayed as a church. (Story from Open Doors International, 2013).
Our mind boggles at how Jonah marches into the city and achieved all he did – 120000 change how they treat their neighbours, their business colleagues, their servants – they give up their evil ways and violence.
An important brief point to make here. Even if Jonah was unwilling, it made no difference, on this occasion, to his effectiveness did it? The whole city changed.
”When you are God’s mouthpiece, it may not matter what it is in your heart. It does matter to you and your own relationship with God, yes, but not in connection with what God achieves through you – which may be unrelated to what is in your heart. It is a reason not to assume that a successful pastor is in close touch with God, and not to assume that an unsuccessful pastor has lost touch with God.’’ (Goldingay, Twelve Prophets).
When God relents, Jonah turns on God. 1-2 Jonah was furious. He lost his temper. He yelled at God, “God! I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! ‘’ (The Message).
He describes God the way He described Himself to Moses. Interestingly, God shared that revelation, after the rebellion of Israel at Mt Sinai – despite that rebellion, ‘God remains gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.’
He had been telling God, he knew, that if he goes, if he preaches, and if they repent and change, then he knows God will not judge the city. God will show mercy. Jonah had not been frightened of his own safety by going to Nineveh, he was frighted that God would be gracious to the hated Assyrians. That would be just too much
Tim Keller calls his book on Jonah – which has been a help with these talks on Jonah – Prodigal Prophet. He sees a connection between the Story of the Prodigal Son – Luke 15 – and Jonah. Initially Jonah is like the young son. Doesn’t want to be near the Father – who represents God in the parable – and so runs away to a faraway land. There it all goes wrong and he comes back home. And he is welcomed. Like Jonah who ran, the great escape all went wrong, and he turns around in the fish belly, praying and saying he will fufil his vows. And God welcomes him back and sends him off with the same commission – with no need to explain himself – God puts the mantle of the prophet back on him, and says off you go. Now. Jonah acts like the elder son. The elder son is furious at the mercy and grace given to the younger son. How could you?!
So his problem. He does not want mercy. He calls God – YAHWEH – the name it reminds us of the covenant between God and his people Israel. How in the Exodus from Egypt, Israel was delivered from enemies, there was judgment, and protection of the Hebrew people. For Jonah, how does protecting his people, include showing mercy to her current threats? Also, how can he show mercy, and not punish the evil and violence the city is known for? He forgets doesn’t he, his time in the fish. He too had deserved judgement he received mercy instead and he had happily received it. Now that is all forgotten sadly – a bit like the unforgiving servant, in Matthew 18.
‘’Isn’t this what I said? I knew you are… Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ Keller makes a striking point. This sounds like –‘I won’t serve you God, unless you give me X. His anger shows he is willing to put his relationship with God on hold – if he doesn’t get this thing. But this means – I won’t serve you unless I get X – it means X, as Keller says, is the thing you most want and trust and rest in. Do we have a God plus X?
For Jonah? Nineveh’s repentance is pleasing to God – he longs to show mercy. But Nineveh’s repentance is not good for Israel – especially if it is possible they can change back to how they were. The will of God is working out in a way different from the political fortunes of Israel. One had to be chosen. Country or God’s will. Yes Assyria was a great threat. Yet Jonah does not come to God with his anxiety, such as King Hezekiah famously did when threatened years later by Assyria, trusting in him, crying out to him. It appears it is judgment, revenge and security of the nation, has become more important to Jonah over loyalty to God.
You know, Jonah should have been delighted to have seen the Ninevites take the first step. He should have been willing, prepared to help continue in their new spiritual journey – to introduce them to the character of the Creator God, whose long promised plans include blessing to the nations. He was unhappy that they have even taken one step towards God. ‘’Rather than going back into the city to teach and preach, he stayed outside it, in hopes that maybe God would still judge it.’’ (Keller, p.104).
To update this. Mosul and many cities, thousands suffered under ISIS. Mosul was controlled by ISIS from three years from 2014-2017. Brother Andrew suggested that Christians should pray for members of ISIS, that they would repent and find forgiveness. For some that was a bridge too far. They should be judged. Which is a little of what Jonah felt looking at that city…
Well, this time a storm isn’t sent. God comes to Jonah – like the Father to older son. He asks Jonah a question ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ Someone said – God doesn’t ask us, because he needs information. His Spirit raises a question in our minds, to make us analyse our motives, opinions, what do we really want, what is our God plus X? But the question didn’t start a process of re-evaluating his understanding of God and how he is co-operate with God instead of dictating to God. Instead. Jonah retreats, becomes a spectator, watching the city.
God makes a plant grow up. Jonah is delights in it. Yet he is angry, after God sends a worm to have a meal and the plant withers. ‘You can imagine him saying – what else can go wrong today!’ God asks again…
There are two ways to look at love. There is a ‘love of benevolence’. You do good and helpful things for people even if you don’t like them. You do it because you choose to – even if you haven’t got affection for the person. There is, in contrast, the ‘love of attachment’ you love someone and act in a loving way because you heart is bound up with them. V10-11. The word used for compassion – it means ‘to grieve over someone, to have your heart broken, to weep for it.’ God says. You had compassion for the plant – you grieved over it, wept over it, your heart was attached and then broken. God says – you weep over your plant. Should I not weep over the great city? He grieved over the evil and lostness of Nineveh. God says to Jonah – I am weeping, grieving, for this city – therefore, as my prophet, why don’t you Jonah? Why is my compassion missing from your heart, when you have compassion for a plant? Jonah didn’t weep over a city. Jesus did. He rides to Jerusalem, ‘he saw the city, he wept over it, and said, ;if you even yoyu, had only known on this day what would bring you peace’. His compassion. Of course, Jesus did not merely weep for us. He died for us. Jonah went out the city hoping to see its condemnation, Jesus went outside the city, to die on a cross to accomplish its salvation.
‘Should I not have concern … and also many animals’. The last word God speaks in the book. I heard one preacher on this passage, after he read this final line, asked people to turn over the page to chapter 5…! God has compassion for the many animals. This is not the first time animals have appeared. Apart from our aquatic sea monster, in Nineveh, the king issues the edict – people and animals should fast, and they – people and animals – should be covered in rough sackcloth. Goats, cattle, sheep, camels… These animals, were sources of wealth, food, clothing – how a city could prosper and be sustained. It creates an image of all stopping – the animals won’t be sold or fed, even if it costs us money or milk or food or it costs our jobs; we are shutting down normal life to pray and cry out to God…
However, it is more than an act by a city. God mentions them and cares. Catches our attention. How? Animals do not have an equal place with humans in God’s care, but they do have a place in both God’s care and God’s saving purposes.
God’s care for animals in Genesis. We read – all animals, land, sea, air – are created by God and are good. God is pleased with them. Then God arranges for their care – he appoints stewards – humanity – to look after them. God also provides every plant for the animals.
Later, Noah finds favour, his family to be saved. He saves also representative animals – in fact he saves more animals than humans – and then a covenant made with Noah, and also with ‘every living creature’ with Noah, that never again will there be a flood, to destroy all life (Genesis 9:12-17), the rainbow a sign of the covenant between God and ‘all life on the earth.’ Genesis 1-2 and repeated in Genesis 9, holds a mission statement. ‘’to care for creation is in fact the first purposive statement that is made about the human species’ (C. Wright. P.327) – it is part of our mission on this planet. Animals – and creation – have intrinsic value: Because creation is valued by God, we place value on animal kind and all creation. Animal kind does not gain its first value because of its value to us – for comfort, money, assistance – creation, animal kind is valuable because God already values it and declares it to be good.
When Jesus is teaching about God’s care for his followers, he invites them to consider the care the Mighty Creator has for his creation – the flowers are dressed beautifully, the birds are fed – Jesus points that God cares for his people – the example he uses is God’s care for animals.
But as Chris Wright reminds us, a phrase ‘many animals’ takes us back to Genesis, to look back to origins is not enough. We do not drive a car looking only at the rearview mirror, we look ahead to the destination. Likewise, value creation because of not only where it came from but of its ultimate destiny. Isaiah and Revelation declare God’s vision of a new heaven and new earth. Words in Isaiah 66 of creation, animal kind, experiencing peace that is hard to imagine. Salvation of humanity, destruction of sin, evil, the devil, all things in heaven and earth reconciled to God, creation renewed. So seeking to preserve, enhance the created order, helps point to the coming rule of God in Christ. God will bring about a new order of creation, a new heaven and new earth, as we care for creation, it is like pointing sign posts to what God will do.
The Book ends with a question. It is a cliff hanger. God has been pursuing Jonah. The storm. Then now, with gentle questions, reasoning. The purpose is the same – God wants Jonah to see who he God is, to recognize the ways he continues to deny God’s grace to anyone he – Jonah doesn’t think deserves it – the ways he needs to change.
His question: You don’t want me to have compassion on Nineveh. But shouldn’t I? In the light of all I’ve shown you – Jonah, shouldn’t I love this city, and shouldn’t you join me and imitate me? It is question with no response – like the Father who tells the elder son about his reasons, and we do not know what the elder son did – for the listeners were the ones who had to respond.
It doesn’t tell us Jonah’s answer. Did he go back into the city. Did he repent. Did he continue arguing with God. Did he celebrate what had just happened? It ends with a question it doesn’t tell us – the thing that matters, is our answer… We are invited to write chapter 5.
We have come to an end.
Re- read the Book and ask these questions:
a) Where are you running away from God?
b) When you did experience his deliverance, his help? Perhaps take time again to thank him.
c) How and where do you want God to use you?
d) When have you been angry at what God did or didn’t do?
Re-read it a second time.
Think about the character of God shown in the Book. What do you learn or re-learn?
Shall we pray:
God, as I think about who you are, I realize that you are unknown to me in so many ways. I know so little and I want to know so much. I ask you to reveal more of yourself to me. Take me deeper. Shape my heart and life. Help me to love my enemies, not to hate them, but to forgive them and help me to pray for them. Amen.