Jonah Episode 19

Beth's Notes

8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.   Isaiah 64:8 (NIV)

23 Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?”  Luke 9:23-25 (NIV)

26 “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. 27 Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”  Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”  John 12:26-28 (NIV)

In this last verse we read in John 12, Jesus instructed His disciples on the cost of discipleship and commitment to the Father’s will by disclosing His emotions.  His heart was troubled.  He was in great turmoil (“stirred, agitated”) because of the prospect set before Him of being made sin for us in His death:

21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV)

In view of His turmoil, this stirred and agitated inner being, should He now shrink back and ask for deliverance from this hour?  Should we shrink back when the fires get hot and circumstances are not of our choosing?  Certainly not, for His Incarnation was for the very purpose of bringing Him to this hour:

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  John 12:23 (NIV)

1 It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.   John 13:1 (NIV)

1 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.”  John 17:1 (NIV)

Jesus willingly expressed His submission to the will of the Father - even through this difficult and harrowing circumstance of the cross - by His words, Father, glorify Your name! That was our Lord’s heart’s motivation – to do God’s will in order to bring Him glory.  That should be ours as well in the midst of our tribulations.  Jesus, being our perfect role model, set forth for us as believers – whenever we are facing dire and difficult circumstances – this flawless example of standing firm and embracing what God’s pleasing and perfect will allows and asking God to be glorified through them.  All this, of course, being both for our good and His glory.  There are no surprises in God’s perfect economy.  Jesus was ever desirous that the Father’s name be glorified through it all – which include thoughts, words, actions, and heart’s motivation — all this in spite of His inner stirred and agitated conflicting emotions.

Oftentimes, God’s will can be not of our choosing (to say the least!) yet, as stated, it is always for our good.  That is why I so often repeat that we are to get our wills lined up with His!  We are to get our “wanters” fixed!  To will what He wills brings peace to the heart.

“God carries His children through this world through a variety of conditions.  Sometimes we lack, and at other times we abound.  This allows our graces to be tested.  We will find that God’s love is stable, certain, and constant in a variety of conditions.  God does not change, and His love is constant however our lives might change.  We must learn not to quarrel with God’s government.  Let God do as He pleases as He brings us to heaven.  It is no matter what the way is like, or how rugged it is, as long as He brings us there.  God’s grace is able to carry His children above all conditions.  A man of grace is not overly dejected with abasement or overly lifted up in abundance, but carries himself in a uniform manner.  He is able to abound or lack without yielding to the temptations of those estates.  He can abound without pride and lack without impatience.  God is His portion…Those that are not brought up in Christ’s school are not able to do this.  If they abound, they are proud, and if they are cast down, they murmur, fret and are dejected, as if there were no providence to rule the world.  This is the excellency of a Christian; he has learned to abound and lack without being trapped by their snares.”  Richard Sibbs

As Paul writes in Philippians 4:11-13:

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.   Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV)

We are also told by the Apostle John to follow our Role Model in 1 John 2:6:  

6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.  1 John 2:6 (NIV)

9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” “I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.” 10 But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”  Jonah 4:9-11 (NIV)

In our verses for today, we discover God asking Jonah the same question He posed earlier in Verse Four.  “Do you have a right to be angry?”  But here in Verse Nine God added the words “about the vine”.  The wording actually means “Do you have a right to burn with anger as a fire that has just been ignited, to be incensed, about the vine?  God desired for Jonah to see the great contrast between His sparing Nineveh and His destroying the vine – Jonah’s seemingly total lack of concern for the spiritual welfare – the eternal state - of the Ninevites and his concern over his own physical comfort and welfare.  Selfishness reeks in Jonah’s unconcern for Nineveh and his concern for himself.  Jonah replied that his anger over the withered plant was justified – so much so that he wanted to die.  The Prophet was so mad at God and his uncomfortable circumstances that he was ready to die rather than give up his anger.  His anger blinded him to the absurdity of his feelings and his statements.  Does our anger do that?  Unrighteous anger feeds the ego and produces the poison of selfishness in the heart.

Paul also tells us in Colossians 3:5-10:

5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.  Colossians 3:5-10 (NIV)

Jonah still had a problem with the will of God.  He did not want to do it!  I am reminded of Cain and Abel, the first fruits of Adam and Eve’s union, in Genesis 4:1-7:

1 Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain.  She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.  Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.  The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.  So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. 6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry?  Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?  But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”  Genesis 4:1-7 (NIV)

We see here the nature of rebellious man unfolding in the person of Cain who had an auspicious beginning as the child of hope – the first child born to our original parents.  But the narrative lines him up with the curse; as he worked the soil – quite literally, the ground.  Abel, however, seems to be lined up with man’s original purpose, to have dominion over life as he kept the flocks.  These coincidental descriptions are enhanced with their actions in worship.  Abel went out of his way to please God by offering the best of the first fruits - which meant he had faith in God – obedience demonstrates our faith.  Hebrews 11:6 states:

6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.   Hebrews 11:6 (NIV)

Whereas Cain was simply discharging a duty to God in his sacrifice rendering his sacrifice not acceptable or evil, Abel’s actions were righteous before the Lord.  Remember, God is always looking at the motivation behind the action.  I John 3:12 tells us:

12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous. 1 John 3:12 (NIV)

These two types of people are still present.  Cain’s lack of faith shows up in his response to God’s rejection of his offering of fruit. Just as the older brother in the Story of the Prodigal Son rejected the Father’s offer to come in to celebrate because he was angry over the mercy given to his brother.  And just as Jonah refused to celebrate over the salvation of the Ninevites, Cain refused to listen to God’s voice.  Rather than being concerned about remedying the situation and pleasing God, Cain became very angry.  Indeed, Cain was so angry he would not be talked out of his sin—even by God. 

In Chapter One of Jonah, Jonah’s mind understood God’s will, but he refused to obey it and took his body in the opposite direction.  In Chapter Two, Jonah cried out for help and God rescued him and he gave his body back to the Lord.  In Chapter Three, Jonah yielded his will to the Lord and went to Nineveh to preach, but his heart was obviously not yet surrendered to the Lord’s will and ways.  Meaning his heart did not beat with the Lords.  Jonah did the will of God but not from his heart, and, once again, the motivation behind the action is as important to God (to say the least!) as the action.  Scripture tells us in 1 Chronicles 28:9:

9 “And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.”  1 Chronicles 28:9 (NIV)

And in Proverbs 16:2:

2 All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD.  Proverbs 16:2 (NIV)

“Life for Jonah is a series of disconcerting surprises and frustrations.  He tries to escape from God and is trapped.  He then gives up, accepts the inevitability of perishing, and is saved.  He obeys when given a second chance, and is frustratingly, embarrassingly successful.  He blows up; his frustration is intensified.”   Judson Mather

Like Cain, Jonah had more lessons to learn – perhaps the most important one of all.  In Chapter One, he learned the lesson of God’s providence and patience, that you cannot run away from God.  In Chapter Two, he learned the lesson of God’s pardon, that God forgives those who call upon Him.  In Chapter Three, he learned the lesson of God’s power as he saw a whole city humble itself before the Lord.  Now he had to learn the lesson of God’s pity, that God has compassion for lost sinners like the Ninevites; and his servants must also have mercy and compassion.  

The Apostle Paul tells us in Colossians 3:12-15:    

12 Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful. Colossians 3:12-15 (NIV)

We are to be a thankful people not an angry brood!  Indeed, we are to constantly be giving thanks with joy!  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 states:

16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

We are also told in Proverbs 29:11:

11 A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.  Proverbs 29:11 (NIV)

And in James 1:20 we find:

19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.  James 1:19-20 (NIV)

It seems incredible, that Jonah brought a whole city to faith in the Lord, and yet he did not love the people he was preaching to!  Indeed, he was quite angry about the way it all went down! 

Next, we discover God wanting Jonah to see that he simply had no right to be angry over Nineveh or the vine because Jonah did not give life to nor sustain life for either of them.  I am reminded of Paul’s Words to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 4:7:

7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?   1 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV)

Not one of us can make something ex nihilo (out of nothing) – not one.  We are not God’s equal.  Neither is He sitting up in heaven waiting for marching orders from us to do our bidding.  We are His.  We are not our own – we have all been bought with a high price and we are therefore to honor God with our bodies as well as with our heart, soul, mind, strength, mouth and hands.    

Jonah was neither sovereign over Nineveh nor the plant which God had provided.  He had no control over that plant’s growth or of its withering.  The vine was quite temporal as it sprang up overnight and died overnight and was of relatively little value.  Yet, we discover Jonah grieving over it.  Indeed, he became burning with anger and wanting to die – a bit extreme is it not?  Was his hot anger causing something good to happen?  The Prophet was so mad at God and his uncomfortable circumstances that he was ready to die rather than to give up his anger.  His boiling rage blinded him to the absurdity of his feelings and his statements.  Certainly Jonah had no part in making the plant grow.  Neither had he created the Ninevites.  But God had and He loved and cared for them. 

God sought to calm His prophet down with a bit of simple reasoning.  Let’s compare your situation with my situation.  You watched a vine get eaten away and you got all worked up with concern and pity over the vine.  Now this vine was something that just came to you.  God basically stated, You did not tend this vine or make it grow.  It sprang up overnight and died overnight.  Think about the real value of it – something simply for your comfort.  Does My Prophet love a one-day-wonder-gourd vine more than my eternal mission?  It seems as though he does.  Remember to will what God wills brings peace. 

God’s words to the prophet indicate that Jonah had no right to be angry. Donald E. Baker paraphrases the Lord’s response this way:

“Let’s analyze this anger of yours, Jonah.... It represents your concern over your beloved plant—but what did it really mean to you?  Your attachment to it couldn’t be very deep, for it was here one day and gone the next.  Your concern was dictated by self-interest, not by genuine love.  You never had the devotion of a gardener.  If you feel as bad as you do, what would you expect a gardener to feel like, who tended a plant and watched it grow only to see it wither and die? This is how I feel about Nineveh, only much more so.  All those people, all those animals—I made them; I have cherished them all these years. Nineveh has cost Me no end of effort, and it means the world to Me.  Your pain is nothing compared to Mine when I contemplate their destruction.” Donald E. Baker

Jonah’s affections were distorted; he cared more for a vine than for human lives.  He cared more for his personal comfort than for the spiritual destiny of thousands of people. He cared more for his ways than Gods.  What a picture of Israel in Jonah’s day!  It should cause us to question our own hearts as well in our day.  Do we care for our own comforts more than for the souls of men?  In our comfort and ease, we can far too quickly become distracted over the temporal rather than the eternal.  We make our luxuries and wants into necessities and grumble and complain when we don’t have them.   Like Jonah and Cain, we become duty bound and our desires look totally different from God’s heart and His will.

We want our hearts to beat with His.  We want what He wants because His will for us is always pleasing and perfect and for our ultimate best – even if we are bewildered about what He is up to.  He is never bewildered.  He makes known the end from the beginning.  His purposes will always stand and His purposes are always unmingled good for every heir of mercy even though, perhaps, our eyes of clay are confused over what He allows.  He is working all things out for a glorious and perfect end and He uses everything in our lives towards that ultimate goal.  Everything.

Like Jonah, sometimes God’s ways seem very confusing to us.  Broken dreams, plans thwarted, prodigal children, over-worked and under-paid, sickness, death or whatever and it is simply hard to rest in the “Why” of it all.  Instead, we must learn to rest in the “Who” and leave the “Why” behind.  It is comforting to know that God is never taken by surprise and is ever orchestrating our best out of each of our circumstances both for our good and His glory – never one surpassing the other.  Also, He is the Master at making beauty from our ashes.  Praise Him!

We received a letter recently which I would like to share part of it with you which relates a bit to what we are talking about here.  How God is continually orchestrating plans for our lives for His glory and our good.  Hindsight is always 20/20 right???

We had had an unusual house in Fort Payne and quite frankly did not have a clue how to sell it when it came time for us to move.  Interestingly, after a brief course of time and some very unusual God ordained events, Truett Cathy bought our Fort Payne house to be used for missionaries and church staff retreats.   Subsequently, Bob became involved with serving on the board of Lifeshape, a ministry started by Truett’s daughter and son-in-law, John and Trudy White.  John has recently been very ill and we have been praying for him and thankfully now he is doing better.  Trudy writes to us:

“We can do nothing but count our blessings realizing God is always in control.  To think we first met in Fort Payne thinking my Dad was “crazy” to be purchasing your house – but look how God used it for our good and His glory.  God knew we needed to know you, to walk with you, to seek your wise counsel and to share dreams together for Kingdom impact.”

My Mother used to say that our selling of the Fort Payne house to Truett was as big a miracle as the parting of the Red Sea!  But God - my two favorite words in Scripture - had a plan.  That’s what He orchestrated from before the foundation of the earth.  Don’t be mistaken. And what God has orchestrated, He desires for us to walk in – and not buck against it - as it is perfect and pleasing.  Paul tells us in Romans 12:1-2:

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)

Epaphras prayed for the Church at Colosse the following prayer.  It would also be beneficial for us to pray this both for ourselves and others in our spheres:

12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. Colossians 4:12 (NIV)

On a side note, oftentimes, we can go to our graves not knowing the answer to our “Why’s” but indeed, God in His loving graciousness allows us to go to our graves resting in the “Who”.  Deuteronomy 33:12 tells us: 

“Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.”  Deuteronomy 33:12 (NIV)

He Who makes known the end from the beginning, from ancient times what is yet to come – is on our side and loves us with an everlasting love, rejoicing over us with singing.  Never, ever forget that particularly when circumstances are confusing and bewildering!  Never, Never, Never forget how very much He loves you!

God continues His discourse and tells Jonah that in Nineveh there were more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell “their right hand from their left.”  More than likely this refers to immature little children, and if there were 120,000 of them in Nineveh and its suburbs, the population was not a small one.  God certainly has a special concern for all children.  We see in Mark 10:13-16:

13 People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.   Mark 10:13-16 (NIV)

Whether this number refers to children or adults, the Assyrians all needed to know the Lord.  Jonah had had pity on the vine that perished, but he did not have compassion for the people who were perishing and would be living eternally apart from God.  Often we do not appreciate how amazingly wonderful heaven is and how terrible and awful hell is.

Both Jeremiah and Jesus looked on the city of Jerusalem and wept over it, and Paul beheld the city of Athens and “was greatly distressed”, but Jonah looked on the city of Nineveh and seethed with anger.  He needed to learn the lesson of God’s mercy and pity and, like God, have a heart of compassion for lost souls.  Whereas Jonah had thought God was absurd in sparing the Assyrians, God exposed Jonah as the one whose thinking was absurd.  

Jonah and Nahum are the only books in the Bible that end with questions, and both Books have to do with the city of Nineveh.  Nahum ends with a question about God’s punishment of Nineveh, while Jonah ends with a question about God’s concern and pity for Nineveh.

This is a very strange way to end such a dramatic Book as the Book of Jonah is it not?  God has the first word (Jonah 1:1-2) and God has the last word (Jonah 4:11), and that is as it should be.  Yet, the reader is left not knowing how Jonah answered God’s final question.   We sincerely hope and pray that Jonah yielded to God’s loving entreaty and followed the example of the Ninevites by repenting and seeking the face of God.  

The question in Jonah 4:11 leaves the reader with a sense of uneasiness, for the curtain seems to drop abruptly with no response from Jonah recorded. How is this silence to be understood?  Most likely Jonah could not have written the book unless he had learned the point God was seeking to bring home to him.  Apparently Jonah perceived his error and then wrote this historical-biographical narrative to urge Israel to flee from her disobedience and spiritual callousness.  The famous Scottish preacher Alexander Whyte believed that Jonah did experience a change of heart.  He wrote: 

“But Jonah came to himself again during those five-and-twenty days or so, from the east gate of Nineveh back to Gath Hepher, his father’s house.”  Alexander Whyte

And Spurgeon wrote as well:

“Let us hope that, during the rest of his life, he so lived as to rejoice in the sparing mercy of God.”

After all, hadn’t Jonah himself been spared because of God’s great mercy and kindness?  We are all so quick to want mercy for ourselves, yet we are sometimes so unmerciful towards others.  God was willing to spare Nineveh, but in order to do that, He could not spare His own Son.  Somebody had to die for their sins or they would die in their sins.  Paul tells us in Romans 8:31-32:

31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?   Romans 8:31-32 (NIV)

As the book concludes, Jonah was angry, depressed, hot, and faint. And he was left to contemplate God’s words about his own lack of compassion and God’s depth of compassion. The Lord had made His points: (a) He is gracious toward all nations, toward Gentiles as well as Israelites; (b) He is sovereign; (c) He punishes rebellion; and (d) He wants His own people to obey Him, to be rid of religious sham, and to place no limits on His universal love and grace.

Some good questions for us to ponder from the Book of Jonah are this:  Do we agree with God that people without Christ are eternally lost?  Like God, do we have compassion for those who do not know Jesus as their Savior and Lord?  How do we concretely demonstrate this compassion?  Do we have a concern for those in our great cities where there is so much sin yet so little witness?  Are we faithful to pray that the gospel will go to people in every part of the world, and are we helping to send it there?  Do we rejoice when sinners repent and trust the Savior?  All of those questions and more are wrapped up in what God asked Jonah: 

11 “But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”   Jonah 4:11 (NIV)

We cannot answer for Jonah but we can answer for ourselves.

Jonah is a remarkably tragic example of the plight of the nation Israel.  Both Jonah and Israel were accused of religious disobedience and disaffection. What a tragedy when God’s people care more for their creaturely comforts than for the interests of God’s will among men.  May this not be said of us as well!

Let us be the gift to others and in being the gift we are blessed! 

These are Beth’s personal notes, due to this fact sources are not often stated.

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