Monday, August 13, 2018

Jonah and the Bush

Jonah and the Bush
As far as I can tell, Jonah is the only Hebrew prophet who flat refused to go where God sent him. Moses argued with God and provoked Him to anger, but eventually he went back to Egypt to lead God’s people out. Isiah was concerned about his unclean lips and Jeremiah said he was too young but both ended up obeying God’s call. Even Hosea, whom God told to marry a prostitute so his life could be a living illustration of what-from God’s point of view-was going on with Israel and their idols obeyed God with nary a whimper. But when God sent Jonah to Nineveh, Jonah jumped on the first boat to anywhere but there.
God, however, His mind being made up, whipped up a storm set to capsize Jonah’s boat and drown everyone on board. When the captain confronted Jonah, to his credit Jonah fessed up and urged the crew to throw him overboard, which they did with some reluctance, evidently thinking taking Jonah’s life might just make a bad situation worse. Their fears proved unfounded; once Jonah hit the water the storm “ceased from its raging” and God arraigned for transportation-in the form of a big fish-to take Jonah back to dry land. Inside the fish Jonah, grateful to be alive, composes a song of thanksgiving to God. Later on in Nineveh, however, Jonah will change his tune. 
Nineveh itself was a large, wealthy city and the capital of the Assyrian empire. The Assyrians were pagan and violent and outside of God’s covenant with Abraham but not outside God’s promise to Abraham. Jonah, however, did not see it that way. As far as Jonah was concerned Nineveh was a threat to the Jews and Jonah wanted nothing less than judgement and condemnation. Be that as it may, Jonah begins his three days journey with a simple message-“Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”. Much to Jonah’s chagrin everyone in the city from king to animals of the flock fast and put on sackcloth in an attempt to avert destruction. Their behavior had the desired effect-God, “[seeing] what they did...changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it”. And this should have been the end of the story. Except it wasn’t. 
Jonah, far from pleased at this turn of events, utters his classic line-which becomes the point of the entire book-‘See, this is exactly why I didn’t want to come here. I knew you would do this because this is the kind of God you are, saving people left and right, anyone who asks’. And just to make sure God understands where Jonah is coming from he finishes with ‘just go ahead and kill me now’. Then Jonah leaves the city and sits down to check things out, probably hoping God will change His mind yet again and make Jonah happy. God does not change His mind but He does give Jonah a bush which grew up over Jonah, providing some shade, making Jonah very happy. 
But the next day, just to add a little insult to injury God appoints a worm to destroy the bush and heats things up for Jonah by providing “a sultry east wind”, prompting Jonah once again to figure he would be better off dead. In their final exchange, God says to Jonah ‘you’re worried about a  bush you didn’t plant; don’t you think “I...[should] concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” 
That’s the story; here’s the application. First, as I said, Nineveh may have been outside the covenant God made with Abraham but it was not outside the promise God made to Abraham; or to Adam either for that matter. Jonah may have wanted the people and animals of Nineveh condemned but God seems to prefer mercy and salvation over judgement and condemnation. We all have our personal Ninevites-people we secretly (or not so secretly, for some of us) would just love to see condemned to hell for a good long time; usually people who are different from us in some way. God does not see difference, He sees diversity; hilarious, joyful diversity. If you hate your enemy across the aisle today, you probably won’t be too comfortable with him later on in heaven. 
Second, by allowing Jonah to become attached to his bush God was giving him-and us-a life lesson. God was in effect saying ‘you’re sad because you lost a bush; now you know a little of how I feel’. God, it seems to me, is giving us a little glimpse into His heart, a chance to share the pain of rejection which we cause and He still suffers. Don’t miss this-the sorrow is real. 
One last thing. Take some time to think about who God is referring to when He says “...more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals”; and why He puts them together.