By Joyell Nevins – CFFM Blogger
Do you ever feel like a conversation or situation is on repeat? The person just won’t get it, or just won’t change, and sometimes, you’re just done.
In our human relationships, sometimes, it is vital to our own health to put an end to a relationship. And sometimes, we just don’t have the patience we need to keep working with someone.
But God is not bound by our human limitations. He never gets frustrated or throws in the towel – not with you, not with me, and not with anyone else that He has appointed a task for them to complete.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10 NIV
Preparing for You
This truth is prevalent in the record of Jonah. God’s original directive to the prophet Jonah was to go to Nineveh and preach against it – basically, give them a call to repentance.
The story of why Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh and why God did want him to go is a story of God’s mercy and grace all in itself.
But for now, let’s focus on the fact that Jonah literally “ran away” from the Lord.
However, God doesn’t just leave Jonah and go to the next prophet to deliver His message.
First, the Lord maneuvers the weather for a storm to brew in the sea where Jonah is sailing.
After the mariners do all they know to do both physically and spiritually to survive the tempest, the attention shifts to Jonah.
“All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship…then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.” Jonah 1:5, 7 NIV
Suddenly, in this time of extreme duress, all the attention shifts to the Hebrew hitchhiker. In a moment of either great sacrifice or suicidal resignation, Jonah tells the sailors to cast him into the sea, and then the storm will cease.
“[after much rowing and crying] Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm.” Jonah 1:15 NIV
Now, Jonah is stranded in the middle of an ocean, the mariners get their ship back, and it must be time for God to move on to the next servant to finish His work in Nineveh, right?
Wrong. God is not mad at Jonah, nor has He given up on him, either. Instead, God prepared a special circumstance for Jonah.
“Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Jonah 1:17 NKJV
“Had prepared” is from the Hebrew root “mana,” which means to “count, reckon, number, assign, appoint, or prepare.” It wasn’t that there happened to be a giant hungry fish swimming by that thought Jonah would make a yummy snack, or that was trying to eat some krill and Jonah got sucked up in the cavern (let’s pause to consider what an awful moment that would be – to randomly go from a deadly storm to a deadly stomach!).
Photo by jeffjacobs1990 of Pixabay
No, God brought that creature to where Jonah was on purpose. Think about how unusual it would be for a large fish creature to be swimming near the surface anyway!
The Ever-Patient Teacher
In Jonah 2-3, Jonah fervently prays, has a heart change, gets spit back out, goes to Nineveh, warns them of consequences coming, and the king and people repent completely, thereby foregoing their consequences.
“Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way, and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.” Jonah 3:10 NKJV
But, in Jonah 4, Jonah is upset again. Like the older brother in Jesus’s forgiving father or prodigal son parable, Jonah is angry that Nineveh didn’t get ‘what they deserve.’
“But it [God’s relenting from the disaster] displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country?
Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness [Jonah is one of the few people in the Bible who insults God and compliments Him all at the same time]. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!” Jonah 4:1-3 NKJV
This lament is coming from the same person who stayed three days and three nights in the belly of a sea creature and lived to tell about it, then saw an entire city change its heart. Yet, he is so consumed with his own desire for justice and what he wanted, that Jonah contemplates suicide.
But God still doesn’t throw in the towel. He continues to teach and work with Jonah, using a plant as a living parable.
“So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city. And the Lord God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery.
So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’” Jonah 4:5-8 NKJV
When the Bible says that the Lord “prepared” the plant, worm, and the wind, it is the same Hebrew word as the fish. God is pursuing Jonah here, purposefully continuing to work with him until Jonah understands God’s heart.
“Then God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’
And he said, ‘It is right for me to be angry, even to death!’
But the Lord said, ‘you have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than 120,000 persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left – and much livestock?’” Jonah 4:9-10 NKJV
The book of Jonah ends right there – we as readers never find out how Jonah responded: did he finally understand and follow the Lord’s leading? Did he continue to pout and miss out on God’s next assignment or life-changing directive?
The fact that God never shares that information with us leans toward the point that Jonah’s response isn’t the point. The point is, the lengths that God is willing to go to to work with His people.
He doesn’t give up on us. He doesn’t get frustrated with us. He doesn’t lose patience with us.
Pastor Julie Schaecher put it this way: “This is the glory of who God is: His revealed magnificence. A God who loves imperfect people so perfectly, and the one who truly never gives up and never leaves you.”
“…God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” Hebrews 13:5 NIV
“And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31:8 NKJV
That means, if there was hope for Jonah, there is hope for you and me, too!