Saturday, January 19, 2008

Jonah 4

What is this passage all about?

Jonah complains to God of his compassion in forgiving the Ninevites and God responds with an object lesson on the love of God.

What can I learn from it?

Jonah had a really bad attitude. Again. I guess he did the right thing with it this time, though, because he prayed to God about it, and listened when God taught him about His reasons. Which, by the way, there was absolutely no compulsion on God to do - consider what God had to say to Job in a similar situation (Job 40:1, 8-9ff): "The LORD said to Job: 'Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!' ... 'Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God's, and can your voice thunder like his?' " In the case of Jonah, God took a different tack. He showed Jonah how He felt about the Ninevites.

Jonah knew that God was "a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity." (v2) But Jonah didn't really understand the grace, compassion, patience and love of God. When God caused the vine to first grow up over Jonah, sheltering him from the fierce heat, and then to wither, exposing him to the elements, He showed Jonah how much we people can come to care for things which are ephemeral and fairly meaningless in the scheme of things. Jonah (who, it must be admitted, had been through a fairly rough time lately) felt so badly about the withering of the plant that he just wanted to give it all up and die (v8, cf v3). But God gave Jonah a wake up call (v10a, 11). " 'You have been concerned about this vine. ... 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 for that great city?' " As much as Jonah was concerned over the vine, his feelings paled into insignificance when compared to the love and concern that God had (and still has) for each and every one of the people of the earth, even those who know nothing of spiritual matters. That's why God sent his Son Jesus to earth to die for the eternal salvation of each of us sinners. John 3:16 (my kids' memory verse for this week) says, "For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." It is also why the church needs to send out more evangelists to preach the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. As Paul declared in his letter to the Romans (10:14-15), "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!' "

How can I apply this to my own life?

The first verse of this chapter sounds so familiar: "But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry." There are so many times when what I want or think is best goes against what God has told me He wants. Why can't we keep our house and just not go to Theol college? Why can't we stay in Darwin where I have friends and not move to Perth where I don't know anyone? These are some of the questions I got frustrated about with God a few years ago. Yet it is now really obvious to me how much God has shown His love for me when we did His will in these matters, selling up and moving to Perth so Jeff could attend Theological college. We rent an amazingly cheap and convenient four bedroom house with a huge back yard, and truly, it's only the days over 40 degrees when I miss our swimming pool! I'm learning to trust God with His gift of shelter to me, because His provision so far has been absolutely bounteous. And as for friends, God has given me some of the biggest blessings in my life through several women I have met here in Perth, women who love God and seek to know Him more, and are great witnesses to me. I should be thanking God more often, methinks! And I also need to look for opportunities to share my testimony of God's grace and goodness with others.
Lately, I've been feeling this same emotion of annoyance at God again though, because one of my friends (who is pregnant) has been diagnosed with leukaemia. Of this, I need to repent. Yet already it seems God has been comforting her and making things with medication etc so much easier than she had first feared. I need to continue to pray for her, and to show her God's love in my care and concern for her. I need to remember God's loving concern, and trust Him.

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