The Old Testament prophet Jonah is usually known as the one who was swallowed by a big fish. His life was a lesson about obedience and surrender to the command of God. But those who would go past the first two chapters of the book will realize that he was more than a guy who was called to deliver news to a big city. The prophet was tasked to proclaim destruction to Nineveh where he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4) The prophet was successful in his mission, and the people he had to reach responded in repentance. Here’s what happened after the announcement:
“So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes” –Jonah 3:5-6
With this kind of move from the city's people, one would think that Jonah would revel as he accomplished his mission. To convince a head of state that he needs to repent and believe God can be considered a pretty big feat even in our current times. And yet, it seems that the prophet wasn't too happy with his success. God's change of plans and His decision to show mercy to the once wicked people did not sit well with the prophet. He was upset that God did not fulfill the words of destruction that he delivered (see Jonah 4:1-3).
Having a Jonah moment
Like other characters we encounter in the Bible, many of us can relate to Jonah. He carried out his assignment but instead of bringing forth destruction, it was meant to turn them back to God. For those of us who claim to be believers, we love it when God takes care of us. But whether we admit it or not, there are times when we are less than happy when we see Him take care of those we consider our enemies-- people who are different from us or even just those we don't get along with. We even question God when they get the blessings that we think should be for us. As we seek the blessing for our own households, sometimes we even wish that these outsiders would take care of their own problems!
Having this kind of mindset reveals so much about our hearts. However, we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves (see Mark 12:31), our enemies, and those who persecute us (see Matthew 5:44). We shouldn't be angry or question God when He moves in the lives of people we wrongly judged as unworthy.
A Special Form of Provision
“Then the Lord said, ‘You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?’”
In the last chapter of the Book of Jonah, God uses a vine to drive home a lesson not just for the prophet but for all believers. God gives us a renewed understanding of God's heart and human ego. Our Lord shows us that when we turn away from our sin, He is always ready to show us His mercy even when we deserve harsh punishment. On the other hand, our selfishness and pride is exposed when we see ourselves as better than those who sin differently than us.
When we think of provision, we usually think of it as God's sustenance and favor. But there are times when this comes in a form that we don’t recognize. Often, we already have a picture of how things will work out that when it doesn’t turn out the way we want it, we end up impatient and bitter. In the case of Nineveh, their provision came in the form of a prophet that called them back to mercy. Every time the law is preached and it cuts through the heart of its listeners, it is meant to draw them to God so that they can receive forgiveness and mercy.
A Change of Heart
“But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)” –Ephesians 2:4-5
Jesus calls us to return to Him and lay aside our human ego. He encourages us to have a change of heart and return to Him for the sake of the world, our communities, our neighbors, and even those in our own households who need His grace. As people of faith, let us remember that the Lord works in us so that we can connect people to life in Jesus. When we see God’s goodness and mercy at work in their lives, we must celebrate it. For every person who turns to Christ, God’s Kingdom advances. We bear fruit when we lead people to Jesus and show them an example of grace, kindness, and love. We show them that we are disciples by our love (John 13:35) and it brings glory to our Father in Heaven.
Here’s a challenge for you: Don’t run away like Jonah did! Show love to a person you don’t typically get along with. Pray for your neighbors. Ask God to open your eyes to see how much He loves them. Allow the Lord to use you to reach out to them. You’ll be amazed at how His mercy can change a life—yours and theirs.