We were reading the book of Jonah in the Old Testament recently, and I was convicted about attitudes.
We all know the story of Jonah, the recalcitrant prophet. God told him to go to the city of Nineveh to tell of God’s glory and mercy. Nineveh was an enemy of Israel, so Jonah took the boat to Tarshish, in the opposite direction from Nineveh. Of course, he ultimately did get to Nineveh via the great fish that vomited him up onto its shores.
At this point, he proclaimed the word that the Lord had given him and then he left. The king and all the people repented of their sin and the Lord had mercy and did not destroy them, as He was going to do. Jonah succeeded! Now, read the concluding chapter of the book:
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?” [“Is it right for you to be angry?” NKJV]
Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.
Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered.
When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”
And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
Jonah 4:1-11 (ESV)
Jonah was angry with God because the people of Nineveh were going to be given mercy since they repented of their sin and humbled themselves before God. His message was received and the people appropriately reacted to it. But Jonah was angry. He didn’t want “those people” forgiven. He didn’t want “those people” to receive God’s mercy. He didn’t want “those people” to survive God’s wrath! He was angry. He was so angry, he asked God to kill him because he just didn’t want to live anymore.
Then God addressed the ultimate issue for Jonah, by sending a tree and a worm. The plant grew up and gave Jonah shade in the hot sun, and Jonah was happy. Then a worm attacked the plant and it withered, so when the sun was high in the heaven and scorching heat was upon Jonah, he was angry, again. So angry, he once again asked God to kill him because he just didn’t want to live anymore.
God pointed out that Jonah had pity on the plant which was here today and gone tomorrow. Then God got to the crux of the issue — “should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons”.
What is the point of the story for us in 2020? We are in the same position as Jonah. We don’t know God’s plan for us or for our world. We understand that ultimately Jesus will return and claim His people and His kingdom, but that is at the end. We are in the middle. In Isaiah we read:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)
God had mercy on Nineveh even though they were enemies of Jonah and the Israelites. Jonah had to learn the lesson of submission. He didn’t know why God granted mercy to Nineveh. We don’t know why we are going through the difficult times facing us, individually, as families, as communities, as a nation, and as the world. But, we know that God is in control. He is fully aware of the trials that each one has, and He wants us to be submissive, to call upon Him, to submit to the tasks that He outlines for us. He wants us to do His will, even while we are stuck in the COVID19 morass.
Are you angry? Or are you submissive? Does God need to put you in the belly of the great fish to calm you down so that you can do what He has asked? Are you angry even when you have succeeded in the task?
Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. … Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
James 4:7. 10 (NKJV)
Rather than being angry, submit to God, Beloved. He will lift you up!
Father, forgive me when I have been so entrenched in my own agenda that I have been unable to see what You want me to do. Forgive me when I have run in the opposite direction from the direction You wanted me to go. Forgive me when I have become angry at Your direction. Cleanse my heart and let me see Your working in my life and in the world around me. May I submit to Your will even when I don’t understand it. You are my God and I am Your child.