Whenever I read the book of Jonah, I didn’t get why Jonah went in the opposite direction God told him to go, not that I am perfectly obedient. God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and warn the people to repent and turn away from their wicked ways. The city was full of bloodshed, but Jonah decided to go on a ship to Tarshis instead and flee from the presence of God. Jonah was a prophet of God, yet he refused to warn the King of Nineveh about God’s judgment against them.
After Jonah ran away from God, a great storm arose, and the men on the boat cried out to the god they worshipped but to no avail. Finally, the captain went to Jonah and found him fast asleep below the deck. They asked him to pray to his God for mercy. They finally cast lots, and they fell toward Jonah. Even these men knew Jonah’s God was to be feared; maybe God would relent. But instead, Jonah told the crew to throw him overboard because he sinned against God; he decided they shouldn’t die for his disobedience. So Jonah showed mercy to the crew members on the ship; however, it seemed he wanted God to destroy Nineveh, but why?
My thoughts: At first reading, I assumed Jonah was afraid of being killed like the Prophets before him-being a Prophet back then was a dangerous calling, and many were killed or imprisoned for speaking the word of God. Also, a true prophet had to carry the burden of proof, and not all people listen and accept the word of God through His servants. Nineveh was the home of the most ruthless people, enemies of Isreal, and I, too, would probably run away!
Also, Jonah stated that he did not want to go to Nineveh because he knew God was gracious, merciful, compassionate, and slow to anger.
“Therefore, I fled previously to Tarshish: for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness, One who relents from harming. 3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”
I needed the history between Isreal and Nineveh to think much about Jonah’s refusal to go to Nineveh and warn the people of their fate. However, the story does emphasize Jonah’s reasoning as to why he ran away from God and ended up in the belly of a giant fish; God is compassionate, slow to anger, and merciful. However, Jonah had deeper issues about why he wanted God to destroy Nineveh.
Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. The Assyrians were the most ruthless of all nations, and their torture practices were merciless and greatly feared, even amongst the Jewish people. As a result, Nineveh was called the city of bloodshed and filled with violence. In the book of 2 Kings 17, the people of Isreal feared the people and their gods. They succumbed to worshipping their idols and living in their ways. After the Lord warned them, they refused to turn away from their sins, and the Lord allowed the Assyrian King, Sennacherib, to siege Jerusalem and take Isreal captive. (2 Kings 18).
God calls us to live in a way that glorifies Him, being in His Likeness. Jonah said, “You are compassionate, slow to anger, and merciful. God is Holy and should be Glorified. Fortunately, He didn’t take His rightful throne here on earth. Instead, He sat with sinners. The Likeness of the Pharisees is religious leaders who walk around thinking they are holier than thou and expect everyone to serve and worship them. They expected the people to give their last penny to support their lavish lifestyles, and they used the word of God to control, enslave, or kill. But when asked for help, they told them they must be in sin or didn’t have enough faith.
We are all guilty of having this spirit. Yet, we don’t admit it; instead, we try to hide like Jonah behind our unforgiveness, anger, resentment, or bitterness.
Jonah may have wanted God to take vengeance on Nineveh for the bloodshed they caused to his people and ancestors; there was no love between these nations. Instead, however, God told Jonah to go and warn the King. But Jonah passively refuses, runs away, and hides.
First, how do we passively run away from God’s Presence? Unlike Jonah, we hide behind excuses, business, alcoholism, drug addictions, etc.
Our ancestors before us believed in the Retribution principle as we continue today; we look to God for vengeance. We walk around saying with our lips, “I forgive them for what they did, but deep within, we want God to punish them or pay them back for the harm they caused us.
Although we may think we can run away from His Presence, thank God, we cannot. So also, we cannot sever His love from us, ever (Romans 8)
However, we can eliminate our fellowship with Him and good people. As a child, the consequences of disobedience hung on top of the door frame within view. I saw obedience as submission by compliance. Therefore, I resisted good and evil. I was suspicious of good acts because I saw how people used manipulation to get what they wanted at a very young age, so I trusted no one, not even God. Also, through resistance, I found myself resisting the Lord’s Goodness. Because of who I thought He was, I stopped praying (talking to Him) about my hurts and the injustices done to me and stopped going to church so fellow believers could comfort and help me.
Jonah could have protested, reminding God that He is a God of Justice. Jonah could have pleaded with God for the injustice, pain, destruction, and suffering the Assyrians caused his people and why God should destroy Nineveh; instead, Jonah fled. I also ran from God and people and ended up in the bottomless, darkest pit, as Jonah did.
I understood Jonah because I did not believe God would listen to me. So, instead of praying, protesting, and sharing my concerns with my Father in Heaven, I passively ran from His Presence. I was hurt and felt betrayed by God; I wanted justice for the wrong done to me. In my heart, I wanted vengeance. My lips said what my mind thought God wanted to hear, but my heart was screaming!
- Isolation: One day, I went to the chapel in the hospital and sat as tears flowed; a chaplain walked out and set things up. After he finished, he left. I said, Lord, if this man is to minister to me, please bring him back; I will ask for help. A few minutes passed, and the chaplain came out. I asked him if I could talk to him. He said he came out earlier, but when I said nothing, he let me be, but the Lord told him to come back out. When I shared my pain with him, he gave me something more precious than gold. He said when we have an infection in our bodies, we have antibodies that trigger the wound and surround it, thus keeping it from spreading and healing the wound. He said the body has many parts, like the Body of Christ; when surrounded by His people, they surround us with love, compassion, and mercy. They pray for us, help us in our need, listen, and extend God’s grace. The chaplain gave me perspective, and I went back to church. We need people and help from others.
- Retribution Principle: As the people of ancient times believed in the retribution principle, we say we forgive our enemies, yet, in our hearts, we long for vengeance. We want God to punish them for their actions and the pain they caused our families and us.
- Unforgiveness: When we hold on to unforgiveness, we withhold God’s grace from ourselves and our children. We isolate and become islands, thus keeping away from family members, new friends, and new adventures. That is what the devil wants to do; he wants to steal the blessings God has prepared for us, he wants to destroy our futures, and he wants to kill our dreams. Yes, there are some people we need to set solid boundaries with and some we need to stay away from; they are evil. However, forgiving them frees you from their control and power over you. You don’t have to allow them back into your life.
- Bitterness: Bitterness hardens our hearts towards God and people. When someone harms us deeply, we isolate ourselves instead of seeking God and the right people for validation. However, when we meditate about the injustices in our hearts, we can implode, causing harm to our health and thus affecting others. The Bible says a bitter root defiles many, such as your children. Like the men on the ship, eventually, your children will cast you overboard because they become overwhelmed. Hebrews 12:15.
- Anger: We want to see God move swiftly on our behalf, but thank God, He is slow to anger; we, too, deserve His wrath. Healthy anger against injustice is good because we can educate ourselves, set boundaries, and help others overcome evil with goodness, like burning coals. Jesus showed righteous anger when people defiled His Father’s house. I, too, have thrown toxic people who disrespected my home and boundaries out of my house many times.
When the Lord led me back to this study, I was resistant; the book of Jonah was not one of my favorites in the past. However, I focused on Jonah’s behaviors toward God and his enemies this time. So, for a few days, I procrastinated as I usually do when I don’t want to deal with something; I become overwhelmed, so I went into Flight mode, as I see Jonah did here. I also redirected myself from doing this because I did not want to face my pain. When Jonah got on the ship, he went to the bottom of the deck and was fast asleep. I also noticed the onslaught of depression creeping in; I know one of the signs of depression is sleeping a lot. However, I realized my traumas had taken so much out of me, so I reframed my thoughts of self-pity to self-care and allowed myself to rest in God’s comfort and the ease of some friends who gave me space to speak my truths.
When I write here, I don’t have the answers; I am often broken to pieces when life’s storms become overwhelming. But I realized I had been on the ride of unforgiveness too long and wanted to get off this ship.
I have been exhausted, angry, frustrated, lonely, and sad lately. Yet, I reached out to Jesus and others to comfort me; not everyone can hear as God hears our hearts. My heart is screaming against the injustices done to me, my children, and my grandchildren.
So I sat with these for a while and listened to several podcasts on forgiveness, Dr. Phil’s Prayer and Therapy, Jack Grahams Bible in a Year, 12 Christian Beliefs that can drive you Crazy, Dr. Henry Cloud, and John Townsend.
If we are completely honest with God and ourselves, we can go to God and our safe people and speak freely like a little child about our hurts and hangups. So, as the year is ending, instead of making resolutions to lose a few pounds, try throwing out the weight of bitterness, resentments, unforgiveness, and malice by talking to God about your woundedness. You will be amazed at how much better you will feel when these burdens are lifted from you and your loved ones.
- God Hears: Like Jonah, we can speak our truth to the Lord. Jonah knew the Lord; he had a relationship with God. The Lord was compassionate. He listened to Jonah.
- God is slow to anger: The Lord is longsuffering (Patient). He doesn’t want anyone to perish, but all to come to Him.
- God is merciful: When Jonah sat on the ledge, God gave him shade while Jonah pouted. He also sent a worm to devour the leaves. He showed Jonah that He is God, not Jonah. The Lord is Justice, and in His justice, He will draw many to Himself the way He chooses to do so, not how we expect Him to do or want Him to.
When we come to Him and ask for help because we all have sinned and deeply wounded His Son and Him, He had already made way for us by taking our sins upon Himself and died for us, but when He rose again, He brought us out of the pit of hell with Him. He did not leave Jonah in the belly of hell because of his disobedience. And the people of Ninevah, who were ruthless and wicked, repented, and they, too, were saved because they believed in a God they did not know and changed their ways.