Sunday, April 22, 2012

Jonah 3 & 4 - "Should I Not Be Concerned?"

LINK: Jonah 3 & 4

BACKGROUND

The fish (never says whale in the Hebrew) transported Jonah back in the right direction, and Jonah delivered a very simple message:


Yet forty days and Nineveh 
will be overthrown.
(Jonah 3:4)

Nineveh repented in sackcloth and ashes, but Jonah responded by pouting! God used a plant, a worm, and a scorching wind to teach Jonah about His mercy. Jonah grieved over the death of the plant in which he had no part in making grow. Jonah cared more for the vine than for the human lives in Nineveh! He cared more for his personal comfort than for the spiritual destiny of thousands of people.

Donald E. Baker paraphrases Jonah 4:11-12 beautifully:
Let’s analyze this anger of yours Jonah. . . . It represents your concern over your beloved plant – but what did it really mean to you? Your attachment to it couldn’t be very deep, for it was here one day and gone the next. Your concern was dictated by self-interest, not by genuine love. You never had a devotion of a gardener. If you feel as bad as you do, what would you expect a gardener to feel like, who tended a plant and watched it grow only to see it wither and die? This is how I feel about Nineveh, only much more so. All those people, all those animals—I made them; I have cherished them all these years. Nineveh has cost Me no end of effort, and it means the world to Me. Your pain is nothing compared to Mine when I contemplate their destruction. (“Jonah and the Worm,” His. October 1983, p. 12)
It is of historical note that Nineveh’s repentance was short-lived for it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 612 B.C. The entire Assyrian empire toppled to them in 609 B.C.

REFLECTION

The key verse in this book is found in 4:11:
“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 about that great city?"
From the beginning of Bible Book Club, I have been “tapping my drum” and saying that, from the beginning, God’s intention has been that Israel would be a conduit of His love and mercy to all the peoples (remember Genesis 12:1-3 – they were “blessed to be a blessing”). He is a God of “all the earth,” and He will be worshipped by all peoples (Revelation 5:9-10; 7:9-17). 

Johannes Vekuyl says, “He is cutting a path directly through the weary and plodding activities of men in history in order to achieve his goals among the nations,” and the book of Jonah is a case in point!

Please read what Vekuyl goes on to say:
The book of Jonah is so significant for understanding the biblical basis of missions because it treats God’s mandate to his people regarding the Gentile peoples and thus serves as the preparatory step to the missionary mandate of the New Testament. But it is also important for catching a glimpse of the deep resistance this mandate encounters from the very servant Yahweh has chosen to discharge his worldwide work.

Today there is much talk and writing about “educating the congregation” and “educating personnel” for mission. Jonah is a lesson in educating a person to be a missionary: it reveals the need for a radical conversion of one’s natural tendencies and a complete restructuring of his life to make it serviceable for mission.

The title of the book is the personal name of the unwilling prophet, Jonah. . . . The author uses this personal name to portray for his readers a missionary who has no heart for the Gentiles and who, like the later Pharisees, cannot tolerate a God who shows them mercy. In the words of the Dutch author Miskotte, “the writer intends to picture a person who is the exact opposite of an apostle.” The author of Jonah warns his readers against this intolerant attitude and sets before each of them the question of whether he or she is willing to be transformed into a servant who works to accomplish the mandates of God.

As the author sees it, Israel has become so preoccupied with herself that she no longer directs her eyes toward the world of the nations, Israel, the recipient of all God’s revelation, refuses to set foot in alien territory to tell the other peoples God’s message of judgment and liberation. But the message of the book also is addressed to the New Testament congregation which tries various ways of evading her Lord’s command to speak his message to the world.

Jonah’s crafty evasion efforts represent a lazy and unfaithful Church which does not heed its Lord’s command. God has to wrestle against Israel’s narrow ethnocentrism which tries to restrict his activity to the boundaries of Israel alone and against the Church’s ecclesiocentric refusal to go out into the world to proclaim God’s message and do his work. The writer is bent on convincing his readers that the radius of God’s liberating activity is wide enough to cover both Israel and the Gentiles.

It is a miracle that Jonah, with its strong warning against ethnocentrism, ever made its ways into the canon of Scripture. It squarely sets forth man’s attempt to sabotage God’s worldwide plans so that its readers – Israel, the New Testament Church, and us – can hear what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell them through the medium of this little book. 
(Verkuyl, Johannes. "The Biblical Foundation for the Worldwide Mission Mandate." Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader 2009: 45-47)
APPLICATION

Gut check: How is your mercy meter? Are you concerned about those who do not know and have never heard about the love of God through Jesus Christ, especially people you have never met in other countries?

The message of salvation is for all people. God’s grace extends beyond the accessible places we go to on short-term trips. I am not saying that the people on those short-terms are not worthy of our compassion and love, but they are making the calls and asking you to come. I am talking about the people who don’t have your number. I am talking about the people who need people like us to move into their neighborhood and provide a tangible expression of the love of God. They might not live in the nicest places. They might have a very bad reputation in the world’s eyes because of what you have heard on the news; but they, like the people of Nineveh, are an object of God’s compassionate concern. Are they an object of yours?

If you want some ideas about how to put that budding concern in motion, contact me. This is what I am MOST passionate about!

PRAYER

Lord, give us Your heart of compassion for all the peoples of the world. Help us to be concerned. We pray this in Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
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