Jonah is probably one of the most humorous characters in the whole Bible. He's especially funny because he holds up a mirror for us and makes us laugh at ourselves. Many of us tend to be a lot like Jonah.
Let's explore the adventures of this reluctant prophet. When we first meet Jonah, he is receiving a word of prophecy from God. Go to Nineveh, God says, and preach against the city. The message is clear, but what does Jonah do? He runs in the opposite direction as fast as he can.
At Joppa, Jonah hops on board a ship bound for Tarshish. Does he really think he can get away from God? Deep down he probably knows he can't, but he's certainly going to try. He tucks himself down into the ship's hold and goes to sleep, determined to ignore the world and especially God.
That doesn't last long. Somehow Jonah manages to sleep through the violent storm that tosses the ship to and fro in the thrashing waves. Finally, the terrified captain shakes the fleeing prophet awake and urges him to pray to his God to save them.
The sailors are a practical bunch. They realize that someone is responsible for this nasty storm, which is unlike anything they've ever seen before. They cast lots to discover the culprit, and of course, the lot falls to Jonah. Surprisingly, the sailors don't throw him overboard immediately. Instead, they ask him who he is and what in the world he has done to cause this. Jonah freely admits that he is fleeing from God and at fault for their current predicament.
Once again, the sailors leave him alone, trying hard to row to land. Finally, though, they see that nothing more can be done. They pray to God to forgive them, and they toss a willing Jonah into the sea.
As Jonah sinks, the storm tapers off. Then, suddenly, gulp! A large fish swallows Jonah. As the reluctant prophet cools his heals in the belly of the fish, he finally figures out that he has a major problem. It must be difficult to eat crow, but Jonah does it. He prays. God listens and says a couple of well-chosen words to the fish, who immediately spits Jonah onto dry land.
The reluctant prophet must have given a great sigh of relief. But his journey is not finished. It's time to go to Nineveh.
Tuesday – Anxious and Worried
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.” Jesus could very well be saying those words to most of us. In fact, if we are honest, we would quickly admit that we're probably more worthy of receiving those words than Martha ever was.
We fret. We fume. We get distracted by our responsibilities. We allow ourselves to be caught up in “what ifs.” We drown under the weight of our burdens. We whine. We complain. We are anxious. We worry.
And Jesus looks at us with great love and a little smile, shaking His head and repeating the words He said to another worrier two centuries ago: “...you are anxious and worried about many things.” Listen to Him as He continues his gentle rebuke: “There is need of only one thing.” That was the one thing that Mary, Martha's sister, chose. She sat beside Jesus, right at His feet, listening as He taught. She chose to focus her attention on Jesus above all else. She had found the one remedy for anxiety and worry. She had found Jesus.
When will we find that one Remedy? When will we sit at His feet and listen to Him and focus our attention on Him and allow our cares and burdens to drift away in the gentle breeze of His love?
Wednesday – A Pouting Prophet
Jonah really should have learned his lesson by now. He has already run away from God, been caught in a fierce storm, and spent three days inside a fish. He has preached to Nineveh and witnessed a shocking conversion as the Ninevites, led by their king, begged forgiveness from God. By this time, he should know enough to realize that God is in charge and that His will is sovereign.
Jonah, however, still doesn't get the picture. Apparently, he was all excited to see God pour out His wrath upon Nineveh. But that didn't happen. Instead, God accepted the Ninevites' repentance and had mercy on them.
Now Jonah is miffed that things didn't go his way. He pouts, he whines, he snivels, and he begs God to just take his life. God, probably with a sigh, asks Jonah what in the world he has to be angry about.
Jonah simply pouts some more and doesn't answer. So God decides to teach him another lesson. He provides a very nice gourd plant to give Jonah some shade. Jonah is quite pleased with the plant. But it doesn't last long. God allows a worm to attack the plant so that it dies. Then He sends a hot wind, which combined with the sun, heats up Jonah so much that once again he begs for death.
God looks down at his pouting prophet and asks him if he really has any reason to be angry about the plant. “I have reason to be angry,” Jonah responds (stamping his foot perhaps?), “angry enough to die.”
God very patiently explains that since Jonah is so concerned about a plant he did not raise, he should now understand why God is so concerned about the great city of Nineveh and all its people and animals. After all, God created them, holds them in existence, and loves them.
Does Jonah finally get the message? We'll never know. The book cuts off right after God speaks. Perhaps the Holy Spirit deliberately leaves the question open so that we can ask ourselves if we have learned our lesson.