Jonah 1:1-2 (NASB)
1The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.”
I’d like to start this short devotional by beginning in the book of Jonah, what is a short book of the Bible but still a powerful lesson indeed. Jonah was a reluctant prophet of the Old Testament, and while there may definitely be moments of reluctance on the part of multiple Bible characters, even the heroes, perhaps Jonah would be best defined by his disinclined nature at preaching the word of God to a nation that he had no heart for.
Have you ever considered why Jonah would not want to go to the Ninevites? There are numerous reasons; primarily, the Ninevites were known not just for wickedness on a spiritual level with God, but also for being a violent, oppressive group that horrendously tortured those that they captured. Some of the most gruesome forms of torture could be attributed to the Ninevites, who were one group that practiced the “art” of flaying people while they were still alive: that is, removing their skin with the purpose of causing unspeakable pain. They also practiced sticking people on poles and leaving them to die if they hadn’t already. If you’d like to see a document recording some of this, here’s a link to an article detailing their atrocities.
Not only this, but those cities that they captured were burned and the people carted off. They struck great fear in the hearts of those that they fought against, and this obviously would have caused a great deal of psychological defeat in their enemies far before there was an actual battle. Who wants to fight those that are merciless and calculated in their infliction of pain on others?
It has been speculated that some of Jonah’s own family may have endured such violent and tragic ends. Even if not his own family, certainly his own people. Even if not his own people, certainly the fact that anyone had such terrible injustices done against them would cause great pause in ever showing kindness on his part. Jonah was not uneducated in the ways of the Ninevites, and he, like many, only wanted them to suffer for their deeds.
This kind of background gives the book of Jonah an interesting perspective on God. Let’s draw our attention to three places found in today’s text that we ought to focus on:
- “The word of the Lord came to Jonah.” Why would God even care to send a word towards such a group and to give it to Jonah, an unlikely prophet to be sent? God is in His right to offer mercy to whomever He pleases and to overlook whomever He desires. He is not obligated to show kindness to the most morally upright of individuals, nor is He obligated to pour out wrath upon those who have done everything possibly wicked in their power. This is a plug for the Gospel: salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. Grace is God’s unmerited favor; it is not earned by our works nor is it dismissed by our works. Grace must function in both directions to be grace, else it becomes a matter of law-based righteousness. Unfortunately, there is no one good enough in relationship to God in His perfect holiness to ever be counted worthy in themselves of His righteousness; therefore, it is always and only a matter of God’s grace should a person come into a right relationship with Him. Additionally, He has the right to ask any of His children to go and to serve Him in whatever capacity He should desire. He has the rights, and even if we do have pain and weakness towards certain places, His grace is sufficient and He knows what He’s doing. He does not fail when He moves any of His children to serve Him in the capacities that He does. Consider that the book of Jonah has much to do with the rights of God.
- “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it.” It is an act of mercy for God to ever let people know before eternity that they are living in sin. It is an act of mercy when He moves one of His servants to go and to make that known. Every time we witness, whether people respond positively or not, it is an act of mercy in that truth is being relayed and people are being made aware, whether they like that or not. God could let any person on this planet live and die without ever having any awareness of His righteousness, their sinfulness, and the judgment to come without a Savior. Even in Jonah’s time, the people would have to respond to his message in faith, taking God at His word through the prophet Jonah and essentially believing upon the Messiah that was to come. You see, Old Testament or New, the Savior was always the one people had to look to, and it was just a matter of whether He was to come or whether He already had. Regardless, when God sends a witness to decry the sins of the people, even that act is part of His gift of mercy. It’s not all that a people need for salvation, but it’s certainly a part of the package.
- “Their wickedness has come up before Me.” The deeds of the Ninevites, that is, the sin of this people, caught God’s attention. We will see that Jonah’s first response is to run, and why is that? He will tell us eventually that he suspected God would show kindness and that was the last thing that He wanted. Had he thought that God’s intentions were only to bring down wrath, perhaps he would have gone. Then again, if God only intended wrath, perhaps there would not have been a need to send a message, but just to pour out that wrath. God’s kindness to humanity, in part, is to let them be made aware of what is to come, whether they accept it or reject it, believe it or mock it. He has the right to save and the right to pass over. He has the right to let people be made aware and to not follow through on breaking their hearts in repentance to Him. God can do as He pleases.
I hope we think about this truth of God’s rights in this world in which we live. A lot is happening and while we may petition God to change things, it’s always His right to answer right away or to let things continue on. He knows what He is doing and He has a plan for what He allows. Sovereignty must be something that we rest in with the world in which we live. Pray, preach, teach, love others, but rest in God’s control over it all. Sometimes we just need to remember that God is always good and always right to do as He pleases, even if we don’t always like it. Rejoice in knowing that He still sits on the throne, every moment of every day.
Thank you, and God bless you this evening.