Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Bitter Prophet, a Mercy Loving God, and the Miracle of Miracles

I love the book of Jonah.  Something I'd never considered was that when Jonah fled, he had more reason than I'd ever dreamed.  Jonah knew prophecy.  The prophet Hosea was before Jonah's time.  He had penned that the Assyrians would be used by God as an instrument of judgment on Israel.

When God told Jonah to visit Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, Jonah's heart shouted no.  His running legs were proof.  Jonah was a Patriot.  He loved his nation and wanted to do everything in his power to keep it from future doom.

Jonah believed the prophecies and took matters into his own hands, trying to change the plans of the Almighty. Jonah balked at the idea of the Assyrians repenting, because they would still be around one day to destroy the northern part of Israel.  Jonah was running from the Word; he wanted his enemy flat wiped out.  He did all he could to thwart God's plans.

Jonah ran.  Jonah boarded a ship.  Jonah did all he could to escape his God that was more merciful than he could stomach.

God started providing.  God provided a violent storm at sea.  God provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah whole.  God provided a vine.  God provided a worm.

Even when we run, we can't escape the provision that points to the Holy Glory of the Provider.

After being bathed in the stomach acids of a fish, Jonah bitterly enters Nineveh.  For a single day, Jonah announced, "In forty days, Nineveh will be wiped out."

I'm thirty eight years old and I've missed the biggest miracle of the book until now.  The biggest miracle was not that God chased after Jonah in his rebellion.

The biggest miracle was not that the storm went silent the moment the sailors threw Jonah overboard.

The biggest miracle was not that God sent the perfectly made fish at the perfectly assigned time to swallow Jonah in such a way that would not harm him.

The biggest miracle was not that Jonah was able to survive in the belly of this fish for three days and three nights, the stomach acids not eroding him to mere bones.

The biggest miracle was not that the fish vomited Jonah up on dry land instead of the middle of the deep.

The biggest miracle happened in the hearts of over one hundred and twenty thousand people that believed Jonah's message and repented from their sins.  A fish god was one of the many deities that the Ninevites worshiped.  Don't you know they paid extra attention to this prophet bleached in the stomach acids of a fish!  Don't you know the stories of him being spit up by a fish onto the shore had them talking!  They clothed themselves in sackcloth, from the beggar all the way up to the king.  They fasted.  They didn't just acknowledge their sins against the one true God, Yahweh, they turned away from them.  Every single person of Nineveh turned away from their evil lives.

The most precious miracle in the book of Jonah is that God turned the hearts of countless beloved souls over to Himself, using only a bitter prophet as His instrument.

Grace was the miracle that day.

Thousands of Gentile souls, all His.

What about the words of Hosea, that had prophesied Nineveh to be the instrument of destruction for Israel?

Those came true.

The Assyrians were used by God to bring utter destruction to the Northern Kingdom.  Apparently, the repentant hearts didn't bleed into future generations and they were once again defined as a fierce and cruel people.

In mercy, God (all over again) sent a prophet to their land.  His name was Nahum.  Nahum was on the scene a century after Jonah.  He predicted their doom, but the Ninevites would not listen this time.  The book of Nahum teaches us that God will always forgive repented sin, but He refuses to condone sin that continues.  The Assyrians later fell to the Babylonians.

God sets up kings and deposes them. He sets up nations and allows them to fall.  He does all of this based on the apple of His eye, his beloved Israel.

I look at my beloved nation, America, and wonder how it will all shake out.  Will God miraculously allow us a Jonah-Nineveh moment when we repent of our sins as a whole?  Or will we be like the Ninevites during Nahum's day, who refused to hear His warnings of judgment?

God deals with Gentile nations all the same:  He will always forgive repented sin, but He will refuse to condone sin that continues. 

His mercy longs to envelop us.  Will we choose repentance?

"If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned." Jeremiah 18:7-8

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