Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal

Nineveh Lent

Volume 5 No. 261 January 25, 2015

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Isaiah 40:2
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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Nineveh Lent

1. Bible Readings for Nineveh Lent (3 Day Lent) (January 26-29)

Bible Readings For The Nineveh Lent (Three Day Lent)

http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Lectionary/Lec_3-Day-Lent.htm

2. Sermons for Nineveh Lent (3 Day Lent) (January 26-29)

Sermons For The Nineveh Lent (Three Day Lent)

http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Sermons/Sermon-of-the-week_Nineveh-Lent.htm

3. When God Repented

The bad news is that when Jonah sees all this he gets furious. He says, "Darn it, God, that's why I ran away from your face in the first place. When I preach doom and destruction, I want doom and destruction. But here you are, so merciful, kind, and forgiving, it just makes me sick."

Now I hope you catch the humor in this. The book of Jonah is a funny book. It is a satire on every exclusive, narrow-minded expression of religion. This is theology as high comedy.

But I hope the story disturbs us too. The story of Jonah holds before us a picture of God that is so loving, so patient, so relentlessly gracious that it pushes us to extend our human boundaries of God's infinite grace.

Why is Jonah so angry? The short answer is because God loves too many people. ...

4. Commentary on Jonah 3:10-4:11

Not unlike the older brother of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31), Jonah resents the graciousness of Yhwh toward the repentant inhabitants of Nineveh. ... the Ninevites are not the only ones pursued by Yhwh's mercy. God stays with Jonah, the bitter and unforgiving prophet, extending mercy to the merciless and compassion to the one whose heart is set on wrath. ...

5. Jonah, God's Humor?

It is one of the rare instances in the Old Testament of God's wry sense of humor, and it seems almost certain that Jonah didn't fail to appreciate it. ...

6. Jonah's Message of Forgiveness

Within the belly of the great fish and the borders of the enemy city, God's protection comes, perhaps when least expected, freely as a gift from God. Human forgiveness as represented by Jonah is unreliable, but divine pardon is bestowed upon those who repent. While God remains free to execute sovereign will, the Ninevites are not punished for sin when they turn from evil ways. ..

Jonah's story demonstrates that no one in heaven or on earth can force another to forgive; there must be a desire to do so. ...

7. My First Challenge

 Jonah's fleeing response should not be a surprise to us, but God's should be. We have an incredibly faithful God for an incredibly faithless people. We have a God that will pursue you in order to accomplish his tasks. Not because there is no one else, but because he wants you. ...

8. What's Your Nineveh?

Have you ever run away from something that God wanted you to do? If so, then you've got a lot in common with Jonah. ..

What seems impossible to me is exactly what God wants me to do. So that I will learn. And grow. And draw closer to him as I work on understanding his Word. ..

9. More Resources for Nineveh Lent

Malankara World Journal - Issue 195, February 9, 2014

Malankara World Journal - Issue 50, January 30, 2012

Sermons For The Nineveh Lent (Three Day Lent)

10. About Malankara World

Nineveh Lent
Bible Readings for Nineveh Lent (3 Day Lent) (January 26-29)
Sermons for Nineveh Lent (3 Day Lent) (January 26-29)
When God Repented

by Rev. William Carter

Scripture: Jonah 2:10-3:10, 4:1

I hope you don't think for a minute that the story of Jonah is a fish story. No, here's a story about a man who doesn't want to do what God commands.

In the very first words of the book, God says, "Hey, Jonah, I've got a job for you. Go to that great city of Nineveh. Cry out against that wicked city and all the nasty people who live there."

So what does Jonah do? He gets up and he goes alright. He goes to the city of Joppa and he marches right down to the dock on the Mediterranean Sea. Then he hops aboard a ship that's going in the opposite direction. God says, "Go east to Nineveh." Jonah heads west to Tarshish, somewhere around the Rock of Gibraltar.

If you know the story of Jonah, you may remember what happens. A storm arises on the sea. Jonah is thrown overboard to appease the storm. The Lord God sends a great big fish to grab Jonah and bring him back east, back to the shore where he started.

During the return trip, Jonah prays a flawlessly composed psalm in the belly of the fish. That causes the fish to cough up this preacher. Then God says for a second time, "Now, Jonah, get going to Nineveh. Go to that great city and do what I want you to do."

Certainly this is a whale of a tale, but it is not a fish story. It is the story of a man who was called upon to do something for God and he doesn't want to do it.

Now, I pause to tell you, there is some question about exactly what Jonah is called upon to do. Certainly, it involves preaching. Jonah is called upon to speak up against the city because the wickedness of the city has literally been thrown into God's face. And, yet, the first thing Jonah does is to get out of God's face. He flees from the presence of God.

So when God catches up with him, when God steers him back, when God says to Jonah a second time, "Get going to Nineveh," it's interesting that the Lord adds, "and I will tell you what to say."

When God spoke, we have no idea if Jonah was listening. What we do know is that when he got to Nineveh, Jonah preached a sermon with only five Hebrew words in it. Loosely translated it goes, "Hey Nineveh! In forty days you're going to be blasted to bits." Jonah walks for one full day into the middle of the city all the time preaching that five-word sermon.

He starts preaching that sermon and even though the people of Nineveh don't speak Hebrew, they begin to take notice. I mean, how could Jonah lose?

Three days in the belly of a fish, and the digestive gases have bleached him white. His clothes are ragged, he's missing a couple of teeth, and he still has a little seaweed hanging from his left ear. He strolls into the center of town, belts out his message and then begins the countdown: "40, 39, 38, 37....."

The good news is that the people believe God. They cry out to God and change their evil ways. The king of Nineveh hears the sermon and he repents. According to the story, even the cattle hear the sermon and they repent. Not only that, according to the story, God is so impressed with Jonah's sermon even God repents. That's what it says: The Lord Almighty changed his mind.

Thanks to Jonah, everybody has turned toward the face of God which, if you ask me, is probably what God wanted in the first place. That's the good news.

The bad news is that when Jonah sees all this he gets furious. He says, "Darn it, God, that's why I ran away from your face in the first place. When I preach doom and destruction, I want doom and destruction. But here you are, so merciful, kind, and forgiving, it just makes me sick."

Now I hope you catch the humor in this. The book of Jonah is a funny book. It is a satire on every exclusive, narrow-minded expression of religion. This is theology as high comedy.

But I hope the story disturbs us too. The story of Jonah holds before us a picture of God that is so loving, so patient, so relentlessly gracious that it pushes us to extend our human boundaries of God's infinite grace.

Why is Jonah so angry? The short answer is because God loves too many people.

The longer answer, according to Jonah, is that God is "gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, ready to relent from punishing." Like Jonah, that's how we expect God to be toward us. That's not always how we want God to be toward others.

A friend told me about something that happened during a flight from Johannesburg, South Africa, to London, England. A woman with a thick European accent got on the plane. She came down the aisle to the tourist section and discovered her seat assignment put her right next to a man with, shall we say, an African accent. She looked at her seat assignment; she saw it was correct. She asked her seatmate, "I'm sorry, are you in the right seat?" He smiled and nodded yes. She turned around to see if there were any other empty seats in the section but she didn't see any so she tugged on the sleeve of the flight attendant. "Excuse me," she said, "as you can see, I'm sitting next to a person whose skin color is different from mine." "Yes, ma'am, I can see that." "Well," she said, "this is simply unacceptable. Is there another available seat?" The flight attendant looked at her strangely and said, "I'm sorry, ma'am, it's against our policy to move people unnecessarily." "You don't understand," said the wealthy woman, "this arrangement will not do. I have funds in my purse to arrange an alternative." The flight attendant said, "You do?" "Yes, I do. Would you please go up to first class and see if there is an available seat? I simply cannot sit next to this person." The flight attendant shrugged her shoulders, walked up the aisle. A few minutes later she returned. She leaned over the European woman, tapped the man with the African accent, and said, "I'm sorry, sir, I hate to do this. I must make a seating change. If you follow me, we have a place for you in first class."

The love of God makes it possible to give every person first-class treatment. Sometimes, however, we get stuck in our same old seats.

Right here, in the midst of the writings of Israel's prophets, there is a story of this reluctant prophet Jonah. He is called to speak to people outside Jewish boundaries and he doesn't want to go. He is sent against his will to speak to outsiders and he hates the assignment. Do you know where this story comes from? From the Jews.

As the Jewish writer Elie Weisel retells the story of Jonah, he notes that Jonah

is to teach the Gentiles without ceasing to be Jewish...It is the Jew in him who will teach the Gentiles. The more Jewish the poet the more universal his message. The more Jewish his soul the more human his concerns. A Jew who does not feel for his people, who does not share in their sorrows and joys cannot feel for other people and a Jew who is concerned with his fellow Jews is inevitably concerned with the faith of other people as well.

Here's the question beneath all of this: how far can God reach?

When Jesus answered that question in his words and deeds, he got himself in a lot of trouble. Jesus never seemed to distinguish between the people he taught and healed. He preached to the poor. He cured those who had been ignored by physicians. One long day after another Jesus went into a crowd full of need and tended to one person after another. Just when somebody was ready to typecast him, Jesus went into the home of a rich tax collector and broke bread with the wealthy Pharisees. He never seemed to distinguish between rich or poor, male or female, insiders or outsiders. He did not restrict his care to one group or another. No. In the name of God, Jesus gave himself to the world.

How many people can God love? Before you answer too quickly, let me remind you the church has struggled with this question from the beginning.

After Jesus was dead and risen, along came another preacher. His name was Simon bar-Jonah, that is, Simon, son of Jonah. One day he was sitting on a roof top in the seaside city of Joppa. Sound familiar? Simon, the son of Jonah, was minding his own business saying a few prayers. Suddenly God broke through and said, "I want you to preach my judgment and mercy to some people outside your little circle." Simon bar-Jonah or as we call him, Simon Peter, did not want to do it. "Too late," said the Holy Spirit, "downstairs some Italians are knocking on your door."

All of this happens in the 10th chapter of Acts. By the 15th chapter the church is having its first major disagreement. All the preachers are called in from the frontier. Everybody is squabbling over one issue, namely, how many outsiders are we going to allow in God's church? The problem, it seems, is that God keeps inviting everybody. It just goes to show the church doesn't tell a lot of new stories, rather, we keep telling the same story of a God who loves everybody, who is merciful to everybody, who is kind to everybody, but who is stuck with some reluctant messengers.

When are we going to get it straight that the love of God is for all people? That the judgment of God is laid upon every human heart? That the mercy of God can forgive every sin and give second chances to every person? When are we going to get it into our heads and our hearts that the Creator in heaven wants nothing more than to stand face to face with every creature beginning with us, but not ending there.

God is willing to love anybody. Even Jonah. Even you and me. The difficulty is not in telling ourselves this is true. The difficulty is believing it's true for everybody else.

Let us pray.

God of grace, none of us are beyond your reach. In Jesus Christ you have sought and found us. Through him you call us to speak your redeeming word of love. Some of us answer willingly. Others pull back in reluctance. Some can respond impulsively dropping their nets and leaving everything else behind. Others can respond only through your repeated patience and your long-suffering love. Whoever we are, receive us into your love, enlarge our hearts and minds that we might serve you lovingly and logically. Give us the grace and good humor to see your hand in all things and make us useful in your sight. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

About The Author:

The Rev. William Carter is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Clarks Summit, PA, and a well-known jazz musician. Copyright © by The Rev. William Carter

Commentary on Jonah 3:10-4:11

by Michael J. Chan

Not unlike the older brother of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31), Jonah resents the graciousness of Yhwh toward the repentant inhabitants of Nineveh:

He [Jonah] prayed to the LORD, saying, "O LORD! Isn't this just what I said when I was still in my own country? That is why I fled beforehand to Tarshish. For I know that You are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, renouncing punishment. Please, LORD, take my life, for I would rather die than live." (Jonah 4:2-3 TNK)

Spitefully hurling a standard confessional formula in Yhwh's (1) face (see, e.g., Exodus 34:6-7; Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalms 103:8, 17; 145:8; Jeremiah 32:18-19; Nahum 1:3), Jonah tells Yhwh that he would rather die than live to see the Assyrians receive Yhwh's mercy. So deep was Jonah's anger toward Israel's imperial oppressors.

It's easy to miss the irony and comedic intent in the exchange between Yhwh and Jonah, and in the book more generally. Typically, Israel's prophets are fiercely obedient to the law, while their audiences are stubborn and recalcitrant sinners, who are quicker to kill the prophet than take seriously his message. Take Jeremiah, for instance: he is told that he will experience so much opposition that Judah's most powerful officials (priests and kings) would oppose him, and that he would stand with Yhwh alone at his side (Jeremiah 1:17-19).

Unlike Jeremiah, however, who his typical of Israel's prophetic tradition, Jonah is not only resistant to Yhwh's will, he actually succeeds in winning over his audience, and he does so with a five word sermon: “Forty days more and Nineveh will be overturned” (Jonah 3:4). (And people say Lutheran sermons are short). What's even more astonishing is that Jonah's sermon doesn't even mention the possibility of mercy! What kind of topsy turvy, whale-of-a-tale is this? A reluctant, bitter prophet and repentant sinners? Welcome to the world of Jonah, where idolatrous sinners repent and Israelite prophets resent their deity's most fundamental attributes.

Despite its clearly humorous and ironical aspects, Jonah's resentful response to Yhwh's mercy actually echoes a sentiment present in the larger culture, namely, disdain for the Assyrian empire. This view is expressly and graphically depicted in the book of Nahum, which relishes in Yhwh's destruction of Nineveh. Nahum was the oracle Jonah hoped to give.

But can we really blame Jonah for feeling this way? The Assyrians were responsible for destroying the Northern Kingdom of Israel, subjugating, taxing, and oppressing the Southern Kingdom, destroying the Judahite city of Lachish, and otherwise wreaking havoc across the ancient Near East.

If that weren't enough, the Assyrian kings proudly boasted about and displayed their violent conquests of foreign lands. The scene below (see Figure 1), in fact, comes from Room XXXVI of Sennacherib's royal palace at Nineveh. It depicts Assyrian soldiers (the guys with the pointed hats!) flaying naked Judahite men. Their thin, naked bodies are eerily similar to the horrific images that emerged during and after WWII. Sennacherib dedicated an entire room, in fact, to his destruction of Lachish. Could you forgive such a people?

Jonah is not alone in his anger toward the Assyrians. In fact, when Nineveh finally fell in 612 BCE, its conquerors (the Babylonians and the Elamites) purposefully damaged images of the Assyrian kings as an act of damnatio memoriae (see Figure 2.). Jonah, it would seem, was not alone in his anger toward the Assyrians.

Nineveh, it would seem, is not the only one in need of repentance. In order to win back the wayward Jonah, Yhwh creates a scenario that is intended to teach the reluctant prophet a lesson in divine mercy and compassion.

After preaching his message, Jonah left Nineveh and perched himself to the east of the city to see what would happen, no doubt hoping that Yhwh would blast the city to oblivion (Jonah 4:5). Instead of raining down destruction on Nineveh, however, Yhwh turns his attention to Jonah. Jonah is given a plant to provide him with shade; the following day, however, Yhwh sends a worm to smite the plant, along with a sultry east wind to “beat down on Jonah's head” (Jonah 4:7-8). Taking advantage of Jonah's acute discomfort, Yhwh steps in with a lesson:

Then God said to Jonah, "Are you so deeply grieved about the plant?" "Yes," he replied, "so deeply that I want to die." Then the LORD said: "You cared about the plant, which you did not work for and which you did not grow, which appeared overnight and perished overnight. And should not I care about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not yet know their right hand from their left, and many beasts as well!" (Jonah 4:9-11 TNK)

Just as the giant fish is commissioned to place Jonah's feat back on the path of the prophet, so the wind, the worm, and the weed are commissioned to place Jonah back on the path of compassion, and to remind him that Yhwh alone decides to whom he will give mercy. But the human heart clings to bitterness like a dog to a fleshy bone. It takes root so deeply within us that we would much rather die than forgive, cling to pride than embrace mercy. We never know, in fact, how Jonah responds to Yhwh's question. The matter is left completely open-ended, without response and without resolve -- and this may be purposeful.

Whatever the case may be, one thing is clear: the Ninevites are not the only ones pursued by Yhwh's mercy. God stays with Jonah, the bitter and unforgiving prophet, extending mercy to the merciless and compassion to the one whose heart is set on wrath.

Footnote:

1 Out of respect for our Jewish sisters and brothers, I do not vocalize the divine name.

About the Author

Michael J. Chan is Assistant Professor of Old Testament, Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minn.

Jonah, God's Humor?

by Frederick Buechner

The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, "Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you." So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days' walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's walk. And he cried out, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Within a few minutes of swallowing the prophet Jonah, the whale suffered a severe attack of acid indigestion, and it's not hard to see why. Jonah had a disposition that was enough to curdle milk.

When God ordered him to go to Nineveh and tell them there to shape up and get saved, the expression on Jonah's face was that of a man who has just gotten a whiff of trouble in his septic tank. In the first place, the Ninevites were foreigners and thus off his beat. In the second place, far from wanting to see them get saved, nothing would have pleased him more than to see them get what he thought they had coming to them.

It was as the result of a desperate attempt to get himself out of the assignment that he got himself swallowed by the whale instead; but the whale couldn't stomach him for long, and in the end Jonah went ahead, and with a little more prodding from God, did what he'd been told. He hated every minute of it, however, and when the Ninevites succumbed to his eloquence and promised to shape up, he sat down under a leafy castor oil plant to shade him from the blistering sun and smouldered inwardly. It was an opening that God could not resist.

He caused the castor oil plant to shrivel up to the last leaf, and when Jonah got all upset at being back in the ghastly heat again, God pretended to misunderstand what was bugging him.

"Here you are, all upset out of pity for one small castor oil plant that has shriveled up," he said, "so what's wrong with having pity for this whole place that's headed for Hell in a handcart if something's not done about it?" (Jonah 4:10-11).

It is one of the rare instances in the Old Testament of God's wry sense of humor, and it seems almost certain that Jonah didn't fail to appreciate it.

Excerpted from: "Peculiar Treasures" by Frederick Buechner

Jonah's Message of Forgiveness

by Janet Howe Gaines, University of New Mexico

Forgiveness is only slightly less ancient than sin. While examples of forgiveness are found throughout the Bible, nowhere is forgiveness formally defined. Three episodes in the diminutive book of Jonah pertain: God's salvation of the rebellious prophet, mercy to the wayward Ninevites, and discussion with Jonah concerning universal clemency. Though God models love in each instance, it is not clear that the prophet ever understands divine grace. Indeed, forgiving one's enemies has challenged people throughout time, never more than in recent history.

When my book, 'Forgiveness in a Wounded World: Jonah's Dilemma', came out in the SBL Studies in Biblical Literature series in 2003, people began to ask me about the advice that Jonah offers. Those victimized by some of history's darkest moments, such as the Holocaust and apartheid, and individuals who grapple with the ordinary lacerations of everyday life seek guidance. Forgiving requires calling forth the strongest love contained within the human soul. As autumn approaches and the memory of September 11th forces itself into our consciousnesses, many are filled with sadness and anger. Images of burning buildings, shattered lives, foreign enemies, and domestic errors are seared into our memories. As we face our grief, are we like Jonah—silent on the issue of forgiveness?

The biblical story is simple. The Lord orders Jonah to faraway Nineveh to tell the sinful people that their days are numbered. Jonah plays the truant, fleeing in the opposite direction and boarding a ship in Tarshish. Just after it embarks, God assails the vessel with a great storm. Jonah finally tells the sailors to throw him overboard so that the ocean will cease raging. Instead of drowning, the prophet is rescued by a divinely appointed fish that swallows him whole. Inside the fish, Jonah prays and apparently receives divine forgiveness for his disobedience, for he is delivered safely back onto dry land and commissioned again. This time Jonah submits to God's command and travels to Nineveh. The people believe the prophet's prediction of doom, and they repent. When the Lord relents and does not execute the intended penalty, a pouting prophet begs God to let him die. Jonah leaves the city and watches at a distance, shaded by a booth and a cooling bush. God commands a worm to attack Jonah's leafy ramada, and the cranky prophet seems to care more for his own comfort than for the city's inhabitants. God speaks to Jonah about universal compassion, but whether the prophet comprehends God's absolution is unresolved.

Within the belly of the great fish and the borders of the enemy city, God's protection comes, perhaps when least expected, freely as a gift from God. Human forgiveness as represented by Jonah is unreliable, but divine pardon is bestowed upon those who repent. While God remains free to execute sovereign will, the Ninevites are not punished for sin when they turn from evil ways.

Jonah's story resonates through the ages because his struggle is archetypal. When God directs him toward Nineveh to condemn its inhabitants, Jonah faces what may seem like an unbearable burden. No Superhero, Jonah is an ordinary human being much like us, who seeks to evade responsibility and duty, and has difficulty accepting his enemies as deserving of forgiveness. The Bible says Jonah "went down" (1:3) to Joppa, thus beginning his descent into the world of noncompliance. From Joppa he goes to Tarshish, an ancient seaport probably on the western coast of Spain, the end of the then-known earth. The city represents the furthermost distance imaginable and demonstrates just how far Jonah is willing to go to avoid God's bidding.

Onboard ship Jonah sleeps and God commands the sea to rage. A symbol both of divine power and human inner turmoil, the storm is dark, violent, and potentially deadly. Ultimately, Jonah's flight will fail, for the Lord's power is inescapable, and Jonah will eventually have to seek forgiveness for his defiance. In the bowels of the ship, a second descent, the prophet escapes into the oblivion and non-accountability that slumber affords. Only when it appears that all is lost does he confess his identity and ask to be hurled into the ocean. Arguably, this is a noble if belated gesture, for Jonah must believe that the ship is in danger of breaking up and that the sailors' lives will be saved if his is lost at sea. When Jonah is thrown overboard, he undergoes a kind of baptism. The waters close around him and wash away his former insubordinate self. Without Jonah's defiance, the story would offer readers little opportunity to learn lessons about love and self-sacrifice.

After being spit up again onto dry land, the prophet is presented with a second opportunity to learn obedience, and the issue of divine forgiveness rises to the surface like sea foam. As soon as Jonah yields to the terror of the deep and the human conscience it represents, both the sea and the prophet are transformed. The trip into the behemoth's innards is a third decent, yet the creature is not simply a monolith of dread. It represents Jonah's monstrous misdeeds, but it is also an instrument of salvation. For three days, Jonah abides on the threshold of self-annihilation, a voyage into his inner being. By "dying" to his physical self, as represented by his disappearance into the fish's belly, Jonah can receive God's forgiveness and be reborn. The prophet never straightforwardly asks for forgiveness. Yet after praying and meditating on the Lord's power to rescue and redeem, Jonah concludes that "Deliverance is the Lord's!" (2:10). Inside the fish Jonah has time to reflect on his perilous situation and change his attitude. God then seems to forgive Jonah, for the previously willful prophet is blown by the winds of promise and wafted back onshore among the living.

After Jonah is released from his aquatic life raft, he obeys God's second command and goes to Nineveh. If Tarshish represents distance from God, Nineveh represents blackest depravity. Ancient Nineveh was well known for its lawlessness and violence. Yet Nineveh also represents second chances to hear and obey the Lord. In Nineveh, Jonah issues a single proclamation that the city "shall be overthrown" (3:4). Miraculously, the people and their king repent, their instantaneous righteousness serving as a stark contrast to Jonah's obdurate refusal to obey God. Though the Ninevites do not know the Israelite God well enough to be certain that the prescribed punishment will be lifted, God decides to save them from destruction. Forgiveness is implied if not specifically mentioned. Surely Jonah should congratulate himself on a job well done. He delivers his message of doom and a guilty people are saved. Mission accomplished. But Jonah is not pleased with the outcome and goes off by himself to brood. God and Jonah must still work things out.

In the book of Jonah, God's loving-kindness is established as universal. What remains to be demonstrated is whether Jonah, himself recently delivered, accepts God's merciful plan for the whole world as symbolized by the Ninevites. In the final chapter, God's conduct is presented as a model for human beings, encouraging the same flexibility as the deity. God remains an inscrutable force: in other stories, God angers quickly and punishes swiftly; but when Jonah sulks, complains, and asks for death rather than watch the deliverance of his enemies, God rhetorically declares at 4:11: "And should not I care about Nineveh...!" The book then abruptly concludes without a reply from the prophet. God has the last word. Why? Because the Lord, not Jonah, is the hero and main character in the story. The tale exemplifies forgiveness and subtly encourages human beings to emulate divine behavior. Jonah's silence constitutes an open ending, inviting readers to question what they would do in a similar situation.

And so we ponder the issue of forgiveness.

God's last statement to Jonah encourages readers to engage in the struggle that grips the prophet. God implies that divine forgiveness should be awarded to the Ninevites, but never suggests that Jonah follow suit: a genuine conundrum. Jonah's story demonstrates that no one in heaven or on earth can force another to forgive; there must be a desire to do so. Jonah is deeply conflicted and seems ambivalent about letting go of his grievances. The Ninevites never directly hurt Jonah or ask for his forgiveness, so he may feel unable to pardon them. He knows God is gracious (4:2), so perhaps he believes that adding his forgiveness would be superfluous. Maybe he hates these foreigners so much that he cannot imagine divine leniency extending to them. Whatever his motivation, many have experienced the same stinginess of spirit at some time, and there can be legitimate reasons to withhold forgiveness. Cheap grace may encourage wrongdoers to victimize others, yet those who let go of disappointment, anger, spite, and desire for vengeance may free themselves from these same emotions. Human forgiveness is not only a gift magnanimously conferred upon others; when bestowed in suitable ways, it lifts the giver to a higher level.

When we look beyond the Bible, there is much to learn about forgiveness. First, forgiving and reconciling are not identical. Forgiveness can be unilateral, but reconciliation is a two-way street. If we have an opportunity for genuine dialogue with people who have wronged us, perhaps we would forgive. It may be inappropriate to absolve those who have not apologized or promised to mend their ways. God forgives offenses against God, but people must make amends for transgressions committed against one another. Further, forgiving and forgetting are not the same thing, for one may forgive an oppressor while remembering the concept of "never again." Also, forgiving people does not necessarily mean that they deserve tender treatment. Admitting guilt and asking to be released from blame are surely components of the process. Punishing wrongdoers remains a way of mending what is broken, and forgiving does not always mean that the penalty should be abrogated.

What Jonah fails to perceive is that forgiveness is love as it is practiced among people who realize that no one behaves perfectly. It is an internal process as much as an external one. In our hearts, we stop holding on to the hurt. If forgiveness does not occur, the wrongdoer will continue to win the power struggle, causing the Jonah within us to remain wounded and unemancipated. For those who suffer, forgiving has advantages. Laying down the burden of wrath can be a relief contributing to emotional well-being. If we withhold pardon, we may lock ourselves in a dark, cold tower we help to perpetuate. And where is God in all of this? The Book of Jonah shows that God chooses to pardon even the most sinful among us, though ordinary people might not. Whether we struggle to forgive misdeeds causing mere personal inconvenience or catastrophes resulting in international trauma, we are Jonahs all.

Bibliography

Guelzo, Allen C. "Fear of Forgiving." Christianity Today 37 (February 8, 1993): 42-45.

Rogerson, J.W. "Mercy of God." The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan. New York: Oxford U P, 1993.

Stuart, Douglas. Word Biblical Themes: Hosea-Jonah. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1989.

Stuart, Douglas.Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures. Philadelphia: JPS, 1985.

Citation: Janet Howe Gaines, " Jonah's Message of Forgiveness," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Aug 2005]. Online:http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=434

Source: SBL Forum, 2005; © 2015, SOCIETY OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

My First Challenge

by Mark Johnson

The Word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me." But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.

The Lord hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up.
Jonah 1:1-4

Running from God's will. Why? It has never occurred to me once to flee from what God has called me to do. But is the story of Jonah really about a mans faithfulness? Or is it about God's? Does God's call on our life have more to do with us or Him? These are some of the things I will be looking at for the rest of the month of October as we go through the book of Jonah.

As I looked at the first few verses of this book I was stunned at how unlike yet similar I am to Jonah. The fears of God's plan can be very scary. Jonah's fleeing response should not be a surprise to us, but God's should be. We have an incredibly faithful God for an incredibly faithless people. We have a God that will pursue you in order to accomplish his tasks. Not because there is no one else, but because he wants you.

For some reason God has called me to the city. I do not know why I am here or what I will do. All I know is that I have an incredible passion for the city and it grows deeper everyday. It is very hard to see people in the city. I know that might sound strange but its true. I'll try to explain.

Have you ever been driving for about 20 minutes, gone through stoplights, stop signs and turns and then wondered how you got there. You don't remember if you stopped at the red lights or stops, if you turned on the right roads. Everything was just a blur because you have driven it so many times. The city is that exact same way except it is with people. There are so many people that they just become blurs. People become moving obstacles to maneuver around not souls that Christ died for. It is hard trying to break this habit. Our bodies do it automatically. If we didn't, we would have sensory overload. This has been the first real trial of living in the city. Seeing people as people and not objects.

When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less years to sing his praise then than when we've first begun."

What's Your Nineveh?

by Laura MacCorkle

Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all God's mercies. But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise, and I will fulfill all my vows. For my salvation comes from the LORD alone. - Jonah 2:8-9, NLT

Have you ever run away from something that God wanted you to do? If so, then you've got a lot in common with Jonah. You know the story . . .

  • Guy in a tunic hears from God.
  • Guy doesn't like what God wants him to do.
  • Guy runs in the other direction. Literally.
  • Guy gets on a boat.
  • Guy get tossed overboard during a storm.
  • Guy gets swallowed by a big fish.
  • Guy repents.
  • Guy goes and does what God tells him (a second time) to do.
  • Guy gets angry when God is compassionate to others (who guy doesn't think are deserving).
  • Guy gets rebuked, and God has the last word.

Jonah was running from Nineveh - a city with an idolatrous people so wicked that they would cut off the feet and hands of their captives just to intimidate others. Yikes!

So it's probably safe to say that all of us might have felt like Jonah did when thinking about ministering to the Ninehvites: scared for himself and disbelieving that these people could ever be saved. Why even try, right?

But God wanted Jonah to preach and to reach out to others, because God has reached out to all of us. We are all undeserving of his love and his unmerited favor, but mercifully God forgives. Jonah didn't want to see this, and so he ran.

Perhaps you are running as well. You're trying to get as far away from your Nineveh—the thing that truly scares you, the thing thatu don't really want to do.

I have run away from so many things in my life. But one of these days, maybe I will have grown enough in my faith that I will immediately say “Yes, Lord” when he gives me instruction.

Until that point in my maturity, there's a current Nineveh that has been occupying a lot of my thoughts lately. It's my fall group Bible study. Now, that's not so scary in and of itself. But you know what is? What we'll be studying come September: the book of Revelation.

I confess that I've thought about dropping out a few times already, as I've had too much time to anticipate and be afraid. To me, this is the most intimidating book of Scripture. I have a fear that I'll never understand the symbolism, that I'll look dumb trying to answer the questions in front of my group and that I'll spend the entire eight months of study in a fog of frustration.

But I think I'm missing the most important point. What seems impossible to me is exactly what God wants me to do. So that I will learn. And grow. And draw closer to him as I work on understanding his Word.

Jonah is one of the shortest books of the Bible, so I invite you to read through it today when you have a half hour to spare. See if you don't see yourself in Jonah's thoughts and fears, in his actions and in his initial response to God's call in his life.

And then ask yourself, “What is my Nineveh?” and pray. Ask the Lord to help you work through your fear, your anger, your rebellion.

Instead of running this time, and from our own Ninevehs, may God help us all to run toward what he has purposed for our good.

Intersecting Faith & Life:

Stop running in the wrong direction! Repent and start moving obediently toward whatever God is calling you to do today. Despite our proclivity toward unfaithfulness, he is always faithful.

Further Reading:

2 Samuel 22:1-4
2 Corinthians 10:5
Philippians 1:6

Source: Crosswalk.com - The Devotional

More Resources for Nineveh Lent
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