Jonah 4

Readings for this week August 26 – 30
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Day 1 – Lost in Translation

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 4:1

Something always gets lost in translation, no matter how scrupulously careful we are in carrying meanings, idioms and cultural descriptions across from one language to another. Jonah 4:1 is a good example of this, as we learn that Jonah considers God’s compassion shown to Nineveh to be wrong. Many translations use the words displeased and angry. These words really do sell the original Hebrew short and don’t give us a true sense of what Jonah really thinks about God’s actions. The Hebrew word we translate as “displeased” (or equivalent) actually implies evil or wickedness; that rendered by “angry” comes from a word that means “to glow hot”. In other words, Jonah considered what God did in letting Nineveh off the hook to be evil and thus Jonah’s anger burned within him.

The Ninevites were wicked; even God had said as much back in chapter 1. They deserved to be punished. But if God can have compassion on them and spare them from his wrath, then theoretically God could have compassion on anyone and everyone who repents and turns back to him, no matter who they are and what they have done. For Jonah it’s obvious: God is forgiving the wrong kind of people. Hence Jonah’s deep anger at what God has done and why he judged what God had done as “evil”. God was letting the wrong people in. Jonah’s hunger for God’s righteous judgement to be poured out on Nineveh had blinded him to God’s love and mercy, even though that love and mercy had previously been extended to him. Jonah either couldn’t see that, or thought of himself as one of the “right” people and others “wrong”.

Questions to Consider
What was wrong with Jonah’s anger? What sets your anger off?

Prayer
Lord God, I need your eyes and heart to see people the way you do and to love them the way you do. Give me chances to do so this week. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – A Bit of an Over-Exaggeration

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 4:2-3

Much like a Premier League footballer writhing around on the ground in agony trying to create a penalty out of thin air, as if someone had just stuck a knife in them when in reality everyone could see that no contact took place, Jonah’s prayer makes him look like an idiot. He admits to God that the reason he fled in the first place was that he knew God was compassionate and merciful and would probably pardon the Ninevites (which suggests he does actually know what God’s character is like but nevertheless doesn’t like it when God is nice to others). He therefore asks God to end his life now.

Jonah is not the first biblical character to ask God to do this. But his reasons pale in comparison with others before him who have so petitioned God. Job famously demanded that God end his life due to the extreme pain, loss and grief he had experienced, as well as God’s failure to answer his questioning laments. The prophet Jeremiah sought death due to everything he was forced to endure at a time when the nation did not want to hear what he had to say. And Samson asked that God bless him with one last, fatal show of strength to avenge himself on the Philistines. Whereas Jonah was just in a sulk because he disagreed with the mercy God had shown to others. Jonah knows God’s character, but has not allowed the character of his God to grow and develop in him. He is not interested in fulfilling God’s purposes, only in God fulfilling his (Jonah’s) wishes.

Question to Consider
What do you think of Jonah’s request to God?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, forgive my petulance and crankiness, and the way I can so easily make everything about me. It is about you, your son and the gospel of good news for all. Help me always see the bigger picture. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Getting it Right or Getting it Wrong

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 4:4-5

Some regard the book of Jonah as a comedic tale, a comedy depicting the struggle between the divine and the human, between what God wants to achieve and what human beings would rather have happen. (Perhaps it could also be a farce.) Jonah tries to thwart God’s purposes, but God still wins. Jonah gets angry and sulks, but ends up changing nothing. Jonah storming out of the city to wait and see what happens almost seems to be the equivalent of the screaming baby throwing all its toys out of the cot. Jonah knows God has already forgiven the people of Nineveh, and yet he still thinks maybe he can force him to change his mind. The building of a booth outside the city suggests that Jonah is actually determined to settle in for a while and try and wait God out – the prophet who avoided going to Nineveh for so long now doesn’t want to leave!

When we have got it wrong, and realise that we have missed God’s purposes and have been rebuked and embarrassed into the realisation that we have fallen from the path God set for us, what do we do? How do we react? Do we sulk like Jonah, and cling stubbornly to our pride, insisting that we know better than God? Do we burn with anger, determined to bend God to our will rather than admit we got it wrong? Or do we humbly – and perhaps tearfully – return to our God, admitting our failure, hoping to receive the compassion that we know God is so willing to dispense?

Questions to Consider
What is your experience of God taking you back when you have erred? How did it feel? What did God say or do?

Prayer
Gracious Lord, thank you for your mercy and the warm embrace that awaits me even though I stray and fall away from you. You do not give up on me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Literally: He Asked His Life to Die

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 4:6-10

While Jonah waits, God acts, this time in several ways that directly affect Jonah as he waits to see what will happen to the city and its inhabitants. God provides a plant to provide some shade for Jonah. Although many commentators believe this plant to have been a castor bean plant because of the large leaves usually associated with this plant and the fact that it can grow prodigiously fast, we don’t know for sure. But what we do know is that briefly, ever so briefly, Jonah is happy, joyful, pleased with something that God has done. But then comes the worm that destroys the plant and with it Jonah’s happiness, and then, once the plant is gone and Jonah is at the mercy of the elements again, a burning east wind comes to torment him. From anger to joy and back to anger again: Jonah has gone full circle.

Jonah’s response is to wish that he was dead. He ignores God altogether, no longer asking him to end his life but simply wishing that he was dead, as if he wants nothing more to do with the God who seems to be tormenting him. Yet the same God who now seems (to Jonah) to be needlessly toying with him is the same God who provided the fish to rescue Jonah from certain death in the sea. It seems that Jonah still has much to learn about the ways of God, and still seems incapable of seeing the broader picture. He is, sadly, stubborn, yet perhaps he is now in a place where he is ready to heed God’s lesson. Maybe…

Questions to Consider
What do you think it would have taken for Jonah to open himself up to God and what God was trying to tell him?

Prayer
Heavenly Lord, please be patient with my stubbornness and forgive me when I am slow to follow or understand. Thank you for loving me enough to stay close even when I wander away from you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – The Real Hero

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 4:11

The book is named for Jonah, a prophet of God. But as mentioned in an earlier reading, Jonah is not the hero of the book. He is, when looked at closely, a rather sad, pathetic, ridiculous figure. He runs away from God’s commission because he knows God is merciful and compassionate; disagrees with this mercy and compassion being shown to sinful pagans; and fails to see the ways in which he himself has been a recipient of this same mercy and compassion. But before we come down too hard on Jonah, we should remember that in many ways we are just the same. We are quick to condemn others, convinced we know better than God in so many situations, and very quick to write people off when they don’t measure up to our standards.

God is the real hero of the book, because of his all-encompassing love and mercy, as showered freely upon the repentant Ninevites, but also because of his forbearance in the face of Jonah’s intransigence and betrayal. God is portrayed as the compassionate sovereign who loves all people, who exercises power over the empires of the world as well as the forces of nature. And yet he is also the God who puts up with Jonah’s recalcitrance, his complaints, his anger – always gently questioning him, giving him space and attempting to nudge him in the right direction. God is loving and patient with Jonah in ways Jonah cannot – or will not – see, no matter what. Will we emulate Jonah, or will we emulate God?

Questions to Consider
What have you learnt during this trip through the book of Jonah? What has God shown you about himself and his world through this book?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, thank you for your word and for the story of Jonah. Help me be less like him and more like you in all I do. To all I meet may I offer the love and compassion you shown the Ninevites. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)