What Could Have Been – Jonah (When God’s Mercy Isn’t Enough)
by: Jeff Baker
We don’t know a lot about Jonah. When we first meet him, the Lord speaks to him and asks him to perform a very specific task. We read in verse 3 of Chapter one, “But Jonah…” Obviously, this task was unpleasant to Jonah and as a result he disobeyed and fled to Tarshish. He decided to go the opposite direction from where God had called him to be. You see, Nineveh had a problem not much different than what our country has today. Their sin had reached a point where the wrath and judgment of God was on its way. Within 40 days Nineveh would face the consequences of their choices and sin.
But God… sent His messenger Jonah to let them know what was about to happen. But Jonah knew something about God that he often ignores throughout his interaction with all parties involved. The mercy of God. But more on that in a moment.
The crew is your average everyday shipping crew. They are going about their life doing what they do every day. Taking cargo from one place to another, making a living, and providing for their families. On this day something significant was about to happen.
Jonah boarded the ship possibly in disguise or just simply trying to keep from being noticed by anybody. As the ship set sail, things begin to change dramatically. A huge storm overtakes the ship and this weathered group of men begin crying out to anything or anyone that could possibly save them. But who could possibly save them? All their idols, false gods and world views weren’t enough. In fact, things got worse.
Only God could help them. And as providence would have it, His representative was on that ship… somewhere. Actually, he was deep within the ship trying to hide from God and man.
Back on deck, the crew threw everything overboard they could think of to try to save the ship. Think about that for a moment. Everything that they were entrusted with by their clients was now lost and destroyed. Their shipping careers were most likely over. Afterall, who would want to use a carrier that willingly destroyed all that cargo.
And yet, the storm raged on. After casting lots they discovered that Jonah was the reason for all of this. They even tried to save him by not listening to him about throwing him overboard. And again the storm worsened. Finally out of desperation they pleaded with God for mercy and threw Jonah overboard.
What Could Have Been
From the moment Jonah boarded the ship he could have been God’s message of love and mercy. Here were a bunch of men who seemed rough and tough on the outside, but when faced with overwhelming circumstances, they clearly welcomed and even worshiped the God of Jonah.
Then the men became extremely afraid of the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. Jonah 1:16 (NASB)
Instead of experiencing a God of mercy, they met a God of wrath. Jonah knew that God was a God of mercy and yet kept silent on the matter from the moment he boarded this ship. How often do we keep silent amongst those who we pass by everyday?
The Big Fish
We all know what happened next. Jonah is swallowed up by a really big fish. After 3 days and nights, Jonah came to his senses. He prayed. He returned to the God he knew to be merciful. Even in the midst of extreme disobedience, Jonah knew God would forgive and restore him. And He did.
Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah (a second time). This time Jonah obeyed. Reluctantly, but he still obeyed. With the fresh experience of the mercy of God on full display in his own life, Jonah spent 3 days (20 – 30 miles each day) walking across Nineveh. With a population of 120,000 (about the size of Columbia, South Carolina), Jonah simply repeated what he heard from God. “In forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown!”. No mercy, no grace, just straight judgement.
We don’t know if Jonah had any previous issues with Nineveh. Perhaps they were the political party of the day he didn’t like. Or maybe, the people of Nineveh identified as something he didn’t approve of. Or perhaps they were just a bunch of ignorant people that didn’t really strike him as worth much. We don’t know. But we do know that he delivered God’s message with zero compassion, grace or mercy. I can almost see a gleam in his eye that he can’t wait to see this place laid waste in the next 40 days. They will surely get what they deserve.
The amazing thing is that Nineveh repented. God relented.
I bet it was a sight to see cows, dogs and cats in sackcloth.
What Could Have Been
What if Jonah approached the city with the fresh experience of mercy he had just received. What if, as he shared the message of God’s coming wrath, he also shared with them His amazing mercy and love. Jonah could have explained that repentance was indeed required, but that the cows, dogs and cats weren’t required to wear sackcloth. He could have shared with them his own experience and intimate knowledge of God’s mercy. But he didn’t.
The reason we receive God’s grace and mercy is not so that we can feel better about ourselves. We receive His grace and mercy to become exactly that.
As I look at the world around me, there are well meaning Christians that have all but become what God has called them to. I am forgiven so that I may forgive. I am shown mercy that I may show mercy. I receive grace so that I may give grace to others. I am loved by God so that I might become love to others. After all, isn’t that what it means to be created in God’s image. If God is love, then let us also become love. The world desperately needs it.
Is God saying the same thing to us today? Does Jonah 4:11 not apply to you and I?
Should I not also have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 people, who do not know the difference between their right hand and their left, as well as many animals?”
If you listen closely enough, you might even hear the echo from the cross saying much the same thing. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”