God orders the starts and stops, not man!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Daily reading assignment – Jonah 1-4

Today’s devotional commentary focuses on the Book of Jonah.  Only four chapters long, the drama in this small prophetic book is intriguing because it imparts to us the LORD’s love and compassion for sinners and His patience with a reluctant, rebellious servant.  Needless to say, there is much to take from today’s scripture reading!

Have you ever wanted to run away?  Some reading this commentary might remember demanding your way as a child, threatening to take your little red wagon and run from home if you did not get it.  To your chagrin, your parents pretended to take you up on your threat, and offered to help you pack!  If you were strong-willed, you might have followed through with your threat; however, when you are young, minutes seem like hours and a hundred yards like a mile.  When you returned home from your self-willed excursion, your mom may have greeted you, “Well, you’re back home!  Wash your hands and get ready for dinner!”

Two lessons should have come from your childhood tantrum.  The first, “What is best for you is not always what you think is best.”  The second lesson, one you might not have known until years later; although you could not see him, your father was lovingly watching and never took his eyes off you!

2800 years ago, Jonah, a passionate, patriotic and popular preacher in Israel received God’s command: “Arise, go to Nineveh…” (1:2).  Nineveh was a great city with a population of 120,000 souls (Jonah 4:11).  Nineveh was also a wicked city, the capital of the Assyrian empire, and the adversary of Israel!

Perhaps fearing the enemy or the rejection of His own people, Jonah refused to go and preach against Nineveh, later confessing he feared the LORD might spare that city from destruction!  Jonah resigned his calling as God’s prophet (Jonah 1:3), paid his fare, and took a ship for Tarshish, a city on the western most edge of the known world in his day (1:3).

In his flight from the LORD, Jonah soon found himself caught in a great storm and the sea threatening to take the ship, him and his fellow passengers to a watery grave (1:4-6).  Evidencing the callousness of a backslidden sinner, Jonah slept in the bottom of the ship.  Learning Jonah was God’s prophet and the storm was from the LORD to chastise him, the sailors cast him into the sea where a great fish swallowed him.

Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly” (Jonah 2:1), confessed his sin and we read, “He heard me” (2:2).  The prophet understood his miserable state was a watery grave unless the LORD delivered him (2:9-10).  The LORD mercifully answered Jonah’s prayer, “spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land” (2:10).

Jonah obeyed the LORD, went to Nineveh and began warning that great city, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4).  Incredibly, the people of Nineveh believed the word of that reluctant prophet and repented (3:5-9).  Hearing Nineveh’s cry of repentance, the LORD, moved with compassion and set aside His judgment.

Jonah 3:10 – “And God saw [looked;; beheld; perceived] their works [behavior; deeds], that they turned [turned back] from their evil [sinful; wicked] way; and God repented [reckoned; moved with compassion] of the evil [destruction; bad—not sin], that he had said that he would do [make; wrought; perform; accomplish] unto them; and he did it not.”

Had the life of Jonah ended on that point of revival, a city of 120,000 souls repenting, we would number him among the great preachers and prophets of all time.  Jonah, however, did not rejoice in the LORD’s compassion and the saving of the city. We read of Jonah:

Jonah 4:1-2 – “But it displeased [so angry with God he trembled] Jonah exceedingly [he was overcome and afflicted with anger], and he was very angry [he was incensed; burned with anger]. 2 And he prayed unto the LORD [Jehovah; Eternal God] , and said [charged], I pray thee [lit. “Ah, now!”], O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country [northern Israel]? Therefore I fled [ran away; bolted] before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious [showing favor] God, and merciful  [full of compassion], slow [patient; longsuffering] to anger, and of great [many; abundant] kindness [mercy], and repentest [moved with compassion] thee of the evil [judgment].”

Jonah was angry with God for sparing a city that was the enemy of Israel.  Abandoning his place of ministry, a second time, Jonah left Nineveh, built a temporary dwelling outside the city, sat down and waited to see if God would destroy the city (Jonah 4:5).

Here we find another characteristic of men who abandon their calling…they are more interested in temporal comforts than they are in lost souls

Jonah 4:6 – “And the LORD God prepared [appointed; told] a gourd, and made it to come up [ascend; mount up] over Jonah, that it might be a shadow [shade] over his head, to deliver [preserve; recover; escape] him from his grief [lit. sin; evil; wickedness; distress; misery]. So Jonah was exceeding glad [rejoicing; joyful; cheered up] of the gourd.”

Jonah became angry and despaired of life when God destroyed the gourd and its leafy vine.  “And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry [incensed; burn with anger] for the gourd? And he said, I do well [good; please; better] to be angry, even unto death” (Jonah 4:9).

God challenged Jonah to consider his priorities and his foolish, self-centered attitude.

Jonah 4:10 – “Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity [to regard; have compassion] on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored [ie. severe, hard work], neither madest it grow [to nourish; promote growth]; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:”

Jonah’s biography ends with a question:

Jonah 4:11 “And should not I spare [show compassion; regard; pity] Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand [120,000] persons that cannot discern [know; understand] between their right hand and their left hand; and also much [plenty; great] cattle?”

Many reading this simple pastor’s commentary either are or have known men and women who once professed a call to ministry, but quit and took a ship to Tarshish.  Times got hard, people were difficult and you took what appeared an easy way out…you quit and contented yourself with your own gourd; however, in light of eternity it is temporal and comes at the sacrifice of the best part…the will of the LORD.

After 38 years of ministry, I understand the temptation to run from pressures, people, problems and pain.  My wife and I celebrated the beginning of our 33rd year of ministry at Hillsdale Baptist Church, October 1, 2017.  We never intended to be at this ministry so many years and there were many times I was tempted to “cut and run”; however, I am glad we pressed on through the pain and problems.

Take a lesson from the life of Jonah: God orders the starts and stops, not man! 

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith