What is Your Ninevah?
What is Your Ninevah?
Jonah 1:1-17. (NRSV) Chapter 1 1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
Jonah 3:10 – 4:2 (NRSV)
10 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’s Anger Chapter 4 1 But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.
There was a popular commercial a number of years ago by actor John Housemann, where he uttered the words “when E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen”. The story of Jonah is living proof that when God speaks, we really, really should listen.
We like to listen to music, and we sometimes use the Soundhound app on our phones to identify songs. There are always One Hit Wonders. With one hit wonders I have found I might remember the song but seldom remember the artist. Well, Jonah was kind of one hit wonder. God gave him a good word of deliverance to Israelites and then he lived off of his reputation for years. But one day Jonah received another word. He was to preach a word of judgment to the Ninevites.
What’s so bad about the Ninevites
- Ninevah Capitol of Assyria
- Assyrians were a very cruel people
- Assyrians were enemies of Israel
So Jonah replied, “No–if I warn them they might repent and you will relent.” You see, Jonah knew God’s character, and rather than take a chance on the Ninevites repenting and God showing them mercy, Jonah ran. He didn’t just run, he ran in the opposite direction.
Jonah ran down to Joppa and got on a boat to Tarshish, he crawled down into the hold of the ship, and hid there while the storms raged. When the crew realized it was Noah’s fault they were in this terrible mess, they tossed him overboard and Noah found himself going down even farther, right into the belly of a big fish.
Getting the picture? Running from God always leads to a downward spiral. But trusting and following God, lifts you up to higher ground.
Some people do not believe this is a real story. But let me point out to you and Jesus compared himself to Jonah. Would Jesus have used a fictitious character with whom to identify?
There is one thing that I know for sure about God–if He wants to get our attention by throwing us into the belly of a fish, he will get our attention by throwing us into the belly of a fish.
So how did Jonah react to his predicament? He prayed not for deliverance, but lifted up praises to God. He emerged from the fish a partially changed man, not only in spirit, but physically, as the acids in the fish’s stomach changed his complexion and his hair color.
Jonah agreed to go to Ninevah and delivered God’s message–in 40 days Ninevah will be destroyed. Word got to the King and he ordered national repentance, hoping that if He was being tested to see if he would be obedient to God, then God would show mercy. Jonah climbed a hill and sat under a tree, patiently waiting for God to destroy Ninevah, because you see, to Jonah, it was all about him.
Some people think being self-centered is a generational problem, Others think it is gender specific, while still others believe it is cultural. Can I tell you being self-centered is a spiritual problem? We must repent of pride, of thinking the world revolves around us. We must turn aside from rebellion, thinking we know better than God.
Jonah was so angry that God saved his enemy, not just from physical destruction but from eternal damnation. You see, Gods nature is to show mercy, to extend grace. Why be mad at God because he acted in accord with his nature? I don’t know about you, but I would be embarrassed to let anyone know I was mad at God because He showed mercy.
What is your Ninevah?
What would make you not just run from God but want to die just because God did what God does?
Is it anger? Did God fail to behave in a manner that pleased you?
Is it fear? Did God ask you to do something you feared you could not do?
Is it uncertainty? Did you think it was not really God speaking to you?
Anything that causes you to turn from God instead of to God is your Ninevah.
The book of Jonah ends with a question mark. Did Jonah finally understand the mercy God showed a wicked city? Did Jonah finally understand the mercy God showed him?
When God speaks, we must learn to listen. May the book of our lives not end with a question mark, but with an exclamation. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.