Posts Tagged ‘Jonah’

Time and Again

The Lord comes a second time to all who are his true children. Have we never, like Abraham, stopped at our Harans? Of course we have. We are sent on errands, but some sin or preoccupation detains us. Have we never, like Moses, taken matters into our own hands and formulated our own plans? Of course, we have. Like Peter, we have even denied our Lord on occasions when we should have spoken for him. We have disobeyed him. We have run away from him. Some of us, like Jonah, have run very far indeed. Does God cast us off? Does he disown us? No! He disciplines us, it is true. But, having done that and having brought us to the place of repentance, he returns the second time to recommission us to service. Moreover, he comes a third, a fourth, a hundredth, a thousandth time, if necessary, as it often is. None of us would be where we are now in our Christian lives if God had not dealt thus with us. Oh, the greatness of the unmerited grace of God! We deserve nothing. Yet we receive everything, even when we foolishly turn from it. – James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets, volume 1, 294

Job and Jonah: Studies in Grace

I’ve just finished, with tear streaked eyes, listening to John Piper read his poem “The Misery of Job and the Mercy of God”. All the time my mind kept going back to Jonah, a book I’m translating in Hebrew Exegesis. The two men couldn’t be more different but the message is similar in and to both.

Job did not share Jonah’s small view of God in the end. God sent to Job boils and loss and accusation and Job put his hand over his mouth and blessed God. God sent Jonah deliverance from drowning, and afflicted with a scorching socorro and the burning sunshine. And Jonah wouldn’t back down.

To explain, I need to reinterpret Jonah for you. I know many have grown up with flannelgraphs of Jonah, the reluctant prophet and the message that God is the God of second chances. That isn’t the case with Jonah. Jonah’s problem wasn’t with Nineveh, it was with Yahweh, his God. This kind of reading of the book is the best way to make chapter 4 make sense and fit in. The way many of us grew up reading Jonah, that he resisted and then eagerly obeyed, makes chapter 4 an anomaly. If you go back and read Jonah carefully, you’ll see that he resisted God constantly. Even in chapter 2, where Jonah cites Psalm after Psalm from the belly of the fish, (you have to read those Psalms and bring their context with you into Jonah), he isn’t praising God for sparing his life and showing himself to be a changed man. The context of each Psalm he quotes indicates that he really believes that he is on his way back to Jerusalem and that God will destroy Nineveh. Jonah interprets his miraculous deliverance from death as God agreeing with his desire not to preach to Nineveh. He believes God has come around to his way of thinking! When he finally does what God told him to do, “Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey” (Jonah 3:4, emphasis mine) though Nineveh was a great city, a three-day’s journey. Jonah is dragging his feet as he enters the city.

The sailor repent, Nineveh repents, the fish obeys God, the plant obeys God, the worm obeys God, the wind obeys God and in the end Jonah stands with his finger in God’s face. Even when he recites God’s attributes (Jonah 4:2) he does it in an accusing manner. “I knew you were like this!” Jonah seems to say. The book ends with God’s question to Jonah, “And should not I pity Nineveh?” and no answer. Jonah stands alone on center stage, scowl on his face, finger pointing into the white light of an overhead spot. A voice over asks the question while no music rises from the orchestra pit and, with Jonah unmoving, the curtain descends and the play is over.

Job on the other hand is different. Piper does a wonderful job of bringing out Job’s innocence and God’s work in his life. Piper uses the color of the sky over Uz to indicate what Job could not have known was going on in heaven. We see things only from Job’s perspective. We see a man suffering horrible affliction and facing the unfair accusations from his friends.

After Eliphaz accuses Job of sin:

Job didn’t move or speak. The winds
Of such incriminations crashed
Against his stagg’ring soul and smashed
The fingers barely grasping to
The goodness of his God.

This was after Job had already said:

O, God I cling
With feeble fingers to the ledge
Of your great grace, yet feel the wedge
Of this calamity struck hard
Between my chest and this deep-scarred
And granite precipice of love.

Job, struck head to toe with boils, deprived of wealth and children, sits on an ash heep with friends It is interesting that the sky that seems to depict Satanic activity in the story appears when Job’s three friends open their mouths to speak to him. Piper seems to think that their “advice” to Job is part of Satan’s attack against him. While it is not explicitly stated so in the text, I don’t think it is too far a stretch to assume it. who have know him for years telling him that he is a sinner clings to God’s goodness through it all. He will not accuse God of injustice and he will not falsely confess sin he is not guilty of. He does demand and answer from God and when the answer comes, he humbly accepts it.

Jonah on the other hand, is spared death, watches the king of Nineveh repent and sit in ashes, misuses God’s written word, most likely delivers only part of the message God has given himWe are never given the message that God gave Jonah to preach to Nineveh, but Jonah’s message, half-heartedly delivered, is a mere 5 Hebrew words. It lacks God’s characteristic prophetic call to repentance and pronounces only doom on Nineveh. Given Jonah’s attitude toward the pagans I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he omitted part of God’s message. , jabs his finger in God’s face and in the end is left only with a question.

Job learned the message of God’s great grace in the midst of his suffering. Piper again:

“Do you think God made you sick?” She drew
Her breath, and swallowed hard. “I know
You’d like to think that there’s a foe
That hurts and God that heals. And that
Would not be wrong; but I have sat
And pondered months in pain to see
If that is true–if misery
Is Satan’s work and happiness
Is God’s. Jemimah we must bless
The Lord for all that’s good and bad…

I have some friends who thought they knew
The mind of God, and that their view
Of tenderness exhausted God’s,
And that severity and rods
Could only be explained with blame,
To vindicate his holy name.”

Job did not share Jonah’s small view of God in the end. God sent to Job boils and loss and accusation and Job put his hand over his mouth and blessed God. God sent Jonah deliverance from drowning, and afflicted with a scorching socorro and the burning sunshine. And Jonah wouldn’t back down.

Our God does not domesticate. He does not operate according to vision. Bertrand Russell can say that it is impossible that God be good and all powerful and that he allow evil to exist. And I think Jonah might say that God cannot be good if he allows good to exist outside of His covenant people. Job however, would have none of that. Job learned the lesson of the tender kiss of God’s painful rod. God loves his children too much to let them love and hope in anything other than Him. Logic or hope in nationality are not the ends for which God created man. He himself is.