On the Road to Nineveh (or ‘I Don’t Want to Go There’)
Most of you know something about Jonah. Jonah’s ministry was almost 3000 years ago; but, the message is timeless.
Jonah begins with God telling Jonah go to Nineveh, Assyria to warn the people to repent of their wickedness. If Ninevites didn’t repent, God was going to destroy them.
Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh! He boarded a ship sailing across the Mediterranean Sea in the opposite direction.
Every Sunday School child knows what happened next. God cause a giant storm in the Sea, sailors threw Jonah overboard. A fish swallowed Jonah.
Jonah remined in the fish’s belly three days. During that time, he rethought his disobedience to God’s command to go to Nineveh. I would have rethought my disobedience if I was in the belly of a fish, wouldn’t you?
Jonah repented. In response, God caused the fish to vomit Jonah onto land. Can you imagine your clothes and skin after being in a fish’s belly three days? Slime, mucus, digestive juices! All I can say is “Yuck, I need to bathe and a clean set of clothes. Where’s the shower?”
After Jonah got clean, he went to Nineveh. There, he proclaimed the message God give him: Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed unless you repent.
Ninevites, including their king, believed Jonah. They fasted and repented in sackcloth and ashes. When God saw that Ninevites turned from their evil ways, God had compassion. God didn’t destroy Nineveh.
Likely, Ninevites were ecstatic over God’s decision not to destroy them; however, Jonah was angry. His complained to God: Isn’t this just what I said would happen when I was at home? That’s why I was so quick to flee in the opposite direction. I know that you are gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love, and relent from sending calamity.
What an indictment of God! If only individuals could make these same comments about our political leaders. Uhhhhh – about me!
Jonah went to a hilltop east of Nineveh, built a small shelter, and sat down under it. Jonah waited to see what would happen to Nineveh. He had no confidence that Ninevites would continue their reformed ways. Jonah wanted God to destroy Nineveh and he wanted a front row seat!
As Jonah watched Nineveh, God caused a vine to grow over Jonah to screen him from the sun. Jonah was happy for the shade. The next day, God caused a worm chewed the vine. It withered. Later in the day, a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah and the sun to shine on his head. Jonah grew faint.
Jonah was angry with God for destroying the vine.
God asked Jonah: “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” Jonah didn’t back down one iota. His response to God was a resounding “I do and I am angry enough to die.”
God told Jonah that Jonah was concerned about a vine that Jonah neither planted nor tended. How much more should God be concerned about Nineveh, a city of 120,000 people, who didn’t know right from wrong. God created the Ninevehs.
Jonah’s vine symbolized God’s compassion. Compassion is awareness of another person’s distress, together with a desire to take it away. God had compassion for Ninevites. Jonah had no compassion for them even after they repented. God had compassion on Jonah and caused a leafy vine to grow over his shelter. Jonah had compassion toward the vine that protected him from the sun.
Throughout Jonah, God leads Jonah to a new understanding of God himself. We never read that God was angry with the sulky Jonah. Instead, God gave patient explanations, using Jonah’s feelings for the vine to parallel God’s feelings for Ninevites.
I wonder if our lack of compassion on individuals of other nationalities results from Americans believing that God and Christianity belongs to us. I hope not. Hopefully, we rejoice that God has compassion on all peoples.