Jonah 1:17 The Lord sent a big fish to swallow Jonah. Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.Whale Chow
The belly of the fish is the opposite of what Jonah set out for. Instead of adventure in a new and exotic land, he got a the darkest, stinkiest jail cell imaginable. Just what he needed. Peterson uses the greek work askesis for this, which is the root of the word ascetic. When we think of monks who give up everything, sometimes theya re described as ascetics. One way to take it is to mean a discipline and training program.
• Have you ever had an askesis that helped bring you back to basics, back to what was really important?
• What is your askesis now, or what could it be?
• Jonah’s askesis centered on prayer. Do you plan prayer times or pray regularly?
Read Jonah 3.
1Then the Lord spoke his word to Jonah a second time. He said, 2“Leave at once for the important city, Nineveh. Announce to the people the message I have given you.” 3Jonah immediately went to Nineveh as the Lord told him. Nineveh was a very large city. It took three days to walk through it. 4Jonah entered the city and walked for about a day. Then he said, “In forty days Nineveh will be destroyed.”
5The people of Nineveh believed God. They decided to fast, and everyone, from the most important to the least important, dressed in sackcloth. 6When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, took off his robe, put on sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7Then he made this announcement and sent it throughout the city: “This is an order from the king and his nobles: No one is to eat or drink anything. This includes all people, animals, cattle, and sheep. 8Every person and animal must put on sackcloth. Cry loudly to God for help. Turn from your wicked ways and your acts of violence. 9Who knows? God may reconsider his plans and turn from his burning anger so that we won’t die.”
10God saw what they did. He saw that they turned from their wicked ways. So God reconsidered his threat to destroy them, and he didn’t do it.
In Nineveh, Jonah discovers (or rediscovers) his true vocation. His work wasn’t theoretical or fancy, but simple and directly with the people.
• What’s your experience with vocation? Work or a job or a task that you’re called to do.
Te people of Nineveh respond because Jonah is preaching with urgency. Their days are numbered, literally. Forty of them.
• Is there a sense of urgency in your life? What creates it? If not, what would it take?
Read Jonah 4.
1Jonah was very upset about this, and he became angry. 2So he prayed to the Lord, “Lord, isn’t this what I said would happen when I was still in my own country? That’s why I tried to run to Tarshish in the first place. I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, patient, and always ready to forgive and to reconsider your threats of destruction. 3So now, Lord, take my life. I’d rather be dead than alive.”
4The Lord asked, “What right do you have to be angry?” 5Jonah left the city and sat down east of it. He made himself a shelter there. He sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6The Lord God made a plant grow up beside Jonah to give him shade and make him more comfortable. Jonah was very happy with the plant. 7At dawn the next day, God sent a worm to attack the plant so that it withered. 8When the sun rose, God made a hot east wind blow. The sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he was about to faint. He wanted to die. So he said, “I’d rather be dead than alive.”
9Then God asked Jonah, “What right do you have to be angry over this plant?” Jonah answered, “I have every right to be angry—so angry that I want to die.” 10The Lord replied, “This plant grew up overnight and died overnight. You didn’t plant it or make it grow. Yet, you feel sorry for this plant. 11Shouldn’t I feel sorry for this important city, Nineveh? It has more than 120,000 people in it as well as many animals. These people couldn’t tell their right hand from their left.”
Jonah gets mad. (Six “angry”s in this short chapter.) He quarrels with God. Jonah knew all about God, yet still could not anticipate His ways. Read 4:2 again.
• Why was Jonah so taken aback by God’s grace?
Amazingly, Jonah is worse in his obedience than he was in his disobedience. In my life that happens when I am all caught up in the job and not why I am doing the job. The same goes for my work at church – I can only imagine how hard that is for the staff of the church.
• How do you avoid the trap of wrong-headed obedience?
Anne Lamott, an author with a great sense of humor, wrote: “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
Let’s pray Jonah’s prayer together. One interesting thing Peterson points out is that it is entirely unoriginal, and cobbled together from many psalms. Yet it is a great prayer. (From The Message)
“In trouble, deep trouble, I prayed to GOD. He answered me.
From the belly of the grave I cried, “Help!” You heard my cry.
You threw me into ocean's depths, into a watery grave, with ocean waves, ocean breakers crashing over me.
I said, “I've been thrown away, thrown out, out of your sight. I'll never again lay eyes on your Holy Temple.”
Ocean gripped me by the throat. The ancient Abyss grabbed me and held tight.
My head was all tangled in seaweed at the bottom of the sea where the mountains take root.
I was as far down as a body can go, and the gates were slamming shut behind me forever--
Yet you pulled me up from that grave alive, O GOD, my God!
When my life was slipping away, I remembered GOD,
and my prayer got through to you, made it all the way to your Holy Temple.
Those who worship hollow gods, fake gods, walk away from their only true love.
But I'm worshiping you, GOD, calling out in thanksgiving!
And I'll do what I promised I'd do! Salvation belongs to GOD!”
Homework: compare Jonah's experience to Paul's shipwreck experience in Acts 27.
Image credit: karen horton @ Flickr. Love how the Israeli stamp is focused on Jonah at Nineveh, while we always focus on the whale.
Our family's favorite Jonah song.