The Jonah Spirit

(Recommended Reading – Book of Jonah – Quotes below from NLT)

I believe that right now in America, many people are suffering with what I would call “The Jonah Spirit”.  So what does that mean exactly?  Well, let us start at the beginning.  

Who exactly was this Jonah of the Bible?  He was one of the very early Hebrew prophets, but the description I found of him on indicates that he was possibly a bit unusual for that position.  “Proud, stubborn, disobedient, unfaithful, a grumbler, and altogether a bad-tempered, cantankerous old curmudgeon—this was Jonah, whose name means ‘dove’!” 

That is not a very flattering description for a man that was a representative of God to the people.  Hopefully, when delivering God’s messages directly to them, he was at least a bit more personable.  It would be a bit hard to take someone with the above description very seriously, at least for me.

In Jonah Chapter 1:1-2 it says:  “The Lord gave this message to Jonah…‘Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.’”  Then verse 3a says:  “But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord…”  What a silly man!  You would think that someone that was a bold prophet of God would know better than to think he could get away with that.

You have surely heard during your lifetime his story…he buys a ticket on a ship heading away from Nineveh (the opposite direction, in fact) and then a storm arises.  He is below the deck sound asleep while the sailors are fighting to save the ship and all of their lives.  They awaken him and he immediately confesses to them that the storm is his fault and that they should throw him overboard to save themselves.  For a while longer they tried to save the ship with no improvement in their circumstances.  Verse 14 says:  “Then they cried out to the Lord, Jonah’s God. ‘O Lord,’ they pleaded, ‘don’t make us die for this man’s sin. And don’t hold us responsible for his death. O Lord, you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons.’”  They threw him overboard and immediately the seas calmed.  But as we know, good things can come from bad and that is exactly what happened – verse 16 says:  “The sailors were awestruck by the Lord’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.”

Why was Jonah so dead set against going to Nineveh to warm them of God’s vengeance coming for them?  In my research I found this – again opinions from  “When God called Jonah to go and warn the violent and godless Ninevites of their impending doom, all his pride in being a Hebrew—and therefore uniquely favored by the Almighty (so he thought, no doubt along with many others of his nation)—rose up in rebellion. Pagans, to him, were the worst kind of human garbage, not even fit to pollute the good earth by living on it. They were the ‘untouchables,’ and that God should take an interest in them was unthinkable. Therefore, not being one to put up with that which was not to his mind, he fled to Joppa…”  In other words, he thought he knew better than God.

We also know from hearing this story that a great fish swallows Jonah to save him from death and he remained in the fish for 3 days until he was regurgitated onto a beach.  The Bible does not say so, but I suspect that the beach where he found himself was likely was much closer to Nineveh than he would have liked to be.  But then in chapter 3:1-2 it says:  “…the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time: ‘Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.’”  This time he did as he had been told and went into the city.  Because of his attitude, I can just see him with a scowl on his face stomping from one end of the city to the other, delivering the message from God that in 40 days their city was going to be completely destroyed.  I suspect his message probably included the reasons why God was going to do this as well, because everyone believed him, including the King.  Chapter 3:6-10 says:  “When the king of Nineveh heard what Jonah was saying, he stepped down from his throne and took off his royal robes. He dressed himself in burlap and sat on a heap of ashes. Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city:  ‘No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all. People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence.  Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.’  When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.”

You would think that when a prophet of God delivered a message to a godless city and saw that his words had made a difference – that the people had believed him and immediately changed – that he would be delighted and be praising God.  But oh no!  What did Jonah do?  Chapter 4:1 tells us that he got very upset and angry!  Verse 2:  “So he complained to the Lord about it: ‘Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people’’”  Then he proceeded to have a major pity party.  Verse 3:  “‘Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.’”  Can you imagine?  He would rather God wipe out an entire city than have mercy and save them!  In verse 4:  “The Lord replied, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about this?’”

Instead of sitting down and reflecting on his attitude and actions, he proceeds to go outside the city to sit in the blazing hot sun and pout.  So God, in His loving mercy, had a large plant miraculously grow up over Jonah to protect him from the sun.  He was grateful for that reprieve but the next day when a worm destroyed that plant and he was again exposed to the harsh desert weather and heat he decides life is not worth living – verse 8c: “‘Death is certainly better than living like this!’ he exclaimed.”

When God questioned him about his attitude he became belligerent – verses 9-10:  “Then God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?’  ‘Yes,’ Jonah retorted, ‘even angry enough to die!’  Then the Lord said, ‘You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?’”

When Jonah determined at the very beginning to disobey God, God did not shrug His shoulders and say “Oh well, I guess I will have to find someone else to do the job.”  Jonah had to face the fact that he could not escape God, that He was always with him no matter how he acted and reacted.  His pride, disobedience and grumbling bad temper did not frighten God.  But his behavior reminds me of a story that I will try to abbreviate here to the best of my memory:  A little boy was misbehaving and his Mom told him to take his chair to the corner and sit there until she told him he could get up.  He took the chair to the corner but kept getting back up.  His Mom kept after him to sit down, then threatened him with further punishment if he did not stay in the chair.  He sat down with his arms crossed and angrily said to her “Okay, I may be sitting on the outside, but I’m standing on the inside.”  Like that little boy, Jonah was doing what he was told on the outside, but on the inside he was seething and hoping to see bad things happen to the sinful people of Nineveh.

As the sailors had said “‘…O Lord, you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons.’”  I believe that those “good reasons” were to try to teach Jonah obedience – to teach him that stubbornness will never fly with God when there is something to be done for Him.  He also needed to learn that his position as a prophet and his good fortune in life to be a Hebrew did not make him better than anyone else – did not make his personal beliefs more important.

Okay, so how does all of this relate to us here in America today?  Many things have happened in the recent months that have us upset – even angry.  As a result we are seeing people be proud, stubborn, disobedient, unfaithful, grumbling and acting out with bad tempers.  Does any of this help us and any causes that we have?  Well think about it – how much did all of that help Jonah?

We must learn to be humble, compliant to God with prayers and obedience, acting in faith with praise and calmness.  How can we expect anyone to pay attention to us and what we have to say when we are “sitting on the outside but standing on the inside”?  The truth always shows through our words and actions.  We do not know better than God and He will accomplish His will, one way or another – with or without our help.

Like the sailors on that ship we need to be awed by our God and vow to serve Him.  Like the people of Nineveh, we need to face all the evil and sinfulness that we have allowed to infiltrate our nation.  Instead of stepping up en masse to stand against it, we meekly sat back and watched it increase.  Like Jonah, now we are upset and angry.  However, we cannot believe that if we just ignore it that it will go away on its own.  That unfortunately just is not the way things work.

The time has come for us to confess to God how we have failed to protect our nation from evil.  We need to ask that He guide us going forward with courage, obedience, mercy and love to make a difference.  We need to be standing on the inside AND on the outside, for what is right and believe with a strong faith that God is still in control.  Amen!

Written by Karran Martin – February 27, 2021

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