This is the final part of my review of the book of Jonah and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. The best part of this book review is the input and feedback I have gotten from unsolicited sources. They have brought new light on what I thought I knew, broadened my viewed and most importantly, deepened my faith. The more I read the book, the more I gained understanding.
I recently had a mentoring session for some young adults (age 16 and above). They range from secondary school leavers to Master’s Degree holders who live on various part of God’s earth. They told me to choose a topic and I told them I have been studying the book of Jonah and I would want to share what in gleaned from the book with them.
This is what I shared with them.
Chapter 1: Running from God
You know the story. God said “A”, Jonah said “B”. Since there was no alignment verse 3 happened. “But Jonah ran away from the Lord …” It is easy to criticise Jonah for not going on the errand that God sent him. But let me contemporarize Jonah. I will give you three scenarios. Imagine if you heard God in an unquestionable way and he told you to do any of the following:
- Venture into the cement industry. Compete with Dangote, Bua & Lafarge.
- Go to country Kizkali (fictitious county made up of 45% Muslims, 45% Hindis, 5% Buddhist, 5% Atheist — Official records) with no known Christian group and preach the ways of Christ. The last person who did it was imprisoned for life. S/he is still imprisoned and will die there.
- I know you are a great and well sought-after investment banker but leave the jet-set job that guarantees you at least two foreign vacations per year, guaranteed schooling for your kids and start a missionary work in a remote area near the Goma Hills.
Assuming God told you any of these three, will you be able to go ahead? You can see it is filled with uncertainties and the new stuff you are dabbling into has uncertain odds and eventualities. So, feel what Jonah was feeling when he was sent on this errand. Remember the Bible said Nineveh was a great city and his job was to go and preach against it. Just humanise Jonah for a moment.
Jonah left God’s presence and headed to where he was not sent. Jonah had his reason for not wanting to go. He was not running away for the fun of it. What if he would be stoned at the city’s gate? What if his message was against the laws of the land? Would he ever come back from this mission? Would he see his family again? Who will cater to his ageing parents? Did his friends laugh at him when he told them what God told him? We don’t know. It was not recorded but you know how life goes.
Reasonable reasons are the reasons we disobey God.
In essence, Jonah had reasonable reasons not to obey God. But remember that fear stems from reasonable reason. Unfortunately, God does not understand reasonable reasons. He understands the wo/man that takes up His word and then He backs that wo/man. When the spies talked about the giants in the Promised Land, it was a reasonable reason not to go into the land, but that was not the word of God. The word of God, in which He was ready to back up was for them to go and enter the land. Do your part and God will do His part. That is what is called “grace” — divine enablement to do God’s bidding.
Chapter 2: At Our Lowest Ebb
Jonah went to where God did not send him and got into trouble. He then had the effrontery to call on the same God to rescue him. Homo sapiens … a wonderful set of creatures. The lesson here is that we ought to go where God leads us in the first place. When we do that, we are practically handling our affairs to God. When we disobey God’s instructions, we open ourselves to foreign elements. The wise man captured it in Ecclesiastes 10:8 as thus: “… whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him”.
The same presence of God that Jonah ran away from, is where he desired when trouble came.
Jonah left where he ought to be, to where he designed for himself, thinking that here in lie safety. Unfortunately, he landed in a bad place and retraced his steps. Thank God he knew how to cry out to God. Jonah had a relationship with God and that is why he could go back. Think of the story of the prodigal son.
Chapter 2 details a very sorrowful prayer said from the heart. But have you noticed that we seem to get our acts right when we are down and out? Why do we get clarity when we are at our lowest ebb? Jonah was not an exception. From that horrible place, he made one of the most profound words of the scriptures: “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy”.
No wonder Solomon advised in Ecclesiastes 7:2, “Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties”.
Chapter 3: Someone Is Waiting for You
With all that had happened, Jonah did not need any other sign or conviction to head to Nineveh. And to Nineveh, he went and did what he was instructed to do. To Jonah’s surprise they repented; from the king to the animals. Yes, the repented. What? How come? Why? Nineveh dodged the bullet.
In my opinion, this is what I think happened. I think there might have been people in Nineveh who knew about the living God but they were overwhelmed by the evil in the land. Laws have been made to protect evil and criminalise righteousness. Social justice was removed from the reach of the people. Immorality, nepotism and debauchery were protected by the laws of the land. With this in place, “where do we start from?”, the people asked themselves. They might have given up but they kept praying for God’s deliverance to come.
From the midst of this darkness came a voice, powered by the spirit of God saying, “Nineveh, O great city, your sins have crept up to the heavens and judgement is about to be rained down on you”. Someone heard a familiar voice in Jonah. Someone remembered a God s/he once knew. Come on. Faith rose in their hearts. Boldness came.
God’s word has been spoken and I am sure people started asking questions. How can we avert this? Then the people of God in the land told them, “this God…is merciful. If you truly repent and leave these sinful and wicked ways, He will forgive. He did that to Hezekiah. He did that to David.” After the people heard this, they did the needful and God forgave them. Danger averted.
No matter the evil in the land, keep crying out to God. He knows how to fashion deliverance in uncommon ways. Keep saying God’s word, like Jonah, there are people that are emboldened by your faith. They are people waiting for you to sound the alarm and they will take it from there. I know this from experience, working with teenagers. A number of them are not bad folks. They are people waiting for who will teach them and show them godliness. Be a Jonah; speak God’s word
Chapter 4: God Ruins Parties — The God of Mercy
Jonah felt he has done what Napoleon Bonaparte could not do. He spoke God’s word. Obviously, he thought he did God a favour. He waited for the destruction to occur. And no destruction happened. “This change of plans made Jonah very angry”. He told God in uncertain terms that God is a party spoiler. “I have set them up for destruction but instead You delivered them and made me look foolish and stupid. Who will ever believe me?” Jonah’s ego was more important than 120,000 souls. Sound familiar?
Yeah, he told God to kill him if God was not willing to fulfil what he (Jonah) has said. The Bible records that he went out of the city and took a spot to see if the destruction will still occur. Kai! Homo sapiens. Does Jonah sound like someone you know? In the words of Adele, “Someone like you?” Easy to always think of others than yourself in this regard. Have you felt this way before? When God allowed that sinner to get good grades despite their wicked ways? When a new convert starts operating in the miraculous and healing and you have been in the faith for forty years and have never seen anyone respond to your prayers of healing? When that rake and libertine fella gets married and they are expecting while you that stayed in the straight and narrow are still awaiting the fruit of the womb after ten years of marriage? Have you felt more worthy than others? Have you? (Repeated for emphasis).
Well, God wanted to teach him a lesson and get the point across and so he set up a nice party for Jonah to enjoy. God provided shelter for Jonah in adverse weather and then took it off. Jonah complained again and the divine dialogue occurred.
God: Johnny bobo … nwanem how art thou? (You know God seems to only speak in KJV)
Jonah: Lord, can’t you see that the only thing that I could enjoy in this useless Nineveh that was supposed to be destroyed have been taken away from me?
God: Jonah, I can see, I made sight. But what about it? Did you plant the tree?
Jonah: No, I did not plant the tree but it was serving a great purpose. I am upset that it died. Everything in Nineveh is horrible. A city that has worms that can eat a tree. Chai, I am just upset abeg. You see why I wanted you to destroy this place.
God: Jonah, you did not create the tree. You did not make the people of Nineveh. But you are angry with both of them. Thank you for doing what I told you to do. Oya com dey go. Just for your information; the same mercy I showed you when you disobeyed me is the same that I showed to the people of Nineveh. Which part of this, don’t you understand?
Jonah: Ok sir, no vex.
God: Me vex? if I vex, you for don melt. Abegi, come dey go, Jonah.
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