Accepting God’s Call
I wish I had a dollar for every time someone saw me sweeping up after potluck and said, “Hey preacher, I believe you finally found your calling!” Some Sundays encouragement is in short supply. But they do have a point, don’t they? We are called by God to be and do. And most of the time, it’s not that we don’t hear God’s call, but that we refuse God’s call.
This week, we will continue our study of the Book of the Twelve–the Minor Hebrew prophets. Interestingly, the Book of Jonah is not a book of prophecy, but a book about a prophet. The whole book is narrative in form. No poetic oracles of condemnation. What we get is the story of a prophet who refuses God’s call. God says, “Get up and go!” Jonah gets up and heads the opposite direction. God calls him to go to a hard place filled with hard people to deliver a hard word.
Jonah says, “No, thanks. I want no part in that.”
God calls Jonah to go to Assyria–at the time the most powerful nation in the land. The Assyrians are a ruthless and barbaric people. Archaeologists have unearthed bas relief etchings from ancient Assyria depicting soldiers torturing their prisoners of war in heinous fashion. Assyrian king Ashurbanipal writes in his memoirs of cutting off hands, arms, feet, lips, eyelids, ears, and noses just for sport. When he grows disinterested in the torture, he has his captives beheaded, hanging the heads in tree branches throughout the city.
It is clear in the text that Jonah despises these people. And certainly he must be afraid to go to Nineveh, knowing what they’re capable of. But Jonah doesn’t run from God because of his hatred for the Assyrians. He doesn’t refuse his calling out of fear of being tortured to death. No, Jonah hops a boat for Spain because he knows some things about God. He knows that the Lord is a God of grace and mercy, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Jonah knows that if Nineveh repents, God will relent. And he is out-of-his-mind angry over that possibility.
The story of Jonah is one of the most popular stories in scripture, so there’s probably no need to revisit the details here. Suffice it to say that God has His ways of getting our attention and He gets Jonah’s attention in a big way. And in the end, Jonah accepts his calling from God.
God’s message to the Ninevites is only five words long in the original Hebrew. In the ESV, it sounds like this: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed!” That’s it. An eight-word sermon. And guess what happens? Everybody in the land repents–even the king! The king gets the message, dons sack cloth, and takes a seat on the ash heap. Then he commands everyone in the land to do the same … right down to the animals. I’ve never seen a cow in any kind of clothing, let alone sack cloth. But the king figures, “Why not? Because who knows? The God of Israel might relent and not destroy us.”
And he’s right! They repent … and God relents.
The reason I have a hard time liking Jonah is because he’s too much like me.
One would think that Jonah would be turning cartwheels over all this repentance. Instead, he is angry. God spared those blood-thirsty sinners! How dare He!
There’s not much to like about Jonah, is there? He runs from God. He hates the Assyrians. He stays in some state of anger. In chapter two, Jonah prays a wonderful, worshipful prayer to God that sound nothing like the Jonah of chapters 1, 3, and 4. It’s so unlike Jonah that some scholars think the prayer was added to the book many years later. I don’t believe that. I think it’s Jonah’s prayer, which means that his walk and his talk are not in alignment. Jonah’s just not a very likable guy.
But the reason I have such a hard time liking Jonah is because he’s too much like me. Too often, God calls me to go to a hard place to speak to hard people and I don’t go. Too often, I find myself disliking a particular group of people. I get angry too easily. And boy, oh, boy… there have been so many times in my life when my walk and my talk didn’t match up at all.
So, there is much I can learn from this 2800 year-old story. Jim IS Jonah. I have a ways to go in my transformation toward Christ-likeness. But it’s not just the book of Jonah. The more I read my Bible, the more relevant to my life it becomes. Proof positive that it is the living Word of Almighty God.
Is there anything about Jonah that looks like YOU? Maybe it’s time for us to make some changes.