Friday, October 19, 2012

Jonah: The Clanging Cymbal


Jonah: The Clanging Cymbal

 

Then the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” – Jonah 4:4

Nobody likes being wrong, and Jonah was no different.  God had asked him to go to Nineveh, and PREACH the message he gave him.  Either God’s message was short, or Jonah simply didn’t want to waste his time on them.  He entered 1/3 of the way into Nineveh, stopped, and shouted “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  After doing so, he walked up to a hillside outside the east of Nineveh and setup camp.  He waited there “till he might see what would become of the city”.  He was like a child waiting for the movie to start in the theater. 
If Jonah had love in his heart for Nineveh, he would have continued to preach.  He would have gone through the entire town, reaching out to the 120,000 people that lived there.  But instead, Jonah just wanted to be right.  And when Nineveh repented, and God spared the town, Jonah was angry!  God had told him to prophesy of the destruction that would come, but after forty days when the city still stood, he feared that he’d be known as a false prophet. 

Of all God’s tender mercies, the story of Jonah is such a beautiful one.  While Jonah sat there stewing and angry at God, God saw fit to shade him from the desert sun.  He caused a plant to grow to shade his head.  Many think the plant was the “Palma Christi”, which is where we get castor oil.  It grows quickly, and renders leaves that are as large as a hat.  Remember taking that as a child when you were sick?  It tasted terrible, but it did bring healing.  Jonah had been through a situation that left a bad taste in his mouth too, but brought healing of the entire city of Nineveh.  Yet, he focused on the taste! 
The name of the plant, when interpreted means “Palm of Christ”.  This paints a beautiful picture of God, palm outstretched over Jonah to shade him.  And yet, Jonah remained angry at God.  He cried out to God and asked him to take his life saying in Jonah 4:2-3, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”  He WANTED to see Nineveh destroyed.  He WANTED to be right – to see his prophesy come true.  Then he could go around to all the other towns, visit with all the other prophets and say “See, I told you! I told them! God told me about it before it happened!”  Oh, he so wanted to be right that now when God had spared the 120,000 souls that were there and all their city he just wanted to die.  He wanted it so bad that he begged God to kill him.

Then God does the unthinkable.  God stops protecting his servant from the sun.  He sends a worm to eat the roots of the plant that shaded him, and it died.  Jonah missed the plant, and grieved for it as it died.  And if the absence of shade was not enough, he also sent an east wind, coming across the hot desert.  An eastern wind in this area brings tiny particles of sand that are heated by the sun and burn and cut the skin as they hit.  Jonah missed the plant, and grieved for it as it died.
Oh, now Jonah was angry! He was very frustrated with God! And God said to Jonah “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” And Jonah answered, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!” His words are so strong you can hear his anger at God as if he were shaking a fist at Him!  And then God explains His mercy on Nineveh, and His distaste for Jonah’s whiney attitude.  He answers “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?”

God had created Nineveh.  The people there were His.  The livestock were His.  The city was His.  All things belong to God.  He had mercy on them.  They were uneducated about sin, and could not “discern between their right hand and their left”.  But they had willing hearts, and wanted to do better, as was proven by their speedy fasting and wearing sackcloth.  Forty says they fasted, and God saved them because He saw repentant hearts.  Yet even after they returned to God, even while they were fasting and praying day and night, the Prophet Jonah wanted to see God destroy them.
Jonah followed God’s plans, albeit reluctantly.  He did prophesy to Nineveh, but he lacked one thing for them that could have made an eternal difference: love.  The city of Nineveh eventually did revert to sin, and was destroyed 150 years later by Cyaxares and his allies.  Nahum had prophesied of their destruction, and yet they did not repent.  If Jonah had loved this great city, if he had delivered God’s word to them, teaching them His ways and His laws, they might have never returned to idolatry and evil. 

Jonah reminds me of the “Greater than Thou” Christian, who will look down his nose at a sinner, and judge the every action with a Bible verse, proclaim his road to hell, but have no love in his heart.  Friends, these are not true Christians.  They may be saved, they may attend church every time the doors are open, but without love, they aren’t following God.  Jesus commanded we love each other even as he loved us – willing to die to save each other.  Without love in your heart, you’re ineffective.  Your actions won’t be the actions of God, who is love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 says “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am NOTHING. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me NOTHING.  Without love, we are NOTHING. All our actions that may be rooted in great gifts from God of prophesy or word of knowledge or healing mean NOTHING if we don’t possess them with great love.  Jonah cherished his gifting of prophesy above all – even above the souls that God loved.  Yet he failed to understand that the greatest gift of all is love (1 Corinthian 13:13).  Jonah was a clanging cymbal. 

But yet, God had mercy on him and showed him his heart’s condition, giving him a chance to be gifted with the greatest gift of all.  Obedience to God does have endless rewards!

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