Spring 2014: Jonah Journeys
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Summary: Have you ever considered what it might have been like to have gone along with Jonah on his journey? Maybe you have already taken a journey with him, rather unknowingly...

Contemplate a story with me, if you will. God came to a man named Jonah and presented a word picture to him. The situation was given in basic reality - a city was being consumed by its wickedness. God's heart of love yearned for these people. They were breaking His laws and cutting themselves off from connection with Him, yet He saw some who wanted to turn to Him in humility and repentance. So He asked Jonah to warn them of the consequences of evil and violence. Jonah was aware that this wicked city would not think much of his intervention in their affairs. He decided to try and ignore God's word to him and took an escape route more suited to his own interests.

Have you ever considered what it might have been like to have gone along with Jonah on his journey? Maybe you have already taken a journey with him, rather unknowingly. Let's examine the story of Jonah. You may recognize way-marks in his story that you yourself have passed along in the journey of your own life.

But before we go, let us try to discover what Jonah was fleeing from, especially in his thoughts. Jonah 1:2 explains that Jonah was trying to get away from “the presence of the Lord.” Where is the presence of the Lord? Ministry of Healing page 492 has a thought that is well worth meditating on.

“...by beholding Jesus, talking of His love and perfection of character, we become changed into His image. By contemplating the lofty ideal He has placed before us, we shall be uplifted into a pure and holy atmosphere, even the presence of God.” (Emphasis added).

Fleeing into a Tempest

Seeking release from God's assignment, Jonah tried his own direction. This part of the journey may have begun as a pleasant experience, except for Jonah's state of mind, but soon, and rather abruptly, it became a “mighty tempest” (Jonah 1:4). So mighty a tempest, in fact, that “the ship was like to be broken.” And where was Jonah at that moment? He was very soundly sleeping (vs.5). Have you experienced the total exhaustion that running from God brings?

In the midst of a storm Jonah was completely unaware of it! Those around him had to wake him up! They even had to explain why they woke him up and then encouraged him to call his God, (Jonah 1:6) saying, “…if so be that God will think on us, that we perish not.” Is it possible that we could put others in danger with us when we flee from the presence of the Lord? Have you ever experienced something similar? Have others affected by your attempted escape from God had to remind you to call on His name?

By Beholding We Are Changed

Why did Jonah try to leave the ministry that God called him to? Was the job just too big, too threatening to his own life, too humiliating, perhaps too frustrating? Could it be that Jonah began to think and even talk about all the evil things he had heard about the city where he was sent to? After all, God talked to him about the wickedness of the people there (Jonah 1:2). In other words, did Jonah begin to build a “case” in his mind and heart against the Ninevites? Possibly you have heard or read this quote from Ministry of Healing, page 492: “The very act of looking for evil in others develops evil in those who look. By dwelling upon the faults of others, we are changed into the same image.”

Notice what happened next. In chapter 2 we find that Jonah was cast into the deep, into the heart of the seas, with the floods surrounding him, the waves and billows passing over him. Suddenly, swallowed whole, he began to think that he was actually cast out of God's sight, with the waters and the deep closed in over him, and digestive enzymes at work on his own skin. He was aware of the weeds which wrapped about his head and he believed he was at the foundations or the bottoms of the mountains (Jonah 2:3-6).

Here's a question to ponder. Are the “bottoms of the mountains” when “the waters compassed me about” somewhere near the “depths of the sea”? In Micah 7:18-19, God gives us some extremely important information which impacts every interaction we have with others. In the first part of the verse, God assures us that He “will have compassion on us; He will subdue our iniquities” but what does it say He will do with the sins of others? “…[A]nd Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” Was God willing to cast the sins of the Ninevites into the depths? Apparently, Jonah got a very close inspection of the very area where God wanted to cast their sins! Notice that the Lord prepared a special transport for him to take this out-of-the-way tour. I believe this was just to give Jonah, and us, a very clear picture of what thinking about the less-than-upright behavior of others will do to us. We are told in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that love thinks “no evil.” Why? These fault-finding thoughts distract our focus from Jesus and His desire, ability, and power to save. (See SC pages 71-72).

Remember that the weeds wrapped around Jonah's head in Jonah 2:5. In verse 7, we read “my soul fainted within me.” Have you experienced a “mighty tempest” in your own mind when you have thought on the faults of others? Have you ever journeyed into discouragement or depression because someone would not or could not agree with you on something, or see things your way? Could your own “ship” be in danger of being “broken” by these types of tempests in your mind?

Jonah’s New Perspective

It was then, while he was in the belly of the fish that Jonah began to consider some new perspectives. He chose to look away from the faults of others toward God’s “holy temple” (Jonah 2:4). He “remembered the Lord” and declared, “my prayer went up to You, into Your holy temple.” Verses 8 and 9 provide insights into Jonah's new thoughts. He concluded, “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy” (Jonah 2:8). Jonah quickly decided that his best course of thought was to “sacrifice to [God] with the voice of thanksgiving.” In fact he proclaimed, “Salvation is of the Lord.” Jonah no longer needed to examine the hearts of others.

What does it mean to “observe lying vanities”? Vanities can denote something transitory, unsatisfactory, empty. The root word from which vanities comes is “to be vain in act, word, or expectation” or “to lead astray.” i Vanity could be in my own character and life, yet it seems easier to notice it in others. Thus we think it necessary to build a case, or hold a grudge, often against someone we care a lot about. Yet when Jonah saw where this kind of thinking took him, he decided it would be much better for him to just be thankful and leave the rest to the Lord. After all, “salvation is of the Lord.”

There is at least one more lesson to consider from this part of Jonah’s journey. For what do we praise God when we are so aware of faults in others? Look at Acts 3:26: “Unto you first, God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.” Yes! We may praise God that He can, He will, and He is giving that person every opportunity to turn away from iniquity! He is inviting that person and us to turn away from iniquity! Rather than dwelling on the faults of others, we must praise God for His ability to turn them from their iniquities. We must choose to think God's redemptive thoughts about others.

Judging the Judge

But the lessons of Jonah do not end there. When he went to Nineveh, delivered God's message and saw the people respond, he still thought that he knew what God should do next. Instead of just noticing what others were doing wrong, he began to think that God also was not responding as He should! Remember in verse 8 he had recognized that to observe lying vanities caused the forsaking of his own mercy. Disappointed with God’s display of mercy for the Ninevites, rather than plead for mercy for himself, he asked instead for death (Jonah 4:3). Moses and Paul asked for death for themselves if their death would give others opportunity for life. (See Exodus 32:32, Romans 9:3). Here Jonah asked for death because God was gracious and merciful to give life to repenting people. Two times God asked Jonah, “Doest thou well to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4,9) Jonah hung onto his resistance to the end of the story. And he said, “I do well to be angry, even unto death” (Jonah 4:9). While Jonah held onto his resistance and judgment of God's character and ways, God patiently explained His desire and His decision to spare people and “much cattle” in accordance with His true character of mercy and power to save (Jonah 4:11).

We face the same choice. Do we want or need to go to the depths because we persist in examining the faults of others, and hold those faults in our memory banks just in case we need them to justify our own actions? Lessons from Jonah's experience should teach us to avoid harboring these “weeds” in our thoughts. We can learn instead to praise and thank God that He is at work in our hearts and in the hearts of those around us. Praising God and deciding not to dwell on the faults of others may even prevent us from being vomited out, as God attempts to interrupt our tour into the deep dark behaviors of others. (See Jonah 2:10.) We may be free from the depressive effects of storing these negative, judgmental thoughts in the depths of our mind. How? By God's grace at work in our hearts, we learn to, and choose to, leave the faults of others in God's place for them – in the depths of the sea.

Patsy Gabbert and her husband, Dan, are practicing Biblical Response Therapy® as mental/spiritual health coaches for the Black Hills Health and Education Center. They have the privilege of ministering to the hurting hearts of hundreds of wellness guests who come to BHHEC from throughout the North American continent to find three-dimensional healing and restoration for their lives.

i. James Strong, The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996). Hebrew dictionary page 33, #’s 1892,1891.

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