God or gods?

The book of Jonah is one of my favorites. It’s got everything a great story needs: a complex, flawed protagonist, a contest of good and evil, an action-adventure, calamity, rescue, victory. Like the best of stories, it reaches a redemptive ending without tying everything up perfectly.

Jonah, was supposedly God’s man of the day, a prophet called to speak for him. Yet he was unwilling to accept God’s assignment of rescuing the idolatrous Ninevites from the consequence of their great wickedness. God told him to go and speak to them, and Jonah skedaddled in the other direction.

How absurd that a prophet of God would think he could run away from the LORD and not be found!

As you Bible fans know, he winds up on a ship to Tarshish and the trouble begins. A fierce storm comes. The ship’s crew cry out to their gods for deliverance, and when that doesn’t work, they tell the man of God to ask his God to help.

Jonah, to his credit, ‘fesses up” to his disobedience to the God he says he worships. The crew is terrified, but they heed Jonah’s advice to go ahead and toss him overboard. The storm immediately subsides. At this point, these men are now trembling before Jonah’s God—with a capital “G”—and have forgotten their own illusory gods (small “g”).

Meanwhile, Jonah finds himself in the belly of a great fish. He cries out in prayer,

“As my life was slipping away, I remembered the Lord. And my earnest prayer went out to you in your holy Temple. Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all God’s mercies. But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise, and I will fulfill all my vows. For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.” (Jonah 2:7-9).

Isn’t it interesting that he prays, while still in peril, as though he is already delivered by the Lord? He remembered the faithfulness of the God he was supposed to be serving.

After the fish spits him out on dry land, Jonah heads to Ninevah to speak God’s word of warning to the people.

God is always faithful to be God. He might change his plans, as he does when he chooses mercy over judgment toward Ninevah after they repent–even the livestock—in sackcloth and ashes. But he himself doesn’t change. The Apostle Paul cites for Timothy this “trustworthy saying” about the Lord:

“If we die with him, we will also live with him.If we endure hardship, we will reign with him. If we deny him, he will deny us. If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is” (2 Tim. 2:11-13).

This is the way with God’s children. When we obey, he is our defender and keeper. He energizes and blesses us as we carry out his callings year after year. And when we disobey, like Jonah, he remains faithful.

So, the Ninevites are spared and Jonah goes into a sulk; he didn’t want them to be spared. He insists that he has the right take on righteousness and justice. This is religious bitterness and hardness of heart.

There’s so much to be learned from Jonah and his God. It is always better to go right into God’s assignments, even when we don’t like them. Or maybe, especially when we don’t like them. He is a rewarder of those who “diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6), those who turn away from the lure of small gods and toward this God- with a capital “G.”

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