Hugh Hefner has been exploiting women and destroying men with Playmates of the Month for years. I’m spending 2009, not lusting from Playmates of the Month, but learning from the Minor Prophets–one a month. So, each month, I’m going to post some lessons I’ve learned from the Prophet of the Month.
March Prophet of the Month: Jonah
Of all the prophets, Jonah has the worst reputation. The undeserved bad rap comes from the reference to Jonah being swallowed by a big fish and surviving after spending three days and nights in its belly. Hard to believe? Yes. Impossible? Not for a God who created the universe from nothing. Besides, there’s much more to Jonah than the big fish.
Jonah was a popular prophet during the reign of Jeroboam II, a prosperous yet corrupt king of Israel. Jonah correctly predicted that Jeroboam II would expand the territory of Israel. In the midst of all his success, God called Jonah to go to the Assyrian Empire to the east and preach a dire message of judgment to the inhabitants of the capital city of Nineveh. Jonah refuses at first, meets a big fish, decides to accept God’s mission (but grudgingly), and finally throws a fit because what he thought was best wasn’t what God thought was best. A tremendous narrative that happens in four short chapters.
Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned from Jonah this month:
- You can’t run from God. Jonah did his best to run away from the presence of God. Yet, God was always there, no matter how far Jonah ran.
- God works in the lives of people, often through mysterious means. Several times, the phrase “God appointed” appears in Jonah. God appointed the fish to swallow Jonah, a plant to shade Jonah, a worm to destroy the plant, and a scorching wind to make Jonah sweat. God will use whatever means necessary to get our attention so that we focus on Him instead of ourselves.
- You never know who is one step away from repentance. The Assyrians were a notoriously violent people. They worshiped many false gods. Yet, Jonah’s short message of coming judgment moved the king, and the rest of the people, to repentance. It didn’t take lots of sermons or years of praying. One encounter with a grumpy prophet was all it took. We never know who is close to becoming a follower of Jesus… and it is often those we don’t expect.
- It is possible to serve God with wrong (even sinful) motives. Jonah preached judgment to Nineveh hoping that they would experience God’s wrath. He wanted to see the Assyrians suffer and die. God, however, wanted to see them repent. Jonah’s heart was filled with prejudice as he served God. God spun it and used it for good. It is certainly possible for us to serve God with wrong motives–greed, pride, desire for fame, desire to tear others down, etc. Yet, God can still spin such motives and use the service for good (but the messenger better watch out…).
- We should expect God to be merciful and forgiving. As many times as I’ve read Jonah, this didn’t jump out at me until this month… and on the very first reading! Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh because he knew God was merciful and wanted to forgive. We should expect the same from God. He is a God of holiness and wrath, but He’s also a God with long patience, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. People we would give up on are people He wants to forgive.
April’s Prophet of the Month: Amos