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Jonah 1:13, 17; 3:15, 10; 4:511comment (0)

August 20, 2009

By Steven R. Harmon

Related Scripture: Jonah 1:13, 17; 3:15, 10; 4:511

Bible Studies for Life
Associate Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University

Jonah 1:1–3, 17; 3:1–5, 10; 4:5–11

The people of God, especially those who have struggled with a sense of calling to a specific task, have long identified with the story of Jonah. Not everyone is called like Jonah to speak prophetic warnings of God’s impending judgment to an unrepentant people, but He does call each of us to participate in specific ways in His work in the world. Like Jonah, we do not always easily embrace what God calls us to do, and even when we do yield ourselves to His will, like Jonah, we often lapse into self-centeredness. All Christians can draw important lessons from the story of Jonah and God’s dealings with him.

God’s Will and Ours (1:1–3, 17)
Sometimes God’s will is congruent with our wishes. God may call us to utilize our skills and interests as our contributions to His work in the world, and we find it easy to say, “yes,” to that call. But because as fallen creatures we are inherently selfish, even after we have begun experiencing the transformative work of God’s salvation in our lives, our wishes are frequently contrary to His will, for His will leads us beyond ourselves to seek the good of others. Whereas our wishes usually lead toward our own interests. Whenever we push what we know to be God’s will to the back of our minds in order to pursue our wishes untroubled, we join Jonah in finding “a ship going … away from the presence of the Lord.”

Yet when we do that, we may discover that our lives are anything but untroubled. God may allow us to pursue our wishes, but He also may send the equivalent of a “large fish” our way in the hope that we might recognize our rejection of His will.

The Patient Generosity of God’s Will (3:1–5, 10)
God does not force His will on us nor does He exclude us from future participation in His will when we stray from it. God was “gracious … and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing” Jonah as well as the inhabitants of Nineveh (Jon. 4:3). God granted both Jonah and those who heard his prophetic message another opportunity to participate His will, even though they had rejected it earlier. Though we must not presume upon God’s mercy, we should be encouraged by His patient generosity to all the characters in this story. We should never despair that at some point in the past, we irretrievably removed ourselves from God’s will for our lives, for as long as we live, He is always extending to us the opportunity to be involved in His work in the world.

The Inclusive Otherness of God’s Will (4:5–11)
Near the end of the story, we find Jonah having a pity party brought about by his self-centeredness, which was never entirely absent from his acquiescence to God’s will. The repentance of Nineveh and God’s relenting response robbed Jonah of the satisfaction of feeling vindicated by watching Him bring about the judgment he had warned was coming.

To add insult to injury, God allowed the shady plant from which Jonah derived some measure of comfort to die, and then he was hot in more ways than one. God reminded Jonah that His will for him was not individualistic — that is it did not place Jonah at the center of God’s universe. Rather God’s will always includes those who are other than us. God was concerned not just about Jonah but also about the good of the more than 120,000 citizens of Nineveh — and their animals, too (11).

God’s will for all followers of His Son, Jesus, is that they “deny themselves and take up their cross” (Mark 8:34). The cross is never what we would wish for ourselves, but it is God’s will for each of us. And just as Jesus’ self-sacrificing love manifested in His cross was for the salvation of others, God’s will for our cross-bearing lives is that they be oriented toward the good of others rather than the fulfillment of our selfish wishes. At the end of that long hot day, that is what Jonah learned about God’s will.

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