So they asked him, “Tell us who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” Jonah 1:8
Jonah sleeps while the violent storm rages and the sailors frantically wake Him. This reminds me of how Jesus sleeps on the boat during the storm, only to be wakened by his frightened disciples. The stories are similar in their events, there must be a connection that I cannot conceive of now so I will leave this train of thought for another time.
The SWIM narrative for today says that Jonah is sleeping because he has no regard for disobeying God’s command. On the contrary, I was thinking Jonah was sleeping because he was deeply conflicted and depressed over not being able to carry out God’s desire. Lately, I’ve been thinking that God’s command is not something that is external to us — something on the outside telling us what to do. I think God’s commands come from deep within us — from the sometimes small voice of the Holy Spirit that resides within all of us. The command is not really an order but a calling out of our destiny (i.e, what we were meant to do and what will shape us be to more like Christ).
It is the hard things that shape our character and mold us more into Christ-likeness. It is the hard things burn off the dross, leaving us naked and pure. When we don’t follow the true inner voice, instead of being fully alive, our soul falls into a deep, deep sleep. But God, in His grace, rouses us in many ways (i.e., a storm) — not because He is angry with us, but because He doesn’t want us to miss out on our best life. The sailors ask Jonah fundamental questions: “Where do you come from? (i.e, to whom do you belong? whose are you?)” and “What kind of work to you do? (i.e., what is your mission?).” As we answer these questions, we become more attuned to the burning desire of God in us. We may detour, but we will always return to do the will of God, as a stream eventually finds its way into the river. It is our destiny, as God is always calling out to us and will never give up on us.
Because they have rejected the law of the Lord and have not kept his decrees…I will send fire upon Judah that will consume the fortresses of Jerusalem. Amos 2:4-5
I have always had a problem with seeing God as a God of judgment. One problem for me is that people forget that it’s God’s place to judge and presume to interpret who is deserving of judgment and who is not. (And those who are judging never feel that their sins are worse than those whom they are judging.) I was reading somewhere that the purpose of God’s judgment is not to punish and shame but to lead people to repentance and, ultimately, to restoration. Judgment, then, isn’t so much an end to itself but more of a means to the desired outcome — restoration. Judgment is the pointing out of where you have gone wrong with the great hope that it will cause you to re-think and get back on the right track. Judgment — the recognition of sin — is therefore necessary. If you don’t name something, it’s hard to deal with it. First you have to recognize that there is a problem before you can begin to address it. Judgment, like sex, should only be between two partners that are involved in a covenantal relationship; it’s not the role of others to point fingers in an attempt to get people to conform to what they think is right. (My anti-fundamentalist orientation is showing here.) I know that in the books of the prophets, most are proclaiming how the people have gone astray. However, unlike the environment of today, the prophets are not singling out a specific group of people or specific acts. They were pointing out how the Israelites – all the people – have gone astray from God and that there will be consequences for this. I think that the prophetic books can be seen as signs of God’s love for us, rather than signs of how wrathful God is; judgment is not an end in itself but a light to make us aware that we are no longer on the path that leads to God. Without judgment, we would not know that we are on the wrong path, and, more importantly, we won’t be able to correct our steps to get back on the path that leads to eternal union with God.
“You too will become drunk; you will go into hiding and seek refuge from the enemy.” Nahum 3:11
Nahum directs this to the Assyrians who were at the height of their powers. Nahum says these words after he rattles off a list of other once-great nations who fell into ruin. Nothing in this world lasts forever; even those who seem invincible, eventually come down. Everything has a season, and the seasons rotate. If we can realize that just because we are on top (or on bottom) now, it will not always be this way, perhaps we will be more motivated to work towards the good of the most vulnerable in the present society. Even if we don’t benefit — or even have to lose some power or money in the present — in the long run, we will be helping our children’s children’s children who may have transitioned to being in a vulnerable or powerless position. God wants us to work for justice; the justice that we work for will eventually be our own.
“The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, but with an overwhelming flood He will put an end to Ninevah.” Nahum 1:7
I find it interesting how people think that they are good and the other side is evil, when, if the circumstances were reversed, they would likely act the same way as those whom they deem evil. God must look at us in wonder at how we are so dense and have such little self-awareness. Everyone has the capability for great good and great evil. Thank God that God has great hope in us, in our potential for good. Even though we want to be like God sometimes, God doesn’t hold it against us. I feel like when Adam and Eve chose to test their limits with God and then got banished from Eden, God was like the Father in the prodigal son parable; God waited eagerly for their return. God knew they needed their freedom and let them experience it. People wandered very far though, and I think they couldn’t find their way back no matter how much they tried. Jesus had to show them the way because there was no way that they were going to find it on their own.
“The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord take vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath on his enemies.” Nahum 1:2
This is a verse that we are not likely to see in Sunday school or memorize in small groups. When I see these verses, I think of a fire-breathing dragon-like God. I guess with the Israelites being oppressed so often by other powerful countries, they needed to envision a God that was angry towards their enemies and yet shows compassion on mercy on them. It seems that major religions all have a way that evil will be punished, either in this life or the next. God is no different; however, when God became Emmanuel, Jesus’ way of revenge was decidedly different — Jesus, instead of exacting revenge on the enemy, took the punishment upon Himself. Instead of bad people (i.e, us) getting what they deserve, they got a savior and redeemer. Does this mean that evil wins and gets off with no punishment? Well, evil loses its power when Jesus resurrects so that is a punishment. Jesus’ death and resurrection transforms evil into good (evil thought it won when it crucified Jesus, but, in fact, the crucifixion allowed God to show His power and come back from the dead so what was an evil action ultimately became used as a means to show God’s triumphing over evil). In a way, instead of God killing others to exact vengeance, God allows himself (AKA his Son) to be killed. God does get vengeance and that vengeance is transformation — something we never would have imagined. God’s ways certainly are not our ways!
“If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand, I will pay it back — not to mention that you owe me your very self.” Philemon 1:18-19
Paul’s words to Philemon when sending back Philemon’s runaway slave, Onesimus, seems like a letter that Jesus could be writing to me when sending back someone that has offended me or done me wrong….”If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.” This means that when others do wrong to me, I should not exact retribution from the wrongdoer; instead, I should go to Jesus who will pay me back for whatever wrong was done to me, on that person’s behalf.
Just as Jesus took on our sins, Jesus takes on the sins of those who have sinned against us. Paul is willing to pay Philemon back for what Philemon feels he’s owed; Jesus is willing to pay us for what we feel we are owed. However, Paul puts everything into perspective when he reminds Philemon that Philemon already owes a great debt to Paul such that whatever Philemon thinks he is owed, it is nothing compared to the debt that Philemon owes to Paul.
So, perhaps when we get mad that Jesus isn’t giving us justice or isn’t answering our prayers in the way we want, we need to step back and realize that Jesus already gave us the most valuable thing — our lives and a restored relationship with God through His sacrifice on the cross — there really isn’t anything more we are owed. In fact, it is we who owe Jesus everything.
“You too will become drunk; you will go into hiding and seek refuge from the enemy.” Nahum 3:11
Ninevah was a great city in Assyria. Historically, it was the largest city in the world for about 50 years in the late 500 BC period. Even great and powerful cities like this have their heyday and eventually fall. Nothing lasts forever. It may last for many generations but not forever. When we think about our issues or problems, we tend to think that they are a big deal, but they aren’t really. We are but grains of sand in a huge beach. It’s hard to imagine how God cares for us, so many of us, individually and personally, knowing that there are millions that came ahead of us and millions that will come after us. How can we consider the significance of our lives from this perspective? I’m glad that God put in the Bible “Even the hairs on your head are numbered. So do not be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:30) Mysteriously, irrationally, unfathomably, God cares for us. And everyone else. Nothing stays the same, except the power of God’s love through the generations to heal, to comfort, to transform, and to redeem.