On the Plains of Moab Blog
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March 10, 2013, 12:46 PM

Sermon Text - I, Jonah: “Because He First Loved Us” Sermon #7 of 7

Sermon Text:  Jonah 4:1-11

As we begin this morning, listen once again to the words of this book; God's final word to Jonah:

…should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left…? (4:11 ESV).

Once again, God refers to this capital of the Assyrian Empire as that great city.  Remember, he did that at twice before when he gave Jonah the original charge to go to Nineveh.  I don't think this was merely a description of Nineveh's large size geographically or population-wise; but more specifically, that it was an important city to God.  The people in this city, all 120,000 of them, mattered to God.  He created them.  They belonged to him, as all nations on earth belong to God.

The intriguing thing here is that the Assyrians were the enemies of God’s people.  In just over forty years from the time of Jonah, the Assyrians would storm into the northern kingdom of Israel and scatter the people into exile.  The Assyrians were a ruthless people on the warpath.  Jonah wasn’t far off in his assessment of these people.

As you know well by now, Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh.  Jonah did not want to preach in Nineveh.  Jonah did not want those people to have an opportunity to repent and escape disaster.

You remember from last week, Jonah said, that is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. (4:2 ESV). “I knew you were that kind of God.”

In the remainder of chapter four of Jonah this morning, we get more details on what happened after he finished his preaching in Nineveh.  I believe that Jonah 4:1-4 -- what we covered last week -- was a brief summary of the exchange between God and Jonah with the prophet's prayer rant.  Jonah 4:5-11 then expands on Jonah’s encounter with God.  (That's why I am including what we covered last week in the reading today.)

Let me summarize the rest of the story:

Picking up with 4:5, Jonah has finished preaching.  He is leaving Nineveh in the wake of a city cut to the heart with repentance.  It seems that Jonah is holding out hope against hope that his preaching will have no final effect on the people of the city.  [Like my kids hoping that dad will forget to ask them to do a chore!]  He made a booth for himself there.  He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. (4:5 ESV).  He is ready for some divine hell-fire even though he suspects God may relent based on what he knows about God.  Jonah really wants God to bring disaster upon the city.

And here’s where God comes into the picture.  He causes a plant, probably a garden variety weed.  It brings Jonah a great deal of pleasure, keeping the hot scorching sun from burning the top of his head.  In an intentional touch of irony, it says that Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. (Jon. 4:6 ESV).  Remember that Jonah was exceedingly (4:1 ESV) displeased and angry when he found out that God wasn’t going to follow through on his threat to destroy Nineveh.

The next morning arrives and still nothing has happened to the city; but God appoints a worm to attack Jonah's beloved plant and the weed withers dead in the heat of the day.  Making matters worse, the scorching hot, dry east wind then blew and beat down even harder on Jonah’s poor little head.

They say that in the Middle East, when these hot winds blow -- called siroccos -- some crimes committed during the duration of the heat result in judicial leniency because these hot winds make people do crazy things!

Poor Jonah couldn’t take anymore:  "It is better for me to die than to live." (4:8 ESV).  “Nineveh is still standing…and to make matters worse, my shade has withered and died.  Life is not worth the living.  Just do me in now, God!”

As the book closes, God asks Jonah a question:  "Do you do well to be angry for the plant?" (4:9 ESV).  In other words, "Is it right for you to be angry?" (NIV).  “Jonah, it sprang up overnight like any other weed, nothing special, quite ordinary, and yet you are so concerned about this inconsequential weed?  You didn’t plant it.  You didn't do anything to bring it up.  You didn’t tend it.  And yet, it is that important?”  No, Jonah, it is not right for you to be angry!

But this is where God drives the message home.  A question that demands a "yes"Should not I pity Nineveh, that great city? (4:11 ESV).  Surely people are more important that a weed?  Even the Ninevites.

From what we know of Nineveh at this time in their history, they were in economic turmoil.  There were a couple of natural disasters that had decimated the population.  Throw in a total eclipse of the sun to a superstitious people with a weak king and poor leadership, and the people are described as not know[ing] their right hand from their left (4:11 ESV).  Lost in their troubles.  A people in distress and great need of healing and comfort.

The description of God throughout the Old Testament is that, while he won't in any way excuse un-repented of sin, he is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…. (4:2 ESV).

The apostle John in the New Testament adds more with the claim that God is love (1 Jn. 4:8, 16).  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…. (Jn. 3:16 ESV).  John says, we love because he first loved us. (1 Jn. 4:19 ESV).  We know love and how to love only because God has first modeled it in word and deed.

As we have unpacked this story of Jonah, I have often made the comparison between Jonah and us.  Hence the “I, Jonah” for the title to this series.  That is right and proper.  However, I want to present another perspective here for you to think about.  Jonah also represents the attitudes and biases of his own home country, Israel.

Think with me here.  Israel was created to be a “son” to God.  They were the people of his special choosing.  “The apple of his eye.” (Deut. 32:10; Zech. 2:8)  His hand-picked people out of all the nations on earth.  This is the part that Jonah and his people got.  This is what they latched on to with great gusto.  We're special.  However, Jonah, and the nation of Israel forgot why they were special.  They forgot why they were chosen in the first place.

You see, Israel became kind of a club.  Club God.  They began to believe that it was their job to keep it entirely pure.  No one else was to be admitted unless they did all the special little things to gain admittance; but for the most part – they kept the world out because the world was dirty and evil and bad – just like those awful Ninevites.  It is to be avoided.  It is to be shunned.  Must not get dirty.

But, God didn’t save Israel to become a museum exhibit - don't touch, don't come close!  God chose Israel to be his ambassadors to the world.  God chose Israel to show the way back to God.  God chose Israel to show how to know and worship rightly the God of the universe.  In their right worship, Israel was to show how reconciliation could take place.  In their sacrifices and offerings, they were to show how sin could be forgiven.  This is why God said to Israel in Exodus, now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (19:5-6 ESV).

This is what Jonah did not fully comprehend (or would not).  This is what Israel could never fully comprehend (or would not).  Is our response like that of Jonah and Israel?  Do we look upon the world as a bad, evil, dirty place to be avoided?  Do we rather relish that God will judge all wickedness one day?  Do we want to see the really bad people get what's coming to them?  Would we rather sit on our relationship with Jesus and with-hold it from people who really don't deserve it?

Today, we live on the other side of the coming of Jesus Christ.  We must realize that we are in the same exact place as Jonah on that eastern hillside overlooking Nineveh and the world.  We are, according to Galatians 6:16, the Israel of God (ESV).  We have been saved through faith by the life and death of our Savior.  We have been saved to serve, not to sit on the sidelines.  We haven’t been called to seal our church doors and keep the world out.  As Paul say in 2 Corinthians, we are ambassadors for Christ, [and] God [is] making his appeal through us. (2 Cor. 5:20 ESV).

The message of Jonah is that the love of God compels him to seek out those who have lost their way; those who are hurting; those who are blind and need sight; those who are dead in their sin.  For that is where he found us!  And he uses his people to bear that message in word and deed.

Thus ends the book of Jonah.

You have heard the Word of God.  Please consider it so very well.   Amen.

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