I recently played a game with some friends. It was introduced to us about a year ago, and we loved it so much, we had to buy it for our home. Tele-strations.
You’ve played this before? You get a word, draw the word, pass it along, have other guess that word, pass it along, have another draw that word, and just like broken telephone, see how far you’ve strayed from the initial word given to you at the start. My favourite sequence invloved be getting the word, “Sanding a board”, after attempting to draw, I passed it on, and by the end of the game, the word or phrase became, “Walking the plank”. We then found out that the first word was “brief case”.
Got me thinking about the image and idea of Walking the Plank. Where do you see this anymore? Pirates of the Caribbean? Once upon a time (recent Disney TV series with Captain Hook being one of the characters), Giligan’s island (for you old timers). But really not much.
Imagine that some unique circumstances in your life have led you to a point where you are forced to jump; where you’re forced to jump overboard; or where others throw you overboard because of you’re excess weight on their journey. Not fun at all.
What thoughts might be going through your mind? What plans are you cancelling or what dreams are you regretting you didn’t get around to?
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For the next few weeks we’ll be walking through a story about someone who probably never thought their life would arrive at this point: stuck on a boat, immersed by a storm, and walking a plank.
Jonah…a story in the Scriptures that some view as a parable, others a fairy tale, and many literally…but one thing is for sure, there is a lot to learn from this Reluctant Prophet.
Over the next few weeks, we will dive in, pun intended, to the book of Jonah. We will walk through this short tale to see what it can possibly teach us.
Many people know of this story. It’s about a fish, right? And it can’t be real of course, cause how can a fish swallow a person whole, spit him out and, and that person is alive and well?
That’s what most people know about this story, and for those people it ends there. A storm. A boat. Walking the plank. A Fish. .but…there’s so much more going on here. And I can’t wait to get started.
Before we actually begin, we can give you a hint of what we will find:
- Jonah is bad at his job
- God is good
- Jonah is a reluctant, disobedient, and some might say, prodigal prophet.
- God is compassionate and merciful
- Jonah’s heart is not easy to crack
- God’s heart drips with grace for all people
Ok. Now that we now what we got that covered. Let’s get started.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. (Jonah 1:1-3)
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“The Word of the Lord came to Jonah, son of Amittai.”
Two things are going on in the beginning of this book. We know that somehow God communicates to Jonah. And we know that Jonah has a father named Amittai.
Interesting. Both of Jonah’s fathers mentioned in the first verse. Heavenly. Earthly.
Son of Amittai…
- Amittai was married to a woman who was from the tribe of Asher. Said to be the happiest and most prosperous of the tribes of Israel.
- Amittai means truth.
- Jonah can therefore be referred to as the son of truth.
- Is it possible that the writer, which is not Jonah, is poking some fun at Jonah and stating some obvious irony here.
- Jonah is someone who sticks closely to truth, but has no concept of grace, at least not for people other than his own people.
- We’ll find out later in this story that Jonah doesn’t think that others are worthy of God’s grace and compassion.
- He’s so committed to truth, but more than that, law, that he can’t open his heart towards love those outside his tribe.
- Jesus, who mentions Jonah in the gospels, was the one who coined the phrase, grace & truth, and the purpose would be that they can and should work together as two faces of one coin.
- Jonah’s coin had one face, truth, a truth that became legalistic in nature.
The thing is this, we all come from someone, some place, some kind of history and past. Whatever it is, good or bad, don’t let it get in the way of what God wants to teach you today, about him, and about others. Don’t allow your checkered past to stop you from being who God wants you to be, and on the other hand, don’t allow your ‘good’ past to stop you from risking a few things for God either.
“Go to the Great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because it’s wickedness has come before me.”
Next comes the call. The question. The ‘word’ from God…
GO to the GREAT city of Nineveh.
I want to get to the word great, but let’s not passover the word go.
God often tells those who follow him to go somewhere. Often the first word is ‘go’, and then it’s ‘do’. It’s almost like God wants us to trust him before we hear what the task is. It’s like he tests our faith, before he even cares about our tasks.
A good lesson is this: Don’t be afraid to take steps in the direction God is leading. If he’s really leading you there, you’ll have something to do when you arrive.
Now to the word GREAT.
- it comes up 14 times in 48 verses
- used to describe a great city, great wind, great storm, great fish
- the first instance is in verse 2 – as the (very) great city
- some translate it, the very big city.
- That seems like a better understanding. Because even though it’s big, it’s not that great.
- Nineveh was known for bloodcurdling & gore; violence and wickedness
- They’d ‘cut off the legs and one arm of those they captured…leaving one arm to shake as they died before them. Total mockery.
- They’d force remaining & living family to parade with their decapitated family members heads on poles.
- Yet God was reaching out to them. WHY?
- Nineveh was BIG. One of the oldest cities too. The principal city of Assyria. There were 120,000 people there. And God never met eyes with anyone he didn’t want to help and didn’t already love.
That’s where Jonah is told to go. And then we read…
“But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed over to Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, we went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.”
Jonah runs away.
He pays his own fare and Flees from God.
He runs from God’s call: and this verse says that he ran from God himself.
This is what begins our understanding that Jonah was the reluctant prophet, the disobedient prophet, and as Tim Keller calls him, the prodigal prophet.
He goes the opposite direction.
- He’s called to go east, but goes west
- He’s called to travel on land, he travels the sea
- He’s sent to the big city, but buys a one way ticket to the ends of the earth
WHY? We will learn more and more each week, that Jonah basically disagreed with God’s assessment. He didn’t trust him. He doubted God’s goodness, God’s wisdom, God’s justice, and more than anything, God’s grace.
It’s like Jonah said, “If this is what you want to do, I want nothing of it” NIVEVEH – No Way!!!
So he runs. He flees.
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But don’t we do that to? More often than we’d like to admit. There comes a point where we have to decide that we trust God knows best. But do we?
Isn’t our human default to say, “I know best”?
Isn’t that what Adam & Eve did in Genesis 2-3, in the garden?
When you really think about it, Jonah is in each of us, afraid to fail, afraid to shine, fighting God’s will for us, fighting ourselves.
Abraham Heschel (Rabbi/Theoligan) says ‘we see ourselves in Jonah…because Jonah is the symbolic or metaphorical everyman or everywoman who runs away from social obligation, from missional opportunity, from grace-fillied moments.’
I came across these words about running away, “Humans have always employed an enormous variety of clever devices for running away from themselves… We can keep ourselves so busy, fill our lives with so many diversions, stuff our heads with so much knowledge, involve ourselves with so many people, and cover so much ground that we never have time to probe the fearful and wonderful world within. By middle life, most of us are accomplished fugitives from ourselves.”
We’re good at running away, from responsibilities, urgent matters of the heart, issues that need addressing in our families or relationships. We choose to not deal with a conflict and watch netflix instead. We leave the dishes for the next day. We leave the hard conversation for another week. And… when it comes to God’s call…we’re good at running away from that too.
One thing from each of these first 3 verses to take home:
- When God’s word comes to us, are we listening?
- Can we say yes to God first? Can our first response to God always be yes?
- Will we learn very early on from this story, that it’s always better to run to God or with God, but never from God.
If we’re not careful, just like the drawing game, God gives us one word, and by the time we’re done, we’ve messed it up so much, it’s not even recognizable.
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Small(er) Group Discussion Questions:
Why do you think the Jonah story intrigues people? And what about it may not be so inviting?
How do you think our past inhibits or obstructs decisions for our future? How can both kinds of pasts, hurtful or helpful, become obstacles in our lives.
What ways does God use to speak to us? To call us?
Is it easier to say yes to God’s GO or God’s DO? (where to go vs what to do)
Why is it easy, almost human nature, to run from responsibility, from doing justice, from doing good, etc? When did ever you run from God? What caused it? What made you aware of your poor decision to run?
What kind of steps can we take to be people who say yes to God more often, who run to God and with God.