For the past couple of weeks at Union Presbyterian Church of Los Altos, we have been looking at the Book of Jonah, unique among the Bible’s prophetic books.
At this point in history, the northern kingdom is named Israel and the southern, Judah, but neither is mentioned in Jonah. In fact, the book is the only time a prophet of God is sent to another people group. Jonah is sent to proclaim God’s coming destruction on Nineveh, a city in Assyria, near modern-day Mosul.
Before the mission, Jonah was a prophet who encouraged the king of the northern kingdom to go to war and expand the boundaries of the kingdom. But now God is sending him to foreigners. Jonah runs away to avoid doing what God commanded, heading as far in the opposite direction as possible.
But God still had a calling on Jonah’s life and a job for him to do.
Jonah ends up going to Nineveh and preaching to its people. Lo and behold, the people listen and repent. They put on sackcloth and ashes and fast – all of them. Then we get to see God’s grace as He relents from the destruction for a time.
Scholars believe Jonah was written circa 780 B.C., and the destruction of Nineveh unfolds at the hands of three combined armies in 612 B.C. So for a time, God put the destruction of Nineveh on hold.
Jonah, though, is very angry. He really wanted God to destroy Nineveh, an enemy of his beloved Israel. Jonah had a feeling that he wouldn’t have been sent in the first place unless God was going to show mercy to Nineveh.
I think we can take a couple of lessons away from Jonah.
First, God loves all sorts of folks: Israelites and Ninevites, Americans and Iranians, people from every corner of every nation. God has a claim on every life because He created that life and sustains it.
Second, God loves repentance. Jonah repented in the belly of the fish, and the Ninevites repented when they heard the message Jonah carried from God.
Third, God is full of grace – for Jonah, for Nineveh, for us. We all need Jesus and the forgiveness He offers.
Finally, beware of the idols we worship without recognizing them. Jonah’s idols were his country and himself. When God offered grace contrary to Jonah’s will, Jonah told God simply to kill him. Idolatry is much subtler these days – it can be scientific materialism or nationalism, a political point of view or a bank account. There are all sorts of things that draw our attention away from God.
If you are of a mind, read Jonah again and review some of my recent sermons posted on our church’s website.
The Rev. David Moore is pastor of Union Presbyterian Church of Los Altos, 858 University Ave. For more information, call 948-4361 or visit unionpc.org.