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Jun 24, 2014

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‘For I know that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, one who relents from doing harm’ Jonah 4:2b

‘And the Lord passed before them and proclaimed, the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious , long suffering and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth  generation’               (Exodus 34:6-7)



Jonah 1:1-3   (1)‘Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying (2)Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it, for their wickedness has come up before me (3)But Jonah arose to flee to Tar shish from the presence of the Lord ,He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish , so he paid therefore and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord’  (NKJV)

Jonah the son of Amittai prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam 2, of Northern Israel, whose head quarters was Samaria (2Kings 14:25), a native of Gath Hepher, a village 3miles North East of Nazareth. He was a strong nationalist and was aware of the havoc the Assyrians had wrought in Israel over the years, probably some of his close relatives faced death at the hands of Assyrians.   Jonah found it difficult to accept the fact that God would offer mercy to Nineveh of Assyrians when its inhabitants deserved severe judgement, the resentment he had for them for years explained his reluctance to go. The prophet was so stingy with the mercy and compassion of God and never wanted his enemies to enjoy it. This book bears the name of the prophet and it is easy to assume that the main character of the book is Jonah after all his name appears in every chapter of the book, but for me upon careful analysis, I think the main character is God as the book begins with God giving the word and ends with God challenging Jonah’s perceptions. All through the book we see God at work in the life of Jonah: In chapter 1-2 God gets Jonah to go to Nineveh and Chapter 3-4 is about God getting Jonah to obey with the right heart.

Here we see God’s heart of compassion for the lost in contrast to the rebellious and vengeful prophet.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah: God’s word usually came to His prophets (see Jer.1:4, Ezekiel 2:1-5).  Imagine God interrupting Jonah’s plans one ordinary morning with a short and clear command ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that wicked city and cry out against it’ How was he to respond to such a difficult call?   Nineveh, capital of Assyrian Empire was known for its cruelty and wickedness, they were bitter enemies of Israel, in fact within thirty years of this prophesy Assyria will sweep down Israel and destroy her land and take the inhabitants captive. Jonah’s assignment was a daunting one, go and cry out against Nineveh, it is one thing to bring good news to an enemy but an entirely different challenge to bring bad news, sometimes the messenger might get shot.

 Jonah must have responded in horror! Oh no Lord! May be another city but not Nineveh!  he might have asked himself a barrage of questions without answers, ‘Do they deserve God’s mercy? How will they receive me? Shall I be safe there?  These and many other mind boggling questions might have cropped into the mind of Jonah as he pondered the next step. Let me pose to ask the question here, ‘Is this God’s usual method of work?, Yes I think so, God loves to interrupt our plans and calls us to fulfil his will, he pulls us out of our comfort zone to place us in the turbulent waves of uncertainties in order to fulfil his higher purposes. When He told Abraham to leave his people and go to a land he would show him, Abraham readily obliged and was greatly blessed as a result (Genesis 12), When God instructed Elijah to go and anoint Elisha as his replacement; the latter was in his garden ploughing with oxen when the former threw his mantle upon him. Elisha immediately left ploughing and ran after Elijah, he later slaughtered his oxen and used the yoke as firewood and followed Elijah to be his servant (1Ki.19:19-21). He changed Saul’s plans on the way to Damascus to persecute the saints and made him a preacher of the Gospel (Acts 9:1-6, 19-20, 29), He changed King Saul’s plans while as a young boy he looked for lost donkeys yet he found himself being anointed King (1Sam 9:3, 19-20, 10; 1)  Jon Bon Bovi says ‘map out your future, but do it in pencil, why?  God may change it’, especially as we age we want to put final touches on our plans , God on the other hand loves change, it is the primary tool he uses to shape us into the image of his beloved son.     How did Jonah respond to God’s word to him?  The first time God’s word came to Jonah, he obeyed because it was a good word for him and his people, how selfish? (2Kings 14:25), this time around he did not agree with the word and chose to react contrary to it,  The  mission call  was : ‘Arise go to Nineveh and cry out against it’ in response Jonah ‘Arose to flee to Tarshish, from the presence of the Lord’  

, There are many Jonahs  in our own generation of God’s servants, obeying the word of God only when it’s convenient, we tend to choose the easy way out., President Bill Clinton of the United States of America once said, ‘the easy way is not always  the right way’  How about you?  If the easy way is not the right way for an American President, then which way is the right way for you and me? Has God ever called you into a difficult mission field and you are scared stiff, your heart says I rather quit ministry than go to such and such a place. I had the same challenge when God showed Me a mission field in Karamoja region here in Uganda which is occupied by hostile Pastoralists who frequently raided my own tribal group of Langi raiding cattle, raping women and killing at random, In fact wherever I prayed for our Church expansion to neighbouring regions, I left out Karamoja, but this is the very place God wanted to visit and he wanted to use me a reluctant vessel, as I write I have not yet gone in there but I am ready and willing to go and preach the Gospel to the Karimojong Pastoralists  in God’s perfect timing.

This selective obedience only when the word of God matches with our pre conceived ideas caused  the remnant of Judah to perish in Egypt as they disobeyed the word of the Lord through Jeremiah  to them to remain  in the land rather than go to Egypt  (Jer.42:1-43:6). When is the last time the word of the Lord come to you?

 Jonah refused to change and instead tried to change God’s plans by running as far away as possible from his mission field,  He was to arise and go to Nineveh but he arose to flee to Tarshish:  If he obeyed God he would have to travel Northwards and turn Westwards to Nineveh (800miles), but you know what, Jonah wanted to be as far away as possible from his mission field, he travelled South wards and turned Eastwards  to Joppa, he paid the fare for the rebellious trip to Tarshish by ship, that was his bill not God’s.  Jonah calculated more to gain in sinning than obeying God, he became an early quitter in missions, turning away the opportunity to be the first Old Testament prophet sent as a missionary to a Gentile nation. How sad it is to miss out on God’s timing, doing the very opposite of what God instruct us to do by His Spirit. But by trying to flee away from God’s presence where would he end up?

                    Away from God’s presence: Jonah thought that God’s presence would not be outside Israel in a Gentile land to which he was fleeing, how foolish! Surely Jonah was familiar with Psalms 139:1-10  ‘Lord you have searched Me and known Me , You know my sitting down and my rising up, you understand my thoughts from afar off  , You comprehend my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways . For there is not a word on my tongue , but behold O Lord you know it all together , You have hedged me behind and before, and laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, it is high I cannot attain it. Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there, if I make my bed in hell, behold you are there  , if I take the wings of the morning  and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea  even there your hand shall lead me and your right hand shall hold me’

This Psalm is a comfort to those who walk in the light and a fear full one for those who choose to walk in darkness.   It was surely pure lunacy for Jonah a prophet of the most high God to try to flee away from Him who is omnipresent, such defiance of God’s commands had dire consequences for him as we shall see in the next verses as God pursued him while he tried to flee, unfortunately many Christians today tend to behave like Jonah by trying to behave well in the Church where they assume the presence of God dwells and when they are out of Church they can do whatever their heart desires because they assume God is no longer watching, how deceptive!  Fortunately for Jonah God gave him a second chance as we are going to discover later in Chapter 3 of Jonah.

Unlike Jonah Jesus is the true prophet and servant of God who truly shares God’s heart of mercy for the lost. He did not run in the opposite direction but obeyed and came willingly to earth to preach God’s message which he knew would ultimately mean death at the hands of his enemies but mercy and forgiveness as well for those who turned to God in repentance.  How about you and me, are we ready and willing to pay the ultimate price even with our very life to obey God and go wherever he tells us to go?

Pastor Alfred Odur

Senior Pastor Manna of Heaven Ministries

P.o Box 697, Lira-Uganda