Jonah and a Story of Mercy: A Guest Post

Today’s post is a guest post from my daughter, Kathryne Courtney. You can visit her at Kat’s Corner.

Almost everyone has heard the story of Jonah. A guy tries to run from God, God causes a storm, Jonah get thrown overboard and gets swallowed by a whale, whale spits Jonah on beach and Jonah finally goes to the place he was supposed to go in the first place. Everyone one is happy, and the story end there, right? Wrong. There is a second part to this tale, one that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, which means it gets left out much of the time.

After Jonah went to Nineveh, and God saved it, Jonah was angry. He sat outside the city for several days waiting for God to level it. When that didn’t happen, he argued with God over the whole deal. God tried to use a vine that lived and died shortly to teach Jonah a lesson, but Jonah wasn’t having any of it. He told God it would be better if he were dead. Jonah didn’t understand why God wouldn’t destroy Nineveh, and most of the time we don’t get why Jonah didn’t understand. It seems like Jonah should have been awed by the mercy of God towards Nineveh, especially after Jonah had received some of that mercy recently. It’s hard to understand Jonah’s attitude, but not impossible.

Jonah seems to have an extreme sense of warped fairness. Warped in that, while everyone else should get exactly what they deserve, he should get God’s mercy and grace. He thought that Nineveh did not deserve God’s mercy, and therefore it should be destroyed. He wasn’t wrong. Nineveh didn’t deserve God’s mercy and it should have been destroyed, but Jonah didn’t deserve God’s mercy either. He didn’t deserve to be kept alive through the storm by the fish, and he didn’t deserve to live to get out of the fish. Jonah forgot that, just like Nineveh, he received mercy and didn’t die.
Now, most people sort of write Jonah off after that. They give him a black mark and move on, because it’s so much easier if everything is black or white. But Jonah isn’t all bad, almost no one is. After he got on the boat to Tarshish and the storm started, he told the sailors to throw him overboard. Jonah realized his mistake and admitted it, albeit after the lot fell on him and he needed to say something. Inside the fish he praised and prayed to God. He then went to Nineveh like God had told him to in the beginning. He gave the message God had given him to give, He did not elaborate on it, but those eight words had a powerful effect on the Ninevites. And that was Jonah’s problem. He was angry with God for saving the Ninevites and just wanted to die. He was so over God’s mercy, and actually told God so. Jonah was selfish, angry, exhausted, and through with life in general, all because God was extending mercy to a city filled with children and animals.                                                                                                           

We can learn many lessons from Jonah’s story. Firstly, obey God the first time. If Jonah had obeyed God the first time, all the stuff with the whale never would have happened. Second, we can’t run from God. Jonah tried that and ended up in a whale. God knows exactly where you go and even Tarshish isn’t far enough to hide from him. This next lesson is one that gets missed, but that is very important. Acting out your faith is often more efficient than just telling people. Jonah, when the lot fell on him, told the sailors he served the Lord, and that he was running from him. He also told them to throw him overboard, and when they did the storm stopped. Then the men feared the Lord and made sacrifices to Him. Jonah didn’t get on that ship to witness to people. In fact, he was there to run from that. But God used his time on the ship, along with the storm, to lead the sailors to Him. It’s really interesting all the ways God works to accomplish His plan. The fourth lesson we learn is God hears all our prayers, even in the belly of a fish. Fifth, if we repent, God will give us mercy. This can be observed with Jonah in the belly of the fish and again concerning the destruction of Nineveh. Finally, if we care about things like plants that grow up overnight and die overnight, how much more does God care about all the people who He has created. There are so many more lessons that can be found in the story of Jonah if you dig a little deeper, but there isn’t time now to delve into all those.

Lastly to be addressed: the difference between mercy and grace. These word get used interchangeably quite often, especially in the story of Jonah, and, while their meanings are quite similar, they do not have same meaning. Mercy is being exempted from a punishment you were supposed to have. What God showed the Ninevites and Jonah was mercy. Grace is not only being shown mercy, but then being given a gift too. A good example is if you get caught speeding and the cop doesn’t give you a ticket, he showed you mercy, but if you get caught speeding and don’t get a ticket and are given a candy bar, you were shown grace. It’s easy to get the two confused, but the most important thing to remember is that God is both merciful and gracious.

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