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Lessons learned from the prophet Jonah

The little book of Jonah, one of the minor prophets of the Old Testament and one of two that prophesy against the city of Nineveh, though only four chapters long, contains some wonderful lessons for us to learn and apply in this Christian age. If one is not familiar with the accounts of the book of Jonah, we would urge that you read it first so that the following lessons will be more obvious.

Our first lesson is that God says what He means and means what He says. God told Jonah what He wanted Jonah to do. Whether Jonah liked what God commanded, understood the reason for what God commanded or wanted something different than what God commanded made no difference whatsoever. When God speaks, it is up to man to obey. Through Moses God said to the nation of Israel, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you” (Deut. 4:2). This same general instruction is given several times throughout the Bible and included in this Christian age. Paul stated it this way, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8). What we need to do is understand that the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation and reveals to us the righteousness of God that must be obeyed (Rom. 1:16-17).

A second lesson that is obvious in this little book is that man cannot hide from God. Jonah boarded a ship headed in a different direction and even hid himself inside the ship, but God knew exactly where he was. The writer of the book of Hebrews stated, “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13). The sweet psalmist of Israel wrote, “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand and seek God” (Psalm 14:2). The Lord can see those outward actions of our body, but He can likewise see the very heart of man. Jeremiah wrote, “I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jer. 17:10). One may hide their thoughts and actions from even those who are their closest friends and family, but one cannot hide their sins from the Creator of the heavens and the earth.

Important both to and for us is the lesson seen here that God is longsuffering. This is seen on the behalf of both Jonah and Nineveh. Even though Jonah fled in disobedience, when he came back to God, God forgave him. When Nineveh, referred to as a great city, but one that was full of wickedness, repented and turned to God, God repented of their destruction He had promised they would receive. Certainly every one of us can see the importance of this quality of God, for every one of us are in need of His longsuffering. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). And Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (II Pet. 3:9). Be thankful that God is longsuffering, for we need it.

To these lessons, let us add that we see clearly that going against God’s will only results in failure. Those sailors fought the storm God sent, but to no avail (Jonah 1:13). Jonah fled, but to no avail. The renown Gamaliel, known for his knowledge and wisdom warned the Pharisees who were opposing the apostles, “But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God” (Acts 5:39). Don’t try to substitute your way for God’s way.

Another of those lessons that we really are glad to learn is that no man can sink so low as to be beyond forgiveness. As a prophet of God, Jonah had sunk about as low as he could, but God would still forgive him. Nineveh was wicked enough that God intended to destroy it, but He could still forgive them.

It is easy to see from Jonah that our way and God’s way is simply not the same. Isaiah clearly showed the fallacy of that when he wrote. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9). It’s God’s way or the wrong way.

Our final lesson is that we need to rejoice when one obeys God, no matter who or where they are. God’s word clearly shows us that with God, there is no respect of persons (Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11) and neither can there be with His children. When anyone, no matter who they are, turns to God, Rejoice as do the angels of heaven.

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By Robert Oliver

Contributing columnist

Send any questions or comments to: rcoliver@centurylink.net