Jonah is a fascinating book, a masterpiece of literature, and a powerful illustration of God’s character. Let’s look at the characters and their responses to God.
Jonah—a “prophet of God” with definite ideas of his own about what is and isn’t appropriate for him—or God!—to do. (Ironically, he’s the only one in this story who would not cooperate!)
Pagans of two sorts—the ship’s crew and the inhabitants of Nineveh—who readily responded to God when confronted with His power.
Forces of nature (“props”) that did as they were told in order to fulfill the purposes of God—a huge fish, a leafy plant, a worm, and a hot east wind. God used these to both give and remove His protection of Jonah.
I do have to smile as I read about Jonah’s temper tantrum in chapter 4. Like an unhappy two-year-old lashing out, trying to beat up on his longsuffering dad.
But God can take it. His great heart shines through this whole story:
–Dealing patiently (though severely—who wants a ride in a fish’s belly?) with his rebellious servant.
–Sovereignly arranging the affairs of the world to accomplish His purposes.
–Loving and forgiving the wicked and the ignorant: “Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”
It’s a new year, and I’m starting to read through a new Bible. (This one is the “God’s Word” translation. I enjoy reading different versions because it lends freshness. It will be given to one of my grandchildren later with all my notes and markings.)
Each time I re-read this precious Book, I ask the Author to teach me something I hadn’t seen before, or that I had forgotten. And He does! Here’s what I saw this morning in the first chapters of Genesis:
Did you realize that of the very first three people who lived on the earth, each of them were given special instructions by God about something they should not do, each chose to do it anyway, each was visited by God for reprimand and punishment (banishment)—but was not killed.
I think this chart helps me see it better:
What an amazing God we have—full of love, wisdom, justice and mercy!
If God came to you in person and introduced Himself, what do you think he would say? Incredibly, this actually happened to Moses, and those words re-echo through the pages of Scripture.
On Mount Sinai, Moses had seen powerful signs of God’s presence, including thunder, earthquake, fire, trumpet blasts, and more. But still not satisfied, he begged God for the privilege of seeing His own glory. God did not allow Moses to see His face but he did let him see his “back” as He passed by. This was accompanied by a full introduction to His name and character:
The LORD passed in front of Moses, calling out,
“Yahweh! The LORD!
The God of compassion and mercy!
I am slow to anger
and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.
I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.
But I do not excuse the guilty.
I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren;
the entire family is affected—
even children in the third and fourth generations.”
This foundational description of God’s character is cited at least seven more times throughout the Old Testament. It is the way He wants us to remember Him. (Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalms 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2)
God’s primary nature is love: compassion, unfailing love, faithfulness, forgiveness, mercy, patience. But He is not a big teddy bear in the sky! He is also holy and cannot tolerate sin and rebellion. For more about God’s love and patience, Israel’s rebellion and then God’s response, read Psalm 78. It’s quite a story!
An important task of a Bible translator is to accurately translate similar terms. And when the receptor language lacks its own terminology for important theological concepts, it’s all the more important for the translator to understand what those Greek or Hebrew terms mean in order to render the ideas precisely.
“Grace” and “mercy” are two of these which are so similar that, in some languages, it’s hard to find ways to distinguish them. We’ve all heard the helpful definitions of “getting what (good) you don’t deserve” and “not getting what (bad) you do deserve. Here’s another thought or two:
Maybe there’s an aspect of “grace” that focuses more on the giver—his kindness, compassion, riches and generosity.
And maybe there’s an aspect of “mercy” that focuses more on the recipient—his need, his guilt, his helplessness.
In Christ, we have both!