by Chad Moore
We are somewhere between Jonah, Job, and Ruth.
This Summer, our college students have been unpacking the books of Jonah and Ruth. It has been great to study with these students each Tuesday night, especially to unpack the stories of these people with whom most of us are so very familiar.
In Jonah chapter 1, Jonah receives a very clear command from God:
“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2 ESV)
If we were able to read the Bible without presuppositions or without foreknowledge of how the story would go, you would generally think that when someone receives a direct word from God to go do something—a word from the Creator, the One who sent the flood, the One who brought His people out of Egypt—when you got that call, you would respond with action and obedience. This would not be a debate.
However, the story does not go that way. We read in the very next verse,
But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD. (Jonah 1:3 ESV)
Our response at this point might be that this dude has lost his mind! But in all honesty, you and I are probably more like Jonah than we would probably want to admit. In this moment, God speaks to Jonah and tells him to go to a people who are the enemies of the people of God, a people who on more than one occasion have conquered them, taken their possessions, and enslaved them. The people of Nineveh are literally what we would call terrorists today. (As a side note, Ninevah existed in what is now modern-day Mosul where the Islamic State had a stronghold.)
All that to say, these were not the neighbors you were going to ask for a cup of sugar. But these were the neighbors that God was desiring to call to repentance. In this moment, God is asking Jonah, his prophet, to step out of his comfort zone and to be about the work of God for the glory and goodness of God.
Jonah says no.
Jonah’s response does not let him escape from the purpose and plan of God. We know how the story goes: big storm, angry sailors, big fish, scared Jonah. Chapter 2 of Jonah is such a beautiful chapter of seeing humility, grace, and our hearts. In Chapter 2 Jonah is hanging out in this big fish, getting all smelly and recognizing the fullness of brokenness:
I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. 3 For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. 4 Then I said, "I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple." (Jonah 2:2–4 ESV)
At the end of this all, we have a profound moment while still in the fish, a clear Gospel moment, as Jonah exclaims, "Salvation belongs to the LORD!" (Jonah 2:9 ESV).
Why do I say we are somewhere in between Jonah, Job, and Ruth? Jonah has a clear call from God to go step out of his comfort zone so that the glory of God might be displayed through him. It is a difficult assignment; that is why it is outside of his comfort zone. His disobedience leads to his judgment. Are there places in life where God is leading us out of our comfort zone... but we say no? I know I have been there. Abraham, this past Sunday, talked about our desire to be in control. The reality we see in Jonah is that we do not have control.
Job experienced trials because of his faithfulness. Because he trusted God, he leaned into God regardless of the circumstances. Ruth, an outsider to the people of God, makes a profound statement in Ruth 1, even when Naomi attempts to send her home:
But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. (Ruth 1:16–18 ESV)
The last 2+ years have made us pause, examine, and think about why and how we do things. We are less than 30 days from beginning another school year. How is God calling us out of our comfort zone so he can display his glory and goodness through us?
Friends, we do not read these stories as mere history, but we read them recognizing that the God of the Old Testament is the same God today, and that is Good News! Let us walk together as a community of disciple-makers toward the great commission, stepping out of our comfort zones so that we can display the glory and goodness of God in each place that we go.