Jonah was asked to do the unthinkable: go to Nineveh and give his most hated enemies the chance to repent and stand awash in the forgiving mercies of God. It’s easy for us to judge Jonah and think we would have done better, to look down on him for feeling sorry for a plant but not for people.
But the fact is, ISIS has nothing on the people of Nineveh. ISIS is barbaric, but the Assyrian Empire was equally so. You name it, they did it. Except Assyria inflicted their horrors on a far grander scale. And just as ISIS broadcasts its executions, Assyrians painted their palaces with lavish decorations of gore and destruction, to the honor of their god Ashur. Imagine if ISIS was much more powerful and had outright invaded the United States, and then decorated their capital city with graphic images of what they had done on American soil to our cities and citizens. That will give you a better sense of how Jonah felt about them.
But as Pastor Mark preached on Sunday, God’s love pursues not only cruel God-haters like the Assyrians of Nineveh, but the self-righteous like Jonah. And I’m so glad for that, because I must confess to you that I’ve been a “Jonah” too… and I’m so awful about this that I’ve been a Jonah about other Jonahs! Let me explain. Many churches and mission groups in the US and Europeans have reached out to the Syrian refugees (who are fleeing the terrors of ISIS) with open arms as Jesus commanded, and many of these refugees have been coming to Christ as a result. But while many churches have responded to the refugees like Jesus, many others who name the name of Christ have responded in a worldly way like Jonah, reacting out of fear and hatred rather than love and open arms. But how did I respond? In my heart, I sinned, too: I began to scorn even some of those fellow Christians as hypocritical Pharisees. I began to feel self-righteous like Jonah about these people acting like Jonah! I was the one in need of God’s mercy. Even though I didn’t deserve it.
As God compassionately pursued even hard-hearted, prejudiced, self-righteous Jonah, God showers the “Jonahs” and “Pharisees” of our day with love. He even offers me mercy. Our Fighter Verse this week grounds us in this truth by echoing a common refrain throughout the Old Testament:
“The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Psalm 145:8 ESV)
As Pastor Mark reminded us on Sunday, God’s glory is His mercy and compassion. In Exodus 33, Moses asked to see God’s glory, so God declared His Name and His character to him. Psalm 145:8 directly references that very revelation of God’s glory and character in Exodus. Look at the character traits of God praised in this little Fighter Verse:
Whenever you see “LORD” in all caps, it doesn’t really mean “Lord,” but is in fact the Name of God, Yahweh. Meaning, the God who is boundlessly beyond space and time and yet remains intimately before us.
Showering us with good gifts even when we don’t deserve it. Being friendly towards us even when we oppose Him.
Compassionate. He feels for us from deep in His “womb” (the sense of this word for compassion has to do with a mother’s womb).
“Slow to anger”
Literally “long of nose.” His nostrils don’t flare and he doesn’t get red in the face so easily. He is patient.
“Abounding in steadfastness”
The word “steadfastness” here is hesed, or “loyal love.” Deep affection that doesn’t let go but keeps returning again and again. And it’s not just that God is full of loyal love, but he is abounding in it — He has more than enough to spare for anyone in any situation.
As you memorize the Fighter Verse this week, spend some time thinking about each word or pair of words. Ponder what it means that Yahweh’s character and glory is defined by His grace, compassion, patience, and overflowing loyal love.
QUESTIONS TO ASK EACH OTHER:
- How has God been Yahweh (boundless and powerful and eternal beyond any bounds or limits we can imagine) to you?
- How has He been gracious to you? How has he showered you with good things?
- How has He been compassionate towards you? What it is it like when you realize that He feels the pain that you feel?
- How has He been “slow to anger” with you? How has He been patient with you?
- How has he “abounded in steadfastness” towards you? How has he demonstrated again and again his overflowing loyal love?