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What Is Your Gourd?




by Kimberley Tagert-Paul



“It’s not fair!” He screamed it to the sky. Where else was he supposed to scream it? That’s where the voice had come from. He had heard the command and was in utter disbelief. “You can’t be serious!”

Jonah shook his head and looked up. Was he going crazy? No, he had heard God’s voice. He knew it. After all, he was a prophet in God’s employ. But this . . . this was too much to ask. Wasn’t it?

God had called him to go to the Assyrians. The Assyrians! He had already preached the message in Israel, but God’s people were not turning their hearts back to God. They were doing what King Jeroboam II did instead of following God. So God was about to change things up.

The Assyrians were Israel’s most hated enemy. They practiced such things as cruelty in war, idolatry, prostitution, and witchcraft. They exploited the helpless as we see in Nahum 3:1-7. God cursed them for their ways. But He didn’t give up on them. And His chosen servant was Jonah. He wanted to offer them a chance to repent, and Jonah wasn’t having any part of it.

“They are my enemies. I just can’t do it. I won’t. I will choose my own way.” Jonah, with all his knowledge of God and what He was going to do, decided he knew better and was going to do it his way.

Have you ever done that? Did you know the right way, but chose a different way, your way? And how did that work out for you?

It didn’t work out for Jonah, either!

“Repent.” That was the message he was to bring to his enemies. Repent? Did they have knowledge of the one true God? Certainly. Throughout history the Assyrians had been shown the power of the God of heaven. They knew Him and His power, but they still didn’t believe. Read 2 Chronicles 32:10-15, 20-22.

So Jonah had to make a decision. With all of his knowledge of God and His truth, he set out on a journey—in the wrong direction! He made the wrong choice, and God was about ready to send him to reform school.

 From where he was, in Joppa, Nineveh was inland about 500 miles northeast. Jonah didn’t need to board a boat to reach Nineveh—he could walk there. I had always thought that when Jonah went to the shipyard, he got on a boat headed in the opposite direction. But Jonah had made the choice to head away from God and His calling long before he got on the boat. He deliberately chose to go out of his way, so he boarded a boat headed in the opposite direction. He was about to get into worse trouble, and his disobedience was going to cost him big. We can learn an important lesson from Jonah: It is far better to obey God from the start!

So Jonah boards the boat without a qualm. He goes to sleep. You know the story. A storm comes up on the sea. And it’s not just any storm. It is so bad that the seasoned sailors are terrified. They begin to pray to their own gods and throw everything they can overboard to lighten the boat. They know that something supernatural is going on. A god—the lower “g” kind—has been offended. They search for the one causing the problem by throwing dice, and God uses this primitive method to point out Jonah.

“What have you done, man?” They demand an answer, and Jonah gives them one.

“Throw me into the sea.” The sailors had more compassion on Jonah than he had for himself. They tried everything they knew, but it wasn’t working. Finally they yielded to Jonah, and the storm stopped. Then what did they do? They offered a sacrifice to God.

Jonah’s disobedience turned into an example of God’s grace. The sailors believed. And Jonah . . . well, God sent him to His reform school: the belly of a great fish!

So often our sins don’t affect only us, they affect those around us. By running away, Jonah caused the sailors great stress and could have cost them their lives. That’s another thing we can learn from Jonah: Sin often has corporate effects.

Jonah soon realized he couldn’t run from God. We can’t, either. He had to stop running to seek God’s love. It’s impossible to seek God’s love and run from Him at the same time. Read 1 John 2:3-6.

Three days can seem like an awfully long time. It must have felt like forever to Jonah. But the seaweed and rough ride did its job. The result is one of the most beautiful prayers in the Bible. Read it in Jonah 2. I don’t think this prayer is in the Bible by accident. Here is a prophet of God, fallen from grace, running from God. Is he a sinner? You bet! He probably isn’t on his knees; that would be a hard thing to do when your “boat” is a whale. But God is listening. And He cared enough to make sure it was written down for all generations to see.

What is God saying to us? That nothing, nothing, is too great for God! We can pray anytime, anywhere. Our predicament is never too great, or our sin too difficult for God to forgive.

I like to think at this point that the fish cruised up to the shore, burped up a bleached Jonah, and while he was pulling chunks of seaweed and half-digested fish guts off, a voice from heaven thundered down, “Don’t give up, Jonah! Moses was once a basket case!”

Our God is a God who often gives us second chances. Like Jonah, we need to use them wisely.

Jonah went to Nineveh, and he preached. It was an evangelist’s dream. The Ninevites did what the Israelites wouldn’t do. They heard the message, and they repented. All of them. From the king down to the beggars on the street. And the Lord saw. And He had mercy.

What did Jonah do? He got mad.

Jonah was given a second chance by God. God was gracious. Did Jonah return the favor? How soon he forgot the lesson God had taught him. How soon he forgot God’s grace. Do we ever fall into that same trap? We need to learn to use our second chances more wisely than Jonah.

Many people have a picture of God featuring Him with thunderbolt in hand, ready to destroy at a moment’s notice. The book of Jonah is full of hope and beauty, showing us that God is a God of love and grace. He is willing to forgive: a prophet, a nation, you, and me. The purpose of His judgment is correction, not revenge. Jonah didn’t want to share God’s message and hope with the Gentiles. But God wants all to come to Him.

“The blessings thus assured to Israel are, on the same conditions and in the same degree, assured to every nation and to every individual under the broad heavens.”* Romans 10:12, 13 assures us of the same thing. The gospel is for all, not just for a privileged few. No one is beyond His redemption.

As the book of Jonah ends, we next find Jonah sulking. Big surprise, right? He had told the Assyrians that they should repent because God was going to destroy them. Jonah waited for God to do what He said. Instead, the people listened and repented. Jonah was more worried about his reputation than God’s. He whined because of what the people would think when the promised wrath of God didn’t materialize.

How many times are we like Jonah? We care more about our reputation than God’s, so we don’t speak up for Him. It’s a question that we need to ask ourselves. God ministered to Jonah despite his defiance. What a compassionate God we serve.

God provided shade for Jonah in the form of a gourd plant. When a worm killed the plant, destroying the shade, Jonah cried about his beloved gourd. God wasn’t done teaching him a lesson. You see, God wanted Jonah to become a more mature believer. God doesn’t snap on hurting believers. He worked gently with Jonah.

The book of Jonah ends with a question. Not about the character of God, for we are shown throughout the book the patience, the grace, the love of our wonderful God.

God asks, “Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

I think God is challenging us today to ask the same question.

Shouldn’t we be willing to give up our precious gourds and care more about the people God puts in our paths? It shouldn’t take being swallowed up by a great fish for us to learn our lesson. Take it from Jonah, it wasn’t such a fun ride.

* Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1917), pp. 500, 501.

Kimberley Tagert-Paul writes from Muskegon, Michigan. She is a writer, and her latest book is Face Time: Bible Answers to Teens’ Toughest Questions.





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