BY STEPHANIE QUICK (@QUICKLIKESAND)


The earliest information God verbally gave a breathing human about the cosmic orchestration that is the Everlasting Covenant contained three provisions to the man who heard it: seed, land and blessing. The first two were covenantally committed exclusively to his biologically-born children and grandchildren through an elected lineage; the third was given to the world through and due to that ethnically-specific, covenantally peculiar lineage. “Through you, all nations of the earth shall be blessed.”[1] From the very beginning, God has had deliberate, international intentions with the Everlasting Covenant. It was always meant to be promised to Abraham. He and his family were always meant to be the conduit of the Messiah. Jesus was always planning on serving the world through the servant nation He’d ordained. Yet, as any child born first in a family full of siblings can attest, learning to share your toys is a painful experience.

Enter Jonah.

Flannel graph familiarity may rob us of the humanness of Jonah’s story. The Lord didn’t include it in Scripture so we could all read it and know what kind of brat Jonah was—love doesn’t unnecessarily expose our stupid.[2] The Lord included it in Scripture so we would all know how patient He is with us muddy little brats because, well, love is patient.[3] While it might sound far-fetched, it isn’t entirely impossible to stumble across a whale in the Mediterranean, and Scripture makes clear, the jealous heart of a jealous God stops at nothing to get the attention of His (albeit sometimes bratty) beloved.[4]

Jonah’s week or so spent fleeing the presence of the Omnipresent, surviving Moby Dick’s lunchtime and walking into modern-day Mosul (Nineveh) didn’t end neatly wrapped with a tidy bow. After Jonah threw a fit, jeopardized the safety of the people manning the ship he tried to sail away on, he (reluctantly) repented and obeyed, delivered the message…and then threw another fit. Still, the Ninevites repented, which was nothing short of mercifully miraculous—making two-for-two: Jonah didn’t die in the Sea, and the Ninevites didn’t get smited for their sin. 

Yet this prophet resented the mercy extended to the Ninevites. Think of Nineveh’s modern-day context, having been recently torn apart under an oppressive ISIS quasi-caliphate-that-wasn’t.[5] How would we react if revival fell upon these bloodthirsty men with knives stained by victims they’ve beheaded? Jonah’s entitlement complex led him to white-knuckle the provisions of the Everlasting Covenant given to him by the merciful means of His merciful Maker, who gently confronted him twice with a simple question: “Do you have a right to be angry about this?”[6]

Jonah’s temperament in the face of a sovereign confrontation was extraordinary; impressive, even. It was also unreasonably bratty. The first time the Lord asked him this question, he stormed off to build himself a little shelter to give him shade while he watched the world end. Then the Lord gave him a better shade.[7] “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away,”[8] and so went Jonah’s better shade. So the question came a second time and this audacious kid said, “Why yes it’s right for me to be angry about this till the day I die!”[9]

We can all relate. (Or just me?) In the broader, macro-sense of the Everlasting Covenant, Jonah was being stingy with something that was never his to white-knuckle. It was always meant to bless the nations, and he betrayed his lack of communion with the Covenant Keeper by defaulting to seeking his own gain. He was nothing like the Lord he sought to exploit for his own benefit. But we were all kids once, and we’ve all had to grow out of our Santa Claus Theology.

Two millennia removed from the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70, wherein the growing Gentile-majority in the Church saw what they perceived to be a divine endorsement of their idea that God had finally and fully rejected His wayward firstborn (that feisty Jacob and bratty Jonah), we still have much to learn. Despite Paul’s earnest warnings,[10] early Gentile believers moved in favor of a distorted theology of the “one new man” that had less to do with the covenantal commonwealth and more to do with the second-born having a turn with our older brother’s shiny toy, and we carry it still.[11] Yet as the younger kids in the family, many of whom have more Ninevite blood in our veins than otherwise, we would do well to watch our brother Jonah and learn from his errors and misrepresentation of the name of the God he prophetically declared. While Israel is hardened, the witness is ours to preserve and maintain until he steps into the fullness of his irrevocable calling.[12]

Forget whatever the Sunday School flannel graphs taught you about Jonah. Forget the fish-slapping narrative Veggie Tales so valiantly taught our grade-school consciences about repentance. Jonah’s four chapters included in the canon tell us this: God will go to great lengths to expose the thing in us that despises how He decides to operate. At our core, we’re offended by mercy. We may well sing about it on Sunday mornings or when we’re jamming out to the latest worship album in our earbuds, but it offends everything that took root in man as early as Genesis three. We cannot escape that offense without letting the crossbeams of Calvary smack us upside the head like some holy two-by-four. 

In these days of Israeli-Palestinian and Zionist/Anti-Zionist conflict, contention and confusion, we must remember that as we celebrate the international provisions of the Everlasting Covenant—and celebrate we should—we cannot white-knuckle one provision while scorning another and then sing something beautiful about mercy with the same lips that curse the choosing and election of God, who still upholds the first two provisions of the same covenant that He made and very much intends to keep. It was always meant to bless the nations. It was also always meant to very specifically bless Israel, which is the only hope the rest of us dry, weary lands have of receiving any water from the well—and that thing in us that gets squirrely when we hear the “E” word, that God sits in the heavens and does as He pleases?[13] This whole orchestration targets that offense by design. Election is meant to rub us the wrong way because He intends to confront the things in us that confront the things in Him. 

It is to our benefit that He has built the outworking of redemption the way He has; it is in every Palestinian’s best interest that the God of Israel would put the Son of David on the holy hill of Zion. It is to our benefit that He is patient through our tantrums and so willingly sees us through our stupid, even building for us a better shade as He did for Jonah. We will all reckon with His mercy; better to “fall upon the rock” before it falls upon us.[14]

 

 

________________________

 

[1]  Genesis 12:3
[2]  I Peter 4:8; I John 4:8
[3]  I Corinthians 13:4-6
[4]  Proverbs 6:34; Song of Solomon 8:6; Isaiah 54:5
Fahmy, A. (2016). Whale sighting in North Coast could point to larger environmental problems. Daily News Egypt. Retrieved from http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2016/07/10/whale-sighting-in-north-coast-could-point-to-larger-environmental-problems/.
[5]  See Jonah 1:2. The biblical Nineveh is modern-day Mosul, Iraq.
[6]  Jonah 4:4
[7]  Jonah 4:5-6
[8]  Job 1:21
[9]  Jonah 4:9
[10] Romans 11:25
[11]  Ephesians 2:15
[12]  Romans 11:29
[13]  Psalm 115:3; 135:6
[14]  Matthew 21:44; Luke 20:18

2 Comments