Reader: “God saw what they had done.”
Response: “He changed his mind.”
Scripture: Jonah 3:10-4:11
When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.
This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.”
The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”
Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see what would happen to the city. And the Lord God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.
But God also arranged for a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant so that it withered away. And as the sun grew hot, God arranged for a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. “Death is certainly better than living like this!” he exclaimed.
Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”
“Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!”
Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But 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?”
Reader: The word of the Lord
Response: Thanks be to God.
One of the central themes of the Lenten season is that of repentance; actually it should be a central theme of the Christian life! You have just read a familiar passage, with three characters: the narrator, God, and the beleaguered prophet Jonah. God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach repentance. To Jonah’s great disappointment, the people listened to his message and repented en masse . . . including animals! There are several interesting questions here: Shouldn’t Jonah have been pleased that the people repented? Do animals “live in spiritual darkness”? What’s the point of the withering plant? Why did Jonah so resist his mission from God? The question I want to reflect on is in the very first verse we read, “When God saw what they had done . . . he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.” Does an omnipotent God change his mind? And what are the ramifications? What does that say about God?
The answer to this first question is clearly “yes.” You just read it. One of the principles of Scripture in dealing with a question like this is, are there any other similar situations in other parts of the Bible. Think of Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments and the Israelites worshiping the golden calf. God told Moses he would wipe out Israel and start over with Moses himself and rebuild the nation. Moses prayed on behalf of the people and God changed his mind. The Hebrew expression, nihem ‘al, is “to regret, to change one’s mind.” In these passages in both Exodus and Jonah, it is a case of changing the mind from negative to positive. Though more complex than we have space for here, we need to avoid extremes. The expression does not mean God is out of control nor that he is surprised by what happens. We must likewise not assume the two instances we cited are merely hypothetical. While God is sovereign above all and immutable in his character, omniscient, and unchanging, he is likewise dynamic and relational and loves his people with great passion. According to Scripture as evidenced in these situations, when people repent and turn from their wicked ways, God changes his response. What does that say to us? Earnest, fervent prayer moves the heart of God when people pray for those threatened with judgment. Pray for repentance throughout the land.
(Indebted to Daniel Block’s book “For the Glory of God” p.200-203 for some of the observations for today.)
Music: ““Hear My Prayer O Lord” Purcell Voces8 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74Q33UL7ugc
O our God, hear your servant’s prayer! Listen as I plead. For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your desolate world. O my God, lean down and listen to me. Open your eyes and see our despair. See how your world—the creation that you made—lies in ruins. We make this plea, not because we deserve help, but because of your mercy. O Lord, hear. O Lord, forgive. O Lord, listen and act! For your own sake, do not delay, O my God, for your people and your whole created order, forgive our determined rebellion and repeated rejection of you. We have greatly sinned and repent of our evil ways. We have not loved as we ought; we have not valued babies waiting to be born; we have failed to care for the poor as we should; we have twisted the clear truth of your word to satisfy our own bent desires. We have become arrogant. O Lord, hear, O Lord forgive. This we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. ―adapted from Daniel 9. Daniel Sharp