The Maddest Prophet, The Saddest Prophet

Scripture Focus: Jonah 3.10
10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. 

Jonah 4.1
1 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry.

Reflection: The Maddest Prophet, The Saddest Prophet
By John Tillman

Imagine a Ukrainian prophet commanded to take a message of mercy to Moscow and you might have an inkling of what Jonah felt like being told to preach to Nineveh. It’s no wonder he was angry.

In some ways, Jonah is the maddest and saddest prophet. He is madder than the most vitriolic of scripture’s prophets and sadder than even Jeremiah the weeping prophet.

Jonah doesn’t want a savior. He wants a weapon. But God won’t allow himself to be weaponized.

The Maddest, Saddest Prophet
God’s word, Jonah didn’t care for
The people he hated, therefore
He started out with a detour
Down the road to the seashore
Sailors didn’t know they were in for
Finding what God had in store
He had mercy.

In the storm, Jonah’s waking
To a mess of his making
On a flight of his taking
In a ship that was shaking
Sailors’ knees they were quaking
Very soon they’d be sinking
They were desperate.

Jonah’s crimes he confessed
Sailors reacted, distressed
To save him they do their best
Nautical skill and finesse
But couldn’t escape unless…
Jonah’s God they addressed,
“Please forgive us.”

They toss him in. Jonah’s sinking
Gulped down by a fish, stinking
Of God’s temple, he’s thinking
God’s mission he is accepting
Rebellion he is rejecting
Out of the depths, he is getting

He sets out upon his trek
His obedience is correct
The message he won’t neglect
But doesn’t want its effect
to blossom. He wants a wreck.
God’s love he doesn’t respect
He is bitter.

He should have railed against sin
For Nineveh’s violence to end
But he knew God might give in
If repentance were to begin
He thought mercy might kick in
He thought God’s love was a sin
He was angry

It didn’t sit right with him
Forgiveness was just for him
Not for the Assyrians
That’s why he sailed on the wind
He thought God’s purpose to bend
Hoped they would die in their sin
He was vengeful.

He hates that wrath was undone
He longed to see destruction
He didn’t want grace to come
He’s mad that God’s will is done
God leaves him there in the sun
He doesn’t get a “well done”
He is alone.

May we promote repentance
Rather than long for vengeance
May we be love and joy-filled
Not revengeful and rage-filled
May we reshape our preference
Increasing love and acceptance.
For the gospel

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the whole earth. — Psalm 96.1

Today’s Readings
Jonah 3 (Listen – 1:31)
John 15 (Listen – 3:20)

This Weekend’s Readings
Jonah 4 (Listen – 1:56)John 16 (Listen – 4:14)
Micah 1 (Listen – 2:46)John 17 (Listen – 3:40)

Read more about Abandon Human Vengeance
Vengeance breeds hatred, and hatred fuels vengeance. This pattern is not new, but it is accelerating.

Read more about When God Has Mercy…Will We?
Do we desire mercy for ourselves but not our enemies?…our leaders, our tribe, our institutions but not those who oppose us?

Who Tells Your Story?

Scripture Focus: Jonah 2.1
From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. 2 He said: 
“In my distress I called to the Lord, 
and he answered me. 
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, 
and you listened to my cry. 

“You have no control. Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?” — Hamilton, by Lin Manuel Miranda

Reflection: Who Tells Your Story?
By John Tillman

We’ve been pretty hard on Jonah in most of our writing. How could we not?

He gave a pass to Israelite corruption but condemned Nineveh. He thought God was wrong to be merciful to his enemies and was so mad about it he wanted to die. His prayer from the belly of the beast (from today’s reading) is beautiful, but even that was mostly self-focused. After his miraculous escape from the fish (and perhaps resurrection), he obeyed only the letter of God’s command. He hoped the message of repentance would fail. His heart longed for destruction rather than mercy.

Many scholars believe another scribe or chronicler wrote this book, perhaps using Jonah’s own accounts as a source and quoting Jonah’s prayer. However, early Jewish and Christian scholarship maintained that Jonah was the author.

What if this unflattering account of Jonah was written by him as an act of repentance?

Jonah is the only account in scripture in which the “title character” could be considered the villain. If it is written by Jonah, it is a remarkable work of confession. The text does very little to build sympathy for Jonah’s actions. Information could have been included about how wicked and evil Ninevah was, however, Jonah gives us none of that. If you researched the brutality of the Assyrians you might sympathize with Jonah, but the text itself makes no plea to nuance.

Lessons from Jonah go beyond “obey God” or “love all people.”

Academically, I lean toward the text being compiled/written by someone else but artistically and emotionally I hopefully believe that Jonah wrote it in contrition. Jonah is a great prophet to study in our age of outrage. We want people to see the nuance in our position and justify all of our worst takes and actions.

But what if someone unsympathetic told our story? What if we told our story with brutal, unflattering honesty? What if we dropped every attempt to justify our sins or dark motivations? Our story might sound a lot like Jonah’s.

However, Jesus writes us a new story filled with his righteousness instead of our sinfulness. Our story becomes Jesus’ story and his becomes ours. We can afford to be unsympathetically honest about our sins because Jesus is the anti-Jonah, giving his life in exchange for his enemies and considering such suffering “joy.” (Hebrews 12.1)

Confess your story. Then let Jesus tell his version of it.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Your testimonies are very sure, and holiness adorns your house, O Lord, forever and forevermore. — Psalm 93.6

Today’s Readings
Jonah 2 (Listen – 1:20)
John 14 (Listen – 4:13)

Read more about Confession as a Crucible
May the flames of suffering that some may think will destroy us be used by your Holy Spirit to purify and strengthen us.

Read more about From the Belly of the Beast
When in the belly of one of the beasts of this world, may we turn to prayer…more powerful in the dark than it ever was in the light.

Waves of Mercy

Scripture Focus: Jonah 1.4-6
4 Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”

Matthew 8.24-26
24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

Reflection: Waves of Mercy
By Erin Newton

Jonah is the story of the “scandal of God’s mercy” (William Brown). As a prophet during the reign of Jeroboam II, Jonah was sent to Nineveh to preach repentance. The Assyrian kingdom was notorious for their warfare and ruthless tactics. Ancient depictions from statues and reliefs show actions that would be considered war crimes today. It is no wonder Jonah wished for their judgment rather than their repentance.

On his path to avoid bringing peace to his enemy, Jonah finds himself aboard a ship tossed about by the chaotic sea. Turbulent waters are referenced on a number of occasions to highlight the presence of unrestrained chaos, threatening uncertainty, and the frailty of humanity. God let loose the waves around Jonah’s boat and the people were terrified. Jonah is fast asleep, oblivious to the threats and pleas of the crew around him. When he is woken up, they beg him to join in praying to any deity who will save them from their peril.

The mercy of God is shown in the calming of the storm once Jonah is thrown into the sea. The prophet, a unique chosen person by God, should have been the blessed recipient of God’s grace. Instead, he is swallowed by a fish entering into days of darkness (perhaps even death). The sailors, on the other hand, experience the immediate relief of chaos.

Another man was found sleeping in a boat during a violent storm at sea. When Jesus’ disciples were filled with terror at the possibility of their boat capsizing and drowning at sea, they made similar pleas as we see in Jonah 1. With a word, the waves are restrained and the waters are stilled. Jesus is not thrown overboard but would soon enter into days of darkness and death. This “sign of Jonah” would bring salvation to the enemies of God.

While the book of Jonah highlights the reluctance of a prophet to bring good news to a people he considered unworthy, the larger message is the scope of God’s mercy. It is a story about how we all wish to see vengeance and justice in our time. Yet, if we read the story with eyes focused only on humanity, we miss the far more important truth about God. He loves those we find repulsive. Those we label “unfit” for mercy are the exact people he calms the sea to save.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The Lord is near to those who call upon him, to all who call upon him faithfully. — Psalm 145.19

Today’s Readings
Jonah 1 (Listen – 2:29)
John 13 (Listen – 5:06)

Read more about The Sign of Jonah and The Cross
Jonah’s emotional path is like a photo negative of Christ’s.

Read more about Prayer for Older Brothers
God, your mercy is a mystery to me.
I see the sins of others and I am scandalized.
How could such a one be accepted?

Lesson of Edom

Scripture Focus: Obadiah 12, 15-17
12 You should not gloat over your brother 
in the day of his misfortune, 
nor rejoice over the people of Judah 
in the day of their destruction, 
nor boast so much 
in the day of their trouble.

15 “The day of the Lord is near 
for all nations. 
As you have done, it will be done to you; 
your deeds will return upon your own head. 
16 Just as you drank on my holy hill, 
so all the nations will drink continually; 
they will drink and drink 
and be as if they had never been. 
17 But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; 
it will be holy, 
and Jacob will possess his inheritance. 

Reflection: Lesson of Edom
By John Tillman

Obadiah has a tightly focused vision. Don’t gloat or take pleasure at the downfall of others, especially your brothers and sisters.

Yesterday we referred to leaders, churches, and organizations that have been destroyed by revelations of misconduct and sin. As we said yesterday, “When sin is revealed and an organization crumbles, it was God who struck the blow, not an enemy.” 

Even though churches may be damaged, this destruction is not caused by “enemies of the church.” Those who reveal wrongdoing are cooperating with God. However, when we witness this we should be humbled not prideful. We should be mournful and mindful of our own vulnerabilities, not smug and boastful of our infallibility.

I have seen examples of this in my faith tradition. When the Catholic Church was rocked with sex abuse scandals in the early 2000s many prominent Southern Baptists took it as an opportunity to put Catholicism on blast. They blamed celibacy, episcopal polity, and Catholic theology. They took victory laps on Twitter and in think pieces that pridefully postured their “superior” polity and ecclesiology as bulwarks against abuse.

As the revelations continue to roll in about sexual abuse in the SBC, it is clear that SBC polity, theology, and leadership were unable or unwilling to prevent abuse or protect the organization or the victims of abuse. The same practices and worse were occurring in our own house, even while we threw stones at our Catholic brethren. We didn’t learn from the Edomites.

What is the purpose of this comparison to Edom? 

We must look inward to examine the hearts of ourselves, our leaders, and our organizations. Just as there are some who wrongly label those who expose the truth about corruption as enemies, there are some who seem to take pleasure in the carnage of organizations stricken by scandal.

It is not that we shouldn’t celebrate justice but we must temper our jubilance with the knowledge that we are equally vulnerable and prone to sin.

The point of Obidiah’s vision is that there is no corner of creation, no kingdom, no people over whom God does not hold authority. God intends to purify individuals, churches, and kingdoms through whatever means required. Where there is sin, he will expose it. Where there are victims he will be on the side of justice. May we stand with him.

Further Reading: Dr. Russell Moore, writing in 2019, “Southern Baptists Face Their #MeToo Moment”

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus said: “In all truth I tell you, whoever welcomes the one I send, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me.” — John 13.20

Today’s Readings
Obadiah 1 (Listen – 3:28)
John 12 (Listen – 6:26)

Read more about No Princes
Unable to separate their faith from the identity of the leader, they abandon faith.

Read more about Honoring The Truth
Seeking the truth is not only a spiritual quest. It is sometimes a civic one. Or a legal one.

When God Shakes Our Foundation

Scripture Focus: Amos 9.1a, 11-13
1 I saw the Lord standing by the altar, and he said: 
“Strike the tops of the pillars 
so that the thresholds shake. 
Bring them down on the heads of all the people; 

11 “In that day 
“I will restore David’s fallen shelter— 
I will repair its broken walls 
and restore its ruins— 
and will rebuild it as it used to be, 
12 so that they may possess the remnant of Edom 
and all the nations that bear my name,” 
declares the Lord, who will do these things. 
13 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, 
“when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman 
and the planter by the one treading grapes. 
New wine will drip from the mountains 
and flow from all the hills, 

Reflection: When God Shakes Our Foundation
By John Tillman

Amos describes God standing by the altar and striking the pillars to bring the structure down on the people. This image is reminiscent of Samson’s destruction of the temple of Dagon. (Judges 16.23-30) Why would God treat his own Temple like Samson treated the temple of Dagon?

The people worshiped other idols alongside God, even placing images of these idols in God’s Temple. In doing so, they made him equal to those idols. To God, the elaborate temples, in Samaria and Jerusalem, had become little more than tents of wickedness.

The people reduced God to an idol so, in Amos’s vision, God reduces the Temple to rubble which falls and crushes the people. In fulfillment of this vision the Assyrians and Babylonians would crush both nations and both temples would be burned, torn down, and reduced to rubble.

God brings judgment beyond his people as well. Amos describes God going to the ends of the earth (and below it and above it and to the depths of the sea) to bring vengeance to the wicked. (Amos 9.2-4)

God is determined to renovate this world, starting with his church and his people. And renovation always starts with demolition. When leaders, churches, and organizations fall after revelations of misconduct and sin some have a tendency to blame “enemies of the church.” This is unbiblical. It is God, not Satan, who works to destroy corruption in the church. When sin is revealed and an organization crumbles, it was God who struck the blow, not an enemy.

It should not surprise us to see the foundations of our churches shaken when wickedness has been covered up. It should not dismay us to see God scatter and humiliate abusive shepherds and corrupt kings. God is doing this, not an enemy. God is striking our pillars. God’s church is renewed by the removal of corrupt leaders.

What idols have we set beside God in the temples of our hearts and in our houses of worship? 

There is no hiding from God’s judgment. (Revelation 6.16) There is also no hiding from God’s mercy. Amos ends with a picture of restoration. God repairs “David’s tent” which refers to the destroyed Temple. He can and will repair us.

God seeks us as individuals and as his church, longing to heal us if we will let him. The razed can be rebuilt. The ruined can be restored. The uprooted can be replanted.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus said to us: “…Everything now covered up will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear. What I say in the dark, tell in the daylight; what you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops.” — Matthew 10.26-27

Today’s Readings
Amos 9 (Listen – 3:08)
John 11 (Listen – 6:37)

Read more about One Worth Rejoicing In
We have seen many leaders in the mold of Asa…They win early, joyful victories…but eventually are exposed as corrupt, cynical, immoral, or power-obsessed.

Read more about Misleading the Least
Jesus has a stark warning for leaders and influencers who cause “little ones” to stumble…one of the most graphic pictures of punishment to cross the lips of Jesus.