The Maddest Prophet, The Saddest Prophet

Scripture Focus: Jonah 4.1-4, 9-11 
1 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 But the LORD replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” 

9 …“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” 
10 But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” 

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

In some ways, Jonah is the maddest prophet. He is madder than the angriest and most vitriolic of scripture’s prophets. However, his anger is directed at God because of God’s mercy. 

In some ways, Jonah is also the saddest prophet. He is sadder than even Jeremiah the weeping prophet. Unlike Jeremiah, Jonah is alone in his emotional trap of hate. He doesn’t experience any of the hope God has to offer, because the only hope he is interested in is the destruction of his enemies.

He doesn’t want a savior. He wants a weapon. God will not be made into a tool for us to destroy our enemies.

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
Resurrected

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 Morning Psalm
I will exalt you, O Lord, because you have lifted me up and have not let my enemies triumph over me.
O Lord my God, I cried out to you, and you restored me to health.
You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.
Sing to the Lord, you servants of his; give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.
For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, his favor for a lifetime. — Psalm 30.1-5
– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jonah 4 (Listen – 1:56)
Luke 9 (Listen – 8:05)

Thursday’s Readings
Micah 1 (Listen – 2:46)
Luke 10 (Listen – 5:40)

Read more about Too Much to Hold
Like Jonah sunk, beneath the earth
A dark and hopeless pit
Into that pit our savior slides
His mission: open it

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

To Wicked Kings, Foreign and Domestic

Scripture Focus: Jonah 3.6-10
6 When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: 
  “By the decree of the king and his nobles: 
  Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” 

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. 

Reflection: To Wicked Kings, Foreign and Domestic
By John Tillman

Jonah took God’s messages to wicked kings, foreign and domestic. 

Most people know that Jonah was sent to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. Few remember that Jonah also delivered a message regarding the wicked king of Israel, Jeroboam II.

Jeroboam II is described as “doing evil” and not “turning away” from sin, but despite his wickedness and lack of repentance, God still chose to use him to expand Israel’s borders. Despite Jeroboam’s unrepentant wickedness, Jonah delivered this good word to Jeroboam. (2 Kings 14.23-27)

Amaziah, who threatened Amos when he brought messages of judgment against Jeroboam, is not described as objecting to Jonah’s positive messages. Likewise, scripture does not note any objections from Jonah regarding delivering good news to his own national leaders. However, the entire narrative of the book of Jonah is driven by his desire to keep from sharing God’s message with the enemies of his nation. 

Nineveh was not just any wicked city, it was the capital of Assyria, the greatest existential political threat to Israel and a country actively oppressing and threatening Israel, even during the reign of an otherwise successful king such as Jeroboam II. Jonah was not unwise to fear them. They would eventually be the nation that destroyed Israel for her refusal to repent.

In the fish, Jonah pleaded for his own life and thanked God for hearing his repentance, but he wished for God to ignore the pleading and repentance of his enemies. Jonah intended to weaponize God’s wrath by withholding God’s offer of salvation through repentance. 

We, unlike Jonah, must hold out hope even to our enemies. We must call for repentance from all people. We can share God’s love with any political threat, whether a foreign nation or a fringe party within our own nation.

God used a fish to save Jonah from drowning in the depths of the sea. But because of Jonah’s unrepentant hatred for those God wished to save, God abandoned Jonah to bake in the desert sun, alone.

We must abandon Jonah’s sinful wish to weaponize God’s wrath. God will not be our tool of destruction. When this is all we want from him, he will remove even the shade of his comforting presence from us and we, like Jonah, will be left alone in the heat of the desert.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; let those who love your salvation say forever, “Great is the Lord!” — Psalm 70.4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jonah 3 (Listen – 1:31)
Luke 8 (Listen – 8:09)

Read more about The Sign of Jonah and The Cross
Jesus is, indeed, “greater than Jonah,” as he claims in Matthew 12.

Read more about In Amaziah’s Shoes
Put ourselves in Amaziah’s shoes. Amos is badmouthing the king who supports us. He’s …obviously on some errand from our political enemies.

From the Belly of the Beast

Scripture Focus: Jonah 2.7-9
“When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
“Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.

From John: In this week focused on thankfulness, many find themselves isolated from loved ones rather than gathered to give thanks for and with each other. When isolated, in the belly of one of the beasts of this world, may we turn to prayer and find it more powerful in the dark than it ever was in the light.

Reflection: From the Belly of the Beast
By John Tillman

Prayer and thankfulness seem natural around a table of friends and family. But prayer can be even more powerful in the dark places of our lives.

Origen, writing of prayer, speaks of Jonah’s faith that, even though swallowed, as it were, by death, he could be heard by God:

Jonah, because he did not despair of being heard from the belly of the monster that had swallowed him, was able to quit the monster’s belly and complete his interrupted prophet’s mission to the Ninevites. How many things could each of us recount should he choose to recall with gratitude the benefits conferred upon him and to offer praise to God for them!

Let him, moreover, who has learned by experience what manner of monster that which swallowed Jonah typified, if he should ever come to be in the belly of the monster, pray in penitence.

Analogies to the prophet aside, we may not be in the beast’s belly because of wrongdoing, but because our world is filled with beasts. But regardless of how we came to be there, our prayer may be sharpened, amplified, and have a greater effect on our hearts. Origen continues:

We know that often fugitives from God’s commands who have been swallowed by death, which at the first prevailed against them, have been saved by reason of repentance from so great an evil, because they did not despair of being able to be saved though already overpowered in the belly of death: for death prevailed and swallowed, and again God took away every tear from every face.

If you have not been there yet, sooner or later we all experience the belly of the beast—sinking in the darkest hole of our lives, in deepest, grave-like depression. In the belly of the beast and in the grip of death, we can, as Jonah did, find in prayer what we could not find with our feet on solid ground.

As Origen says, “Souls that have long been barren but have become conscious of their intellects’ sterility and the barrenness of their mind, through persevering prayer have conceived of the Holy Spirit and given birth to thoughts and words of salvation full of contemplated truth.”

May we find God’s love. May we find courage. May we find purpose. May we find God, waiting there for us. Ready to wipe our tears and carry us onward.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, my good above all other.” — Psalm 16.1

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jonah 2 (Listen – 1:20)
Luke 7 (Listen – 7:14)

Read more about Praise in the Midst of Trouble :: A Guided Prayer
A common note ringing from scripture is praise—most particularly praise from those in the midst of, and not yet rescued from trouble.

Read more about In a World of Trouble, Peace :: A Guided Prayer
There is much in our world for us to mourn, Lord. May we not neglect weeping in prayer.

Prayer from the Belly of the Beast

Jonah 2.7-9
“When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
“Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.

Reflection: Prayer from the Belly of the Beast
By John Tillman

Prayer and thankfulness seem natural around a table of friends and family. But prayer can be even more powerful in the dark places of our lives.

Origen, writing of prayer, speaks of Jonah’s faith that, even though swallowed, as it were, by death, he could be heard by God:

Jonah, because he did not despair of being heard from the belly of the monster that had swallowed him, was able to quit the monster’s belly and complete his interrupted prophet’s mission to the Ninevites. How many things could each of us recount should he choose to recall with gratitude the benefits conferred upon him and to offer praise to God for them!

Let him, moreover, who has learned by experience what manner of monster that which swallowed Jonah typified, if he should ever come to be in the belly of the monster, pray in penitence.

Analogies to the prophet aside, we may not be in the beast’s belly because of wrongdoing, but because our world is filled with beasts. But regardless of how we came to be there, our prayer may be sharpened, amplified, and have greater effect on our hearts. Origen continues:

We know that often fugitives from God’s commands who have been swallowed by death, which at the first prevailed against them, have been saved by reason of repentance from so great an evil, because they did not despair of being able to be saved though already overpowered in the belly of death: for death prevailed and swallowed, and again God took away every tear from every face.

If you have not been there yet, sooner or later we all experience the belly of the beast—sinking in the darkest hole of our lives, in deepest, grave-like depression. In the belly of the beast and in the grip of death, we can, as Jonah did, find in prayer what we could not find with our feet on solid ground.

As Origen says, “Souls that have long been barren but have become conscious of their intellects’ sterility and the barrenness of their mind, through persevering prayer have conceived of the Holy Spirit and given birth to thoughts and words of salvation full of contemplated truth.”

May we find God’s love. May we find courage. May we find purpose. May we find God, waiting there for us. Ready to wipe our tears and carry us onward.

Prayer: Request for Presence
I have said to the Lord, “You are my God;” listen, O Lord, to my supplication  — Psalm 97:9

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Jonah 2 (Listen – 1:20)
Luke 7 (Listen – 7:14)

This Weekend’s Readings
Jonah 3 (Listen – 1:31) Luke 8 (Listen – 8:09)
Jonah 4 (Listen – 1:56) Luke 9 (Listen – 8:05)

Additional Reading
Read More about Praise in the Midst of Trouble :: A Guided Prayer
A common note ringing from scripture is praise—most particularly praise from those in the midst of, and not yet rescued from trouble.

Read More about about Prayer for Those who Suffer
Bonhoeffer, who suffered for years in Nazi prisons, is both comforted and sobered by this reality: “Only God can help. But then, all our questions must also again and again storm directly against God.”

Support our Work
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Beyond Selfish Thankfulness

Jonah 1.1-3
The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

Reflection: Beyond Selfish Thankfulness
By John Tillman

On a day of Thanksgiving we take a brief look at a selfish prophet—Jonah.

Jonah was a prophet of national status. Second Kings tells us that Jonah prophesied that God would restore Israel’s borders through Jeroboam II, Israel’s longest reigning and most outwardly successful king. However, Jeroboam II was an evil king who maintained the evil practices of the kings before him, and the Bible is clear that God saved Israel at this time for the sake of his name and because of the suffering of the people, and not due to Jeroboam’s repentance, leadership, or greatness.

Jonah was likely thankful for God’s mercy on his own country and people, despite their evil leadership. But then, Jonah is called to prophesy to another evil nation. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire that had been threatening and oppressing the northern kingdom of Israel for years.

And Jonah ran. He ran not to avoid God’s punishment for his sins, but to avoid being the instrument of God’s mercy for others’ sins. Jonah thought he could selfishly carry God’s mercy away.

A God who does not treat us as we deserve is also a God who often does not treat our enemies as we might feel they deserve. It is hard to be thankful for God’s mercy to others. We’d more often, like Jonah, set up a watch party to view their destruction.

Jonah’s only moment of thankfulness is one of selfishness. He is thankful for the plant that shades him from the burning sun. But he is scornful of God’s mercy that shaded Nineveh from God’s burning anger.

We too often, like Jonah, feel responsible that those who have wronged us should not “get away with it.” But in God’s timing, nothing goes unpunished. Assyria eventually suffered all the destruction and punishment their evil practices deserved. But in this moment, mercy was offered, and mercy was accepted. And Jonah had to learn to be thankful for it.

It is wonderful to have a national holiday focused on thankfulness. But we need to go a step further than our culture, a step further than Jonah, to go beyond being selfishly thankful.

May we be selflessly thankful for the mercy that God may choose to display even to those who we deem unworthy.
May we be thankful to be agents of forgiveness to those who do not know their right hand from their left.

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, and kneel before the Lord our Maker. For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.  — Psalm 95:6-7

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Jonah 1 (Listen – 2:29)
Luke 6 (Listen – 6:46)

Additional Reading
Read More about Resisting in Faith
Daniel embraces civility and service to his enemies. Daniel embraced civility even when he was under the direct threat of death.

Read More about Face Like Flint :: A Guided Prayer
In what ways are we willing to accept victory with Christ but not suffering? Where do we reach for our swords, when Christ calls out, “No more of this!”…and heals the one we would attack? Are we willing to heal our enemies?

Support our Work
Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.

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