Exodus 31, Proverbs 7, Psalm 79

Read Exodus 31, Proverbs 7, and Psalm 79.

This devotional is about Exodus 31.

At times in my life I have heard people make negative comparisons between “secular” work and the work of the ministry. For example, one successful businessman said he’s just “building a bonfire” because 1 Corinthians 3 talks about a man’s work being either “gold, silver, and precious stones or wood, hay or straw.” Then the passage goes on to say that the Lord will test each man’s work by fire, so the “wood, hay or straw” will be burned up.

I don’t think he was interpreting that passage correctly but his interpretation was that saving souls, teaching the Word, and building up Christians was work that would last for eternity while everything else would just burn up.

The previous chapters in Exodus described the tabernacle and all the furniture and tools that the priests would need to minister before the Lord. Here in Exodus 31:1-5 we read, “Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.” This man Bezalel was a godly man; he was filled with God’s spirit, wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. But he had other gifts, too, ones that are not usually connected to godliness. Those gifts were “skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.” Where did he get these skills? They were gifts of God which probably means that he had some natural ability in these areas. Where were these gifts honed? Making bricks and tools and other stuff as a slave in Egypt. For the first time in his life, this godly man had the opportunity to use his “secular” gifts for the Lord’s work. But was this the first time in his life when his work mattered?

No.

Read that again: No.

This was not the first time in his life that his work mattered. The rest of his work life was not “building a bonfire” at all. The same is true for you, no matter how you earn your living. The work you do as a Christian matters whether or not it is done in secular or sacred contexts. Here are some reasons why:

  1. God created us to work and to make skillful and practical use of this earth an the resources in it. In Genesis 1:28 God commanded Adam and Eve to “…fill the earth and subdue it.” In Genesis 2, before Eve was even created, verse 15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Working the garden and taking care of it was God’s will for Adam. The curse on Adam when he sinned was not that he would have to work but that his work would be hard (Gen 3:17-19). When you do work that makes good use of God’s creation, you are doing the will of God. That work matters.
  2. Doing “secular” work develops skills that can be used in “sacred” contexts. That’s what’s happened to Bezalel. If you’ve ever used anything you’ve learned in your profession to help our church or some other ministry, you’ve been used by God to serve him. That work matters.
  3. Doing “secular” work gives you the opportunity to develop godliness in your life. Working in a frustrating world (because of the curse of Gen 3) and with frustrating people gives a believer the opportunity to develop the fruit of the Spirit. It can teach you to love the unlovely, have joy when things fail or disappoint you, be at peace when there is turmoil around you and so on. Note that in our text, Exodus 31:3, God described Bezalel as a godly man. He was “filled with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge.” That godliness was cultivated as a slave in Egypt, using his skills to serve godless men. It was hardly a waste of time, then, given the difference it made in his life.
  4. Doing “secular” work pays you which supports your family and, through giving, it supports God’s work financially.

I put the word “secular” in quotes throughout this devotional for a reason. I don’t really think there is a true distinction between “secular” and “sacred” work. Please do not consider your work futile and unimportant. It doesn’t matter if you are a stay-at-home parent, a CEO, an assembly line worker, a brain scientist, or a pastor. What matters is that you are faithful to do what God calls you to do and to cultivate Christlikeness as you do it.

Exodus 19, Job 37, Psalm 67

Read Exodus 19, Job 37, and Psalm 67.

This devotional is about Exodus 19 and Psalm 67.

The Old Testament is largely about Israel and God’s relationship with her. From the call of Abraham onward, God promised blessings to Israel and called the people of that nation to believe in him and obey his commands. God’s promises and commands to Israel were not for Israel alone, however. God’s plan was to work THROUGH Israel to reach people all over the world with the knowledge of him.

Even here in Exodus 19, where God revealed his power and holiness in a dramatic way, he also emphasized the global impact that Israel’s faith was supposed to have. When God said in verse 6, “you will be for me a kingdom of priests” this is what he was talking about. Priests stand between God and humanity. They teach God’s word to his people and they make atonement for their sins.

But Israel was to be an entire kingdom of priests. Why? So that they could mediate to the whole world God’s love and God’s truth.

This theme is also described in Psalm 67 which we read today. Notice:

  • “so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations (v. 2)
  • “May the nations be glad and sing for joy” (v. 4)
  • “May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you” (v 5)
  • “May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him (v. 7).

Ultimately, these promises came to fulfillment in Christ. Israel could never trust and obey the Lord enough to fulfill these promises apart from Christ. But, by God’s grace, Jesus came into the world through the nation of Israel and now he is calling people all over the world to the faith in him that Israel never had. These promises will eventually be fulfilled when Jesus establishes his earthly kingdom. Until then, however, we are here to be part of calling the world to faith in him. This is why we send and support missionaries; it is also why we are called to make disciples ourselves, baptizing and teaching them to observe the commands of Jesus (Matt 28:20).

Are you giving to support the work of the gospel through world missions–either our missionaries or others? Are you looking for ways to begin conversations about Jesus with others?

Exodus 7, Job 24, Psalm 55

Read Exodus 7, Jobs 24, and Psalm 55.

This devotional is about Exodus 7.

In verse 3, God said, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart.”

In verses 13 and 22 the Bible says, “Pharaoh’s heart became hard.”

Only spiritual stubbornness would allow a man to see God’s miraculous works over and over again without believing his messengers and letting his people go. In verse 5 God said that “the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.” It is amazing, isn’t it, that they didn’t know that he is the Lord long before that. The staff-to-snake miracle (vv. 8-12) and the Nile-to-blood miracle (vv. 14-22) seem to me like very convincing proofs. Yet Pharaoh would not let God’s people go. Why? Because God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (v. 3) and because his heart became hard(er) (vv. 13, 23).

When God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart, he did not “create fresh evil” (as one of my seminary professors used to say) in Pharaoh’s heart. Instead, he allowed Pharaoh to deny the implications of what he had seen and refuse to believe that God’s hand was behind these miracles. We see that in verse 14: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh’s heart is unyielding; he refuses to let the people go.’” The word “unyielding” helps us understand what was happening in Pharaoh’s heart in this chapter. God was showing him many convincing proofs but he would not yield to those proofs by admitting that YHWH was real and more powerful than he was. So when God “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart, he allowed Pharaoh to choose unbelief. Instead of sending the convicting power of the Spirit to soften Pharaoh’s heart, God allowed Pharaoh to respond to these miracles however Pharaoh wanted to respond to them. And, the way that sinners want to respond to God’s work is with unbelief.

This is why unbelievers can reject Jesus Christ even though they see God answer prayer or admit that they believe in life after death or realize that they have no explanation for the existence of sin. Without the convicting power of the Spirit, nobody would ever believe God and submit to his Lordship.

This is why we have no right to be proud about our faith. Your faith in Jesus is not the result of some clever insight you had to believe the gospel; it is the result of God’s gracious work in your heart by his Spirit, softening your heart to respond in faith to the gospel.

It is also why you and I must pray for God to work in the hearts of unbelievers when we sow the seeds of the gospel. Unless God softens the heart, the ears that hear his word will reject it.

Are you thankful for God’s grace that softened your heart to trust in Jesus? Are you praying for his work in the hearts of others around you so that they, too, will recieve the gospel message?

Exodus 4, Job 21, Psalm 52

Read Exodus 4, Job 21, and Psalm 52.

This devotional is about Exodus 4.

Moses made every excuse he could think of for not obeying God and God answered every one of them. God’s answers were gracious, too, promising his presence with Moses always and giving him some incredible miracles to authenticate his claim that God had sent him.

When every objection was answered and everything Moses needed for success had been promised or provided, Moses finally spat out these words, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else” (v. 13). In other words, Moses just did not want to do it. Every reason he gave God was an excuse; not one of them was a legitimate reason why Moses couldn’t do what he was commanded to do.

God’s response was anger: “Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses…” (v. 14). His anger was not that Moses was reluctant or afraid; his anger was over Moses’s stubborn unbelief and disobedience. What God called Moses to do was difficult. It would be scary and unpleasant so it is not really surprising that Moses didn’t want to do it.

But, with God, everything Moses was supposed to do would succeed. In the process of obeying the Lord, Moses would see the Lord and know him like nobody else who has ever lived. The work would be hard on Moses but the results would be more than worth it.

We often respond the same way to the Lord, don’t we? We hear his command to make disciples and his promise that he would be with us to the very end of the age, yet we don’t speak up when opportunities arise. We don’t even want to invite someone to church. One reason your spiritual life may be stagnating is that you are making excuses and hoping that God will just send someone else.

God eventually persuaded Moses to follow him and, if you and I are genuine Christians, he’ll get to us as well. Instead of resisting the Lord’s will in areas where we don’t want to change, let’s learn from Moses by believing God’s promises and acting obediently now rather than later.

Like Moses would learn later, the challenges of discipleship also provide us with greater opportunities to know God and see him work directly through our lives. Isn’t that better than leading sheep out in the desert?

2 Chronicles 22-23 and Revelation 14

Read 2 Chronicles 22-23 and Revelation 14.

This devotional is about Revelation 14.

The Tribulation time described in these chapters is horrible, obviously. God’s wrath on the earth and its inhabitants and the persecutions of God’s people through Satan through his agents will make life on earth troublesome and painful for everyone.

Although false worship will become widespread, there are still threads of grace throughout this bleak time. One example is the 144,000 who were honored here in verses 1-5. They were “redeemed from the earth” (v. 3b), an expression of God’s saving grace to them.

But in verses 6-7 of today’s reading we were told that an angel “had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people.” And proclaim it he did in verse 7, calling on everyone to repent and worship God. As angry as God was with humanity, he was still the gracious, saving Lord to anyone who believed his good news.

Though these events are still future to us, they demonstrate again the love and saving nature of God. This is important for us to remember as well. Behind every warning of judgment (v. 7b: “the hour of his judgment has come”) is a call to repent and “worship him” (v. 7c).

As we witness for Christ in the world, our condemnation of the wickedness of the world should always hold forth the offer of grace to those who will receive it. We should never have so much condemnation and indignation (whether righteous or self-righteous) that we refuse to urge our fellow men and women to turn, receive, and worship Christ. This is why we’re here.

2 Chronicles 19-20 and Revelation 12

Read 2 Chronicles 19-20 and Revelation 12.

We read yesterday about the foolish alliance that the godly king of Judah, Jehoshaphat, made with the ungodly king of Israel, Ahab. God saved Jehoshaphat even though he went into battle dressed like a target (see 18:29-31) and he caused Ahab to be killed even though he was trying to avoid detection (18:33-34).

Here in chapter 19, a prophet named Jehu rebuked Jehoshaphat for his alliance with Ahab (vv. 1-2). Although “the wrath of the Lord” was on Jehoshaphat (v. 2b) he was still man who set his “heart on seeking God” (v. 3b).

What were the evidences of that his heart was set on seeking God?

First, he turned others to seeking God. Chapter 19 verse 4 told us that he reached out to the people “from Beersheba to the hill country of Ephraim.” This is a large area around Jerusalem, where Jehoshaphat lived. Beersheba was far to the south of Jerusalem, encompassing all of Judah and Simeon as well as a number of Israel’s enemies. “The hill country of Ephraim” was the area due north of Jerusalem, including the tribes of Benjamin and Dan. These are areas that belonged to the Northern Kingdom of Israel but Jehoshaphat traveled around these places “and turned them back to the Lord, the God of their ancestors” (19:4b).

Second, he delegated justice to others but charged them to judge in the fear of God (19:5-11). One man cannot do all that needs to be done, but a godly leader both delegates the work and urges those responsible to do the work in a way that pleases God because they fear God.

Third, he trusted God to keep His covenant (20:6-7) and defend His people (20:1-13), looking to God in prayer for these promises. Because of his faith God answered his prayers and miraculously delivered Judah from their attackers (20:14-26).

Fourth, he gave thanks and praise to God in worship when God delivered Judah from her enemies (20:27-28).

Jehoshaphat did some really stupid things (see 18:29-32 again. Sheesh). His obedience was imperfect (20:33) and failed to learn his lesson at times (20:35-36). God even disciplined him for some of these things (20:37). But because his heart was set on seeking God (19:3), God was merciful to him when he disciplined him and God blessed the areas where he was wise and faithful to the Lord.

Isn’t that encouraging? Even though he messed up a lot, his efforts to do right were blessed and praised by God because they came from a sincere heart of obedience. I hope this gives you some comfort and encouragement to keep seeking the Lord and striving to do what’s right. I hope it helps you not to be discouraged when the Lord’s discipline comes into your life but to keep seeking him for as long as you live.

2 Chronicles 13 and Revelation 9

Read 2 Chronicles 13 and Revelation 9.

This devotional is about Revelation 9.

In chapter 8, Jesus opened the seventh seal. Then John told us, “I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them” (v. 2) and “the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them” (v. 6). Four of those angels sounded their trumpets in Revelation 8; today we read about what happened when angels five and six sounded their trumpets.

What happened was painful torture to those not protected by God’s seal (vv. 4-12) and death for 33% of the world’s population (vv. 13-19).

One would expect that this kind of devastation would cause people to cry out to God for mercy. Instead, those who lived through these horrific events “still did not repent” of their false worship and disobedience to God. Their stubbornness demonstrates that sin nature is deeply planted in us all as are the sinful habits that we cultivate. Neither God’s judgment on others nor the threat of it can cause a person’s mind and heart to change. It is only God’s gracious working within any of us that changes our minds and causes us to turn to God in faith.

Thank God, though, that he does this gracious work in the hearts of many, including in our hearts when we came to believe in Jesus.

And this is one reason why we are here to give the gospel to others. Through the gospel message God works in hearts to open them to his gracious gift of salvation. Through that salvation, God delivers them from the coming days of his wrath like those described here in Revelation.

So keep looking for opportunities to share Christ with others. It is the only means of hope for humanity.

2 Chronicles 2, Revelation 2

Read 2 Chronicles 2 and Revelation 2.

This devotional is about Revelation 2.

The church at Ephesus had an unusual part in the story of the New Testament. Paul started that church by preaching in the Ephesians’ synagogue at the end of his second missionary journey (Acts 18:19). Once the church had formed, however, Paul declined when the believers asked him to stay longer. Instead he left Priscilla and Aquila there (Acts 18:18) and promised to return if God wanted him to (Acts 18:21).

After he left, Priscilla and Aquila continued there and Apollos arrived preaching the baptism of John (Acts 18:24-26). When Paul returned to Ephesus in his third missionary journey (Acts 19:1) he found a small group of disciples there, but they needed to be taught about Christ. Paul did that, and, at the same time, preached Christ to Jews and Gentiles for three years (Acts 20:31). During that time, the gospel message spread like warm butter on a hot muffin (Acts 19:10), but there was also severe opposition, even resulting in a riot (Acts 19:23-41). The church in Ephesus continued under local elders after Paul left, yet he warned that false teachers would harm the church in the future (Acts 20:13-38). Paul wrote an important letter, the book of Ephesians, to this church and he later sent Timothy there to address the false doctrine and disorders that did erupt there (1 Tim 1:3). 

The situation in the Ephesian church must have stabilized because, a few years later when John wrote our passage for today, Revelation 2, the Lord commended the church of Ephesus because “you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.” Furthermore in verse 6 he said, “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”

But, in verse 4, the Lord pointed out that they had “forsaken the love you had at first.” The “first love” mentioned in this phrase is not defined any more specifically, but it seems clear that this is describing their love for Christ. This doesn’t mean that they lost their salvation or that they had just become unfeeling Christians. It means that they no longer valued Christ so much that they wanted to spread the knowledge of him everywhere. As I mentioned in the paragraph above, Acts 19:10 recorded how the gospel spread everywhere during Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. That was due to his preaching, of course, but his preaching was effective because those who believed it told others about the message and, in this way, it spread.

What was missing, then, when Jesus addressed this church here in Revelation 2? It was the witness of this church. This is suggested by Revelation 2:1 where Christ is referred to as the one who “walks among the seven golden lampstands.” The lampstands give off light and that light reveals Christ as he walks among them. Although the light of the gospel once burned bright in Ephesus, their passion to spread the knowledge of Christ had cooled off. Although they became orthodox defenders of true Christian doctrine, they no longer proclaimed the saving grace of Christ like they once had. Jesus warned them because, if they did not enlighten others to see him through the gospel, he would “remove your lampstand from its place” (v. 4b). The prescription was to “repent and do the things you did at first” which means to turn from insular orthodoxy and become diligent about representing Christ to the world like lights on a lampstand should. 

Pure doctrine is important in the church. First and Second Timothy, which were written to Timothy while he was serving in Ephesus, make that clear. But, in addition to clinging to the truth of the scripture, we need to remember that Christ has saved us personally and has commanded us to tell others about what he will do for them if they trust him.

Let’s not become so satisfied with our own salvation and so assured of our own orthodoxy that we stop sharing Christ with the world. Would you consider inviting someone to hear the life-giving message about Christ this Sunday?

2 Kings 20, Habakkuk 3, John 12

Today read 2 Kings 20, Habakkuk 3, and John 12.

This devotional is about John 12.

There is a strong contrast between a disciple who loves Jesus and is unashamed of being his servant and those who believe in Jesus but want to follow him secretly.

We can see the contrast right here in John 12. It opens with Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with “about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume” (v. 3a) which she poured on his feet then removed with her hair (v. 3b). Her appreciation for who Jesus is, her gratitude for what he had done, and her desire to glorify and worship him overcame any inhibitions she had. Giving this gift of anointing to Jesus was far more important to her than blessing the poor with it (vv. 5-6), not because the poor were unimportant, but because she was devoted to Jesus.

The opposite of her unique act of worship was exemplified by the “leaders” (v. 42a) who “believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue” (v. 42b). They wanted to follow Christ in secret. Why? Because “they loved human praise more than praise from God” (v. 43). Mary was unashamed because she was devoted to God and, therefore, worshipped his Son openly without shame. These men who were leaders feared God but they feared social ostracism more.

Most, if not all of us, go through phases in our lives where we want to hide our faith in Christ because we fear people. It is a common spiritual issue, one that even the great Simon Peter experienced when he denied our Lord three times. So if you’ve ever hidden your faith or been embarrassed to admit that you’re a Christian, that does not automatically mean that you are not sincerely saved.

Eventually, though, the time comes when we must confess Christ openly. We must do so to become part of the local church through baptism. We must confess him openly to tell others about salvation in him. And, some of us must confess him openly by giving up our lives to follow him. As Jesus said in verses 24-25, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

Are you willing to die for Jesus? Then why are you afraid to talk about him in your workplace? Why are you unwilling to sacrifice financially for his work? May God use this chapter to pull us out of our protective shells, to teach us to fear Him more than we fear others and even to love him more than we desire the praise of men. Then we will show ourselves to be his true disciples.

2 Kings 10, Micah 4, John 5

Read 2 Kings 10, Micah 4, and John 5.

This devotional is about Micah 4.

Christians sometimes wonder what heaven will be like. It is not a great question, really, because heaven is not the final destination for believers in God–the New Earth is. Before the New Earth arrives, however, Jesus will establish his kingdom on this earth during the time period we call “The Millennium” (Rev 20). 

Micah 4 describes what that will be like. Verse 1 told us this will happen “in the last days.” And what will those days be about? Worship. Instead of flocking to Walt Disney World, “the mountain of the Lord’s temple” will be the greatest place on earth—“the highest of the mountains… exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it.”

The attraction to the Lord’s temple will not be for Jewish people alone. Verse 2 said, “Many nations will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob.’” These nations are those who survived the Great Tribulation. Some from them will believe in the Lord and will come to the temple to learn his word (v. 2). Others will be ruled by him (v. 3a) but in unbelief (verse 5a, Rev 20:7-9).

Because the world will finally be ruled by it’s rightful Lord, there will be justice (v. 3a), peace (v. 3b-c), prosperity (v. 4a) and security (v. 4b). This will be the greatest thousand years the world has ever known but (after some final judgments of Satan and the dead, 20:7-15), this golden era will be replaced by an eternal kingdom where we will reign with Christ forever.

That is what we are calling people to when we give them the gospel–to become followers of Jesus now and follow him right into his kingdom. This is what we are living for when we choose to invest our time and money in his work. This is what we long for whenever someone we love dies or when we experience suffering and pain in this life. Let this vision of a perfect life under the reign of king Jesus comfort you today; let it guide you in the decisions you make today and in days to come.

2 Kings 9, Micah 3, John 4

Read 2 Kings 9, Micah 3, and John 4.

This devotional is about John 4.

Jesus was tired when he met the woman at the well. We know he was tired because verse 6 told us, “Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well….” Despite being tired, Jesus began talking with the woman (v. 7), led her to trust him (v.29), and also saved others who came to faith through her testimony (v. 41).

The disciples went into town to buy food (cf. v. 8) and were surprised when they returned and found him talking to a Samaritan woman (v. 27). The woman herself was surprised that Jesus spoke to her (v. 9), but she was drawn quickly into the conversation both by Jesus’s offer of living water (vv. 10-15) and his supernatural knowledge of her life (vv. 16-18). At the end of their conversation, Jesus revealed himself to the woman when he said, “I, the one speaking to you–I am he [Messiah]” (v. 26).

When the woman left the well (v. 28), it seemed like the perfect opportunity to eat (v. 31). Each of us knows how a meal can raise our energy level when we’re tired, so the antidote to Jesus’s fatigue seemed to be the food the disciples went and bought.

But Jesus refused to eat and made a cryptic statement about having “food to eat that you know nothing about” (v. 32). He clarified that doing the Father’s will was his food (v. 34). It energized him to know that the woman at the well was now regenerated and was bringing everyone she could out to hear the gospel, too.

Have you ever had an experience like this? Have you ever been so focused and excited while serving the Lord that you forgot, for a time, your need for food or sleep? Hear the excitement in Jesus’s words when he told the disciples, “…open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (v. 35).

Jesus was human and, of course, he needed food and sleep like every human being does. But he rested and ate so that he serve the the Father’s will and, even when he was weary, found energy in the salvation of lost souls.

Are you tired in your life? Discouraged? Look for someone to share the gospel with or a fellow believer who needs to be discipled. Seeing God work through your life and witness can be a powerful stimulus in your life.

2 Kings 6, Jonah 4, John 3

Read 2 Kings 6, Jonah 4, and John 3.

This devotional is about Jonah 4.

Have you ever allowed someone to talk you into doing something you really didn’t want to do? My guess is that most of us have. We all are reluctant to do certain things. Either we don’t want to do the activity itself or we are unsure, skeptical even, if the activity will be fun or productive or helpful or produce whatever result it promises.

We also may be reluctant because we see real risks. We’ve all had that sinking feeling that happens when we are reluctant to do something, do it anyway, then see that the very thing we feared is happening.

Jonah could relate. The people of Nineveh were wicked people, which is why Jonah hated them and resisted coming to preach to them in the first place back in Jonah 1. When he did reluctantly arrive in Ninevah, Jonah came preaching God’s judgment and offering no grace, as we saw yesterday.

Jonah did not want to preach to Nineveh because they were cruel to people they conquered and captured in war. Maybe some of Jonah’s friends or relatives had been tortured by them or maybe he’d just heard enough reports to know how violent they were. Regardless of the specific reasons why, Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. He did not want to preach to the people who lived in Nineveh. He did not want to see them respond well to his message. He did not want the king to repent in sackcloth and sit in dirt as he did in Jonah 3:6. Jonah was willing to die—“throw me into the sea“ (1:12)—rather than preach to the people of Nineveh. But God, in his inimitable way, changed Jonah’s mind and persuaded him to go to Nineveh–against his will–and speak against their sins.

Our reading today tells us why Jonah did what he did in chapter 1 and chapter 3. He went the opposite direction from Nineveh in chapter 1 and preached judgment without grace in chapter 3 because he was afraid the Lord would forgive the Assyrians of Nineveh: “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’” (v. 2). In our language, Jonah was saying, “I knew it! I knew this would happen!” If you’ve ever regretted letting someone talk you into something, you know the feeling. But in Jonah’s case, it was the positive result that he feared. He did not want to preach to the people of Nineveh lest they repent and avoid God’s judgment. When exactly what he feared happened, his hatred for the Assyrian people turned into anger at God himself.

God dealt with Jonah by confronting his anger (v. 4, 9). He asked Jonah whether he had any right to be angry in verse 4. Jonah ignored God’s question and went outside the city to see if God’s judgment would fall on them despite their repentance (v. 5a). God was gracious to Jonah, giving him a plant to provide him shade (v. 5b-6). Then God took away the shade (v. 7) and turned up the heat (literally) on Jonah (v. 8). The shade and the heat were an object lesson about God’s grace. Jonah didn’t deserve or earn the shade, so he had no reason to be proud when he had the shade or angry when it was taken away.

After this object lesson, God asked Jonah again if he was angry (v. 9a); this time he got the answer–of course I’m angry (v. 9b). God then used this object lesson to show how self-centered Jonah was. He was concerned about the plant, but not about the vast number of children (“who cannot tell their right hand from their left”) and animals who would be lost if Nineveh were destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah style.

Verse 11 of our passage is the point of this entire book of Jonah. It was written to bring us face to face with our own poor priorities. We care passionately about things that do not matter at all and can be indifferent (or worse) toward people. This happens when we stop seeing people for what they are–eternal souls made in the image of God but bound as we once were by sin natures that distort everything.

When we start to think of people not as individuals but as groups–atheists, Scientologists, Hindus, or whatever–we might lose sight of the fact that they are people. People have strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears, beliefs and doubts, parents and children. Generation after generation can be lost to the gospel if we assume that entire groups of people won’t listen to us, don’t care about God, are too proud to repent, or too sinful to desire forgiveness.

We notice when the comforts of life are gone and we regret their loss just as Jonah regretting losing his shade. But do we ever consider the eternal destiny of people in groups, especially people in groups we are inclined to dislike and avoid?

May God give us greater compassion for people and less dislike for people in groups we fear or dislike.