"When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened," Jonah 3:10
Bible Reading: Jonah 3-4
Jesse Tree Symbol: whale (have your child draw a whale on a circle of paper for today's ornament)
The story of Jonah and the whale is a story that many children know. The focus tends to be on the wonder of a fish swallowing a man and then spitting him out alive after three days. But is there more to this story? What lessons can we all learn from Jonah?
Our story begins with Jonah refusing to go to the city of Nineveh and tell them about God's love. But why?
Nineveh "was an ancient city on the eastern bank of the Tigris River in ancient Assyria. Its ruins are across the river from the modern-day major city of Mosul, Iraq. Nineveh was an important junction for commercial routes crossing the Tigris. Occupying a central position on the great highway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean, thus uniting the East and the West, wealth flowed into it from many sources, so that it became one of the greatest of all the region's ancient cities.
The stone carvings in the walls include many battle scenes, impalings and scenes showing Sennacherib's men parading the spoils of war before him. He also bragged about his conquests: he wrote of Babylon "Its inhabitants, young and old, I did not spare, and with their corpses I filled the streets of the city." He later wrote about a battle in Lachish 'And Hezekiah of Judah who had not submitted to my yoke...him I shut up in Jeruselum his royal city like a caged bird. Earthworks I threw up against him, and anyone coming out of his city gate I made pay for his crime. His cities which I had plundered I had cut off from his land.' (Wikipedia)
Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire, the empire that had taken the nation of Israel into captivity and was threatening the very existence of Judah under Hezekiah's reign...see the recent Jesse Tree devotional Empty Threats and Empty Tents for more on this. Jonah hated them. He thought they deserved God's wrath and destruction. He had no compassion or forgiveness in his heart towards them.
"Perhaps Jonah had actually seen these cruel, ruthless, bloody Ninevites periodically coming down into his land and raiding his people. Perhaps he had even suffered the loss of loved ones at the hands of these merciless people. In the ancient world, the record for the bloodiest and most vicious kinds of cruelty belongs, perhaps, to the Ninevites. They found more incredibly ingenious ways to be cruel than any other nation that has ever lived. They were brutal and godless and sinful -- and Jonah hated them. The one thing that he wanted more than anything else was to see Nineveh destroyed. Yet when God told him to go announce to Ninevah its destruction, he said, 'I know you too well, O God. If anybody, by repenting, gives you half a chance to be merciful, you'll change your mind and won't carry out your sentence upon them,' (Jonah 4:2). So he fled to Tarshish.
That's amazing, isn't it? What a revelation of the knowledge of God and of the character of the God of the Old Testament! From time to time, those who do not believe the Bible...say that the God of the Old Testament was a vengeful, wrathful God, a God of black thunderclouds and bolts of lightning, and that he was always killing people off. Well, do you find that here? That is not the kind of God that Jonah knew...God loved these Ninevites, even though Jonah hated them. Jonah: The Reluctant Ambassador
Jesus taught the same lesson of compassion for enemies, both in word and deed. "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you," Luke 6:27-31
We, as adults and children, have much to learn from Jonah. We must never forget that we are not in a war with people, we are in a war with Satan. The people that we consider enemies are just prisoners of war taken captive by Satan. "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. The power of God, which is the power of love, can turn an enemy into a best friend. Showing love to an enemy pleases God and proves that we have great spiritual maturity," Ephesians 6:12.
Who we perceive as enemies will vary...school bullies, the popular crowd, ex-spouses, business associates, terrorists, "axis of evil" empires...the list goes on. But "we must always remember that as citizens of heaven we are ambassadors sent to represent the kingdom, and our King, Jesus Christ. Only by compassion and love can we represent the God of love, the God of compassion. We show love even to our enemies by doing good to them.
The most important way we show love is through prayer, this is where spiritual battles are fought and won. (Praying for our enemies) will cause the compassion of God to flow through our hearts as a river of life. It will change our enemies' life and even if they are not affected it will definitely change our life, which is God's plan anyway," How to Love Even Your Enemies
"Now, I am not sitting in judgment on you. I stand with you in the dock concerning this. I am asking your heart, as I ask mine, "Isn't there an awful tendency among us to be like Jonah?" Do we really demonstrate to others the heart of the God who loves a world that is staggering on in blind, willful ignorance and that does not know where it is going?
He has sent us men and women to be a sign to this generation. And what is that sign? It is the sign of Jonah, the sign of resurrection, the sign of people who once were dead who have been made alive in Jesus Christ. Isn't that why the Lord said, "As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth," Matthew 12:40.
Isn't that the heart of our proclamation, that here is a God who can bring life from death, who can resurrect those who are swallowed up in the belly of a whale or fish -- lost, hopeless -- but redeemed? And the witnesses to this proclamation are the resurrected lives of those of us who, like Jonah, declare this message in our day." Jonah: The Reluctant Ambassador
The above commentary on Jonah is part of a 4-week Advent Reflection for the Jesse Tree. The Jesse Tree is similar to an advent calendar. Every day you will read a Bible passage to your child(ren), discuss what it means to them in personal terms and color an ornament to hang on your Jesse Tree. A fuller description of this can be found at The Jesse Tree
When you are finished today, you might want to discuss how Christmas is about giving much more than getting. One way that your family can give is through their daily prayers. This might be a good time to pray for a specific country or for a group of people who do not know about Jesus. Today, over 2 billion people, 1/3 of the earth's population, have never heard the Gospel message. We need to step out in obedience and pray for them as God asks us to.
Two great websites to help you do this are:
Another way to give is by giving a gift to those, throughout the world, who have very little. It might be a chicken, or sheep or a goat...maybe you can help pay for the digging of a well or provide a sewing machine to a widow so she can provide for her family. There are many ways to help this Christmas. Visit Gospel for Asia and take a look at their Christmas Catalog.