Love the Lord’s people and hate the enemies of God—right? At least, that seems to be the most commonsense opinion held by Jonah the prophet. When we read 2 Kings 14:25 we discover he had a very successful and effective ministry with Israel and king Jeroboam II:
“He [Jeroboam] restored the border of Israel…according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet….”
However, when we look at God sending the prophet to the evil heathen citizenry of Nineveh a different picture emerges. In Jonah 1 we’re aware of this alternate attitude from the heir of Amittai:
“Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah…‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.’ But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.”
Jonah fled from the presence of the Lord? He chose not to go to Nineveh? Prophesying before God’s people whom Jonah loved was easy! He was right at home with those he cared for and was comfortable with them. He could look around and see purpose and goal for their good. He saw himself in each Hebrew face and knew God’s provision of mercy and loving-kindness. But when God wanted to extend the same care to the enemies of Israel—well, there was a different story. To go and preach salvation to the enemy’s he hated was not an option he much relished. And while other prophets (Amos and Hosea) were fully capable of carrying God’s word to God’s people in his stead, Jonah discovered his hatred was too large for helping a nation filled with heathens-a-plenty. It’s much easier for Jonah to speak to the ones he loved than those outside his circle-of-trust.
Getting outside my circle-of-trust is always difficult. Every Sunday I look at faces of those I love and discover great ease in sharing God’s message. I know there is a common bond and union of agreement between us, I love being with these folks! However, there are those I find it difficult to speak God’s words of comfort to. In too many instances I find myself thinking as Jonah and fleeing the call of a difficult situation. Sharing God’s good news is not something I naturally find attractive when it comes to those outside my circle-of-trust. If I learn anything from the prophet’s life I learn it’s okay to let the other capable prophets tend to those I love, and, for myself, uncover God’s love for those I have difficulty with—learning to carry the message of salvation to them! Speaking to my favorite neighbor is easy, but how about the quirky individual living at the end of the block? Yes, God’s mercy and steadfast love extends to those also!
When we come to the end of the book of Jonah we discover he still wasn’t willing to include the people of Nineveh into his circle-of-trust. In fact, the book closes with Jonah’s attitude still up in the air, we can only hope he learned to love as God loved. And though it’s possible Jonah’s love for Nineveh may have failed him, hopefully I can advance a little further and let the love of Christ constrain me to love the world as Jesus exemplified. To go, or not to go, that is the question. My prayer: Lord, help me to go because I love You, and let that love produce a love for the world around me. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
J. Robert Hanson