Jonah 4

In Jonah 4, God has just spared the people of Nineveh in response to their turning away from evil, and Jonah is angry. Things did not go the way Jonah wanted, and he goes as far as to say that he would rather die because of it. As he watches the city from the east, God provides a plant to shade him from the sun, and then takes it away again. Jonah is therefore uncomfortable and angry about the plant. The book ends with God’s response:

10 And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

Jonah 4:10-11, ESV

It seems somewhat fitting to read these words as we have just celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday, because we are aware that things are not going the way we wanted either. The situation is different from Jonah’s; there is a difference between missing our holiday traditions and Jonah missing his leafy plant or wishing punishment on the people of Nineveh, but there is an important similarity. God still wants to see the lost come to Him. If we are focused on whether or not this year has gone the way we wanted, we can lose sight of our mission to show the love of God and share the salvation of Jesus Christ with others.

Jonah 3

The account of Jonah is one that most people have heard from the time they were in the nursery. Though many times used as a way to warn of disobedience (which indeed was an issue for Jonah), this account is really a remarkable window into God’s beautiful, unbroken redemption story. Jonah was a strong-willed and prideful man whom God chose to use in the city of Nineveh. He certainly struggled with some heart issues as he felt the Ninevites deserved destruction and separation from God with no warning. However, this was not God’s plan. God called Jonah to give the city a message of warning, shining a light on their sinful ways and their ramifications, providing an opportunity for repentance and redemption. They reacted swiftly with full humility and sought God’s mercy, which he willingly provided.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 3:16-17

This passage in Jonah is a masterpiece of inspired writing that showcases the lengths God goes to in order to redeem the lost. He uses broken and sinful people to accomplish his tasks of great love and justice. He, in the midst of his judgement, provides mercy and grace for those who seek Him. His love for the people He carefully knitted together is greater than we can ever comprehend. God is the ruler over all things and we are sinful people born into a broken world. Even so, He chose to provide for the very sin problem that keeps us from Him. Through Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection, He offers us the redemption required to be in fellowship with the one true and holy God. As followers of Christ who have accepted this gracious and merciful gift, we are commissioned to go and share God’s plan throughout the world. What will your response be? Will you choose to faithfully go to God in prayer for the lost? Will you choose to give and provide for missionaries at home and abroad? Will you go and share the gospel with those around you or even far away? How will you carry out the commission that is for all Christ followers? These are questions we must ask ourselves daily as we strive to humbly grow in God’s mercy and grace.

Jonah 2

Jonah has been in the belly of the great fish for three days. What a horrid place to be for three days and three nights in complete darkness with nothing but your own thoughts. I know for me, when I dwell on my own thoughts, I can justify most of my actions or beat myself up over things I have said. Jonah had opportunity after opportunity to follow God and travel to Nineveh. Instead Jonah chose to follow his own path and wound up in this impossible situation. It is so easy for me to look at Jonah and think, “How hardheaded does he have to be to not see all the times he willfully disobeyed God?” Then Jonah goes to God in prayer saying,

I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried and you heard me voice.

Jonah 2:2

This prayer is not one of affection but one of affliction. He had exhausted all other possibilities of running from God and was in an impossible situation that he was not able to get out of himself. Even though Jonah had run, God was still faithful to forgive him when he repented and humbled himself before God. How many times are we disobedient to God and only turn to Him for our rescue after we are so deep in a situation that we cannot get ourselves out? Why do we run so hard from the will of God and think that we know what is best? I am thankful that each time I repent, God is faithful to forgive me. Where are areas of your life that you are running from God and need to repent and follow God’s plan instead of your own?

Jonah 1:4-17

The irony of Jonah’s story is compelling. Here’s a prophet from among the people of God who had been called to deliver a message for God to another nation. If anyone should know that the Lord is sovereign over all the earth, that there is no place away from His presence, we would expect that person’s bio to read something like Jonah’s. And yet, Jonah is on the run from God. And if anyone was going to cry out to the Lord when a great wind came upon the sea and threatened the ship Jonah had boarded, we would expect it to be Jonah. But as the sailors on board the ship cried out to their own gods, Jonah was asleep. The irony only intensifies as Jonah claims to fear the Lord, who made the sea and the dry land. Yes, the same Lord from which he was fleeing. By the time the sailors cast Jonah into the sea, it seems he was the only one on board who hadn’t called out to the Lord in prayer. And while Jonah claimed to fear the Lord, we’re told these sailors’ fear of the Lord was followed up with acts of worship instead of rebellion.

Nothing in this story is as we would expect it to be, and we haven’t even gotten to the great fish the Lord sent to swallow up Jonah. Maybe we’re tempted to look at Jonah and take the lesson, “Don’t run from God, or you might wind up in the belly of a fish,” as if the fish was a bad thing, but let’s not forget that Jonah–cast into the sea after rebelliously running from the Lord–didn’t deserve the fish. And neither do we. When the men hurled Jonah into the sea, they did not expect him to survive, but the fish reminds us how grace works–unexpectedly. At unexpected moments in unexpected places in unexpected ways with unexpected people, when everything says all hope is gone, when we’ve rebelliously run from the Lord, God saves us by His grace! Actually, “Don’t run from God” is a good lesson, but as unexpected as it might be, “You might wind up in the belly of a fish” is good news. Thank God for His grace! May we never take it for granted, and may we never cease to be amazed by it!

Jonah 1:1-3

Have you ever played hide and seek with a young child? It can be quite amusing. Tell them to go hide and they will often hide in the most obvious places. One might hide behind a curtain that doesn’t reach the floor, not realizing that her feet can easily be seen. Or, one might simply pull a blanket over his head thinking just because he can’t see anyone then he can’t be seen, not realizing the obvious hump in the blanket is easily seen by the seeker. There can be many examples, but a young child often fails to realize that the chosen hiding place is actually quite obvious. At the beginning of the book of Jonah, we see Jonah trying to disobey. Instead of going to the Ninevites as God had commanded, Jonah wanted to go the opposite way. He didn’t want to take God’s message to the Ninevites because he hated them. So what does he do? He tries to run and hide. When Jonah tries to hide from God, it is similar to a young child hiding. He is trying to hide from God, not realizing that he is easily seen. What Jonah had either forgotten or was trying to deny is that there is no place you can hide from God. Even though it isn’t even possible to hide from God, sin often makes us attempt to hide from Him. Adam and Eve tried to hide in the garden of Eden, Jonah tried to hide, and we often try to hide too. The saddest part of attempting to hide from God is that it is the opposite of what He wants from us. God doesn’t want us to run and hide from Him, he wants us to run toward Him. The Psalmist recognized that God’s presence is actually a comforting place. In Psalm 139 the Psalmist recognized God’s presence by saying…

Psalm 139: Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10  even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. 

Notice what a comforting thought this was for the Psalmist. He realized that God’s hand would lead him and that God’s right hand would hold him. That is what God’s presence should be for us–a reassuring hand we run to. If you find yourself running from God today… stop. Instead turn around and run to God. Even if there is sin in your life, turn to Him because he wants to forgive, restore you, and use you for his glory. Your attempt to get away from God will prove impossible, so why not go ahead and run toward God today. In fact, pray what the Psalmist went on to say later in Psalm 139…

Psalm 139:23  Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! 

If you do, you will be met with God’s patient, everlasting love to restore you.

2 Kings 4

After reading 2 Kings 4, I can’t help but visualize Elisha like a Gandolf sort of character from Lord of the Rings. Older, wise, probably long hair, long beard, robe, carries a staff–and performs incredible miraculous acts. 

And he does these things so matter of factly, so nonchalantly. Wow. God worked through Elisha in powerful ways that boggle our mind. His faith must have been second to none. It has me wishing for a faith like that. A faith that produces miracles. 

While Elisha is worthy of our focus–there’s lots to learn from him–there’s also plenty to learn about the other characters or scenes of 2 Kings 4. 

The widow, who is about to lose her sons to debtors. She has no way to pay them. 

Then there’s the hospitable Shunammite woman without a child. Next we meet the sons of prophets about to eat a poisonous meal.

In each situation, God works through Elisha to perform a miracle and bring glory to himself. 

Here’s what we learn from each scenario: 

  1. Go to God with our needs
  2. We’ve already got what we need to follow God
  3. God will give us more than we expected

The widow went to Elisha with her problem knowing he was a man of God. She offers up what she does have, a little oil, and then God shows up and shows out. Not only did she have enough to pay the debt, save her sons from slavery, but she and her sons lived off ther rest.

The Shunammite woman without a child, asks for one, then has a baby boy. When the child dies unexpectedly, she offers what she does have–her faith. God again shows up and shows out by using Elisha to bring this boy back to life. 

The sons of the prophets are served poisonous stew by accident. They tell Elisha about the problem, and he uses flour, a common household pantry staple, to purify the stew. God saved them from their own stupidity, and gave them a second chance at life. 

All of them, the widow, the Shunammite woman, the sons of the Prophets, all believed–they had faith. And their faith led them to act on their belief. They trusted God with what they did have, offered it to him, and he gave back more than they expected. 

Luke 6:38 says, “give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

Remember: 

  1. Go to God with our needs
  2. We’ve already got what we need to follow God
  3. God will give us more than we expected

1 Kings 21

There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. He acted very abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord cast out before the people of Israel.

1 Kings 21:25-26

This statement about Ahab that we read in 1 Kings 21 is fairly straight forward. Ahab was not a great and God-fearing king of Israel. He was continually in violation of God’s laws and repeatedly seeking after idols. His evil leadership continually led the Israelites into sin. The choices he made as king could only lead to disaster and destruction. This chapter of 1 Kings provides us simply with one incident that illuminates the heart of Ahab. He so desperately wants what is not his own, Naboth’s vineyard, that he allows himself to sulk in anger as he whines to his wife Jezebel. When Jezebel arranges the illegal trial and murder of Naboth, Ahab is more than happy to jump right in and take over the vineyard that he had been coveting. This one instance of injustice and misuse of royal position and power is a turning point. Ahab had angered the Lord yet again with his evil behavior and poor choices, leading to the prophecy of Ahab and Jezebel’s destruction. Elijah didn’t try to sugar coat the words of the Lord, he spoke them directly as God had commanded. This prophecy shook Ahab to the core, and he responded with repentance and humility. The Lord took note of Ahab’s response and told Elijah that He would have mercy on Ahab and the destruction would befall his sons after his death.

Ahab certainly deserved the destruction that was headed his way. God is holy and just. He cannot simply turn a blind eye to the sins of His people. However, God is also gracious and merciful. This is one of many situations throughout His unbroken story where He shows grace and mercy to men who are sinful and yet repentant. They deserve instantaneous separation from Him, and yet, He is merciful in His responses. In Ahab’s case, the judgement would indeed come upon his family, but Ahab would be spared the disaster in his own time. The God we serve is simultaneously just, holy, merciful, and gracious. Our sinful choices, no matter how small, are not pleasing in His sight. Our punishment should be death separated from Him in eternity. Oh how thankful I am that He was gracious enough to provide a solution to our sin problem if only we will humble ourselves before Him. When we consider the folly of Ahab, may we be reminded of who God is. May we humble ourselves and search our own hearts that we may enjoy God’s abundant grace and mercy. May we understand the impact of our sinful choices and choose instead to flee temptation and cling to our Father.

1 Kings 19

1 Kings 18 concludes with what reads as a declaration of victory. The Lord answered Elijah’s call for fire and then sent much needed rain upon the land. God’s hand was on Elijah, who ran ahead of Ahab to Jezreel, and it seems at this point that Elijah has nothing to fear. Why should he? After what he’d seen the Lord do in and through his own life, Elijah had to know that there was no threat against him that would succeed while the Lord’s hand was upon him. Right?

And yet, what we find in 1 Kings 19 is not a prophet filled with hope and confidence in the Lord but one running in fear and living with defeat. We see a man who had experienced victory as he trusted and obeyed the word of the Lord now driven only by Jezebel’s threatening words. How does this happen? How does someone see the power of the Lord and then live in fear of anyone else? We don’t really have to wonder. We know that sometimes it is an external threat that takes our focus off of God and leads us to despair, but other times, despair comes not as we look around but as we look at the sin and limitations within us. Either way, trouble begins when we take our eyes and ears off of the Lord, and in those times, we need to be reminded of the victory God has promised and His faithfulness to provide. When Elijah ran and hid, the Lord found him. When Elijah felt all alone, the Lord was with him. When Elijah persisted in despair in spite of God’s instruction to anoint new kings and a new prophet to continue the work, the Lord pointed to the faithful men and women throughout Israel who hadn’t bowed before Baal.

Today, maybe you’re where Elijah was–scared, anxious, and feeling all alone–and like Elijah, what you need is to be reminded that the Lord’s hand is on your life. Arise and eat. Don’t give up. Stay the course. Or maybe you know someone who is there, and what you need to do today is be the reminder in their life that they are not alone. Call, text, or send a note. Let’s help each other remember the power and peace of our ever-present God.

1 Kings 18

And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”

1 Kings 18:27

In the midst of the competition, Elijah is unable to contain himself. Really? This is the god the Lord’s people had chosen to serve? A god who couldn’t even hear their cries? Was he sleeping through their pleas? In devastating fashion, Elijah’s mocking makes the point that Baal is powerless, and his worshippers are hopeless. But as a prophet of the Lord, Elijah isn’t just a bunch of talk. Elijah’s words drove home the impotence of Baal, but his actions put the power of God on display for all to see. Vastly outnumbered, Elijah didn’t shrink back. He called on the Lord, who answered swiftly and decisively, not only by sending fire but also by sending the rain Baal was mistakenly believed to control.

The contrast here is clear. Baal is powerless. His worshippers are hopeless. But the Lord’s power is unmatched and unlimited. And His people are never without hope, no matter what the circumstances say. Elijah’s confidence before the prophets of Baal wasn’t about his own ability to outthink or overpower 450 opponents. Elijah’s confidence was about God’s power, which Paul points us to in 1 Corinthians 15:55-57, exclaiming in light of the resurrection, “”O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, our greatest threats will prove to be just as powerless and defeated as Baal, and that means we have hope no matter what this day brings.

1 Kings 17

Something that most Christians struggle with is believing that they truly have something to offer God. At least believing they have enough to offer something of significance to God. We either see ourselves as not smart enough, not talented enough, or not having enough resources. Because people doubt what they have to offer God, many fail to offer anything to God. What is interesting in the Scripture is that all God asks us to offer him is whatever we have. There is no description of what is an acceptable offering to God other than your life. When we look at the events in 1 Kings 17, when Elijah asked the widow to give him food to eat, as God had instructed, her first response was “I don’t have anything baked” and then went on to express that what she did have was insufficient. What is interesting is when she obeyed Elijah (really when she obeyed God) and offered what she had, God multiplied her offering many times over and the need was met far beyond her expectation. Not only was the need met, her life became a part of God’s grand plan even to the point that her witness continues to this day.

As I read this event in 1 Kings, I cannot help but think about the events in John 6. As the crowd who had gathered to hear Jesus speak became hungry, there was the need to feed them. However, the need was great and the only food available was in the hands of a young boy who had five barley loaves and two fishes. However, as that boy offered his food to the Lord, Jesus multiplied it and fed a crowd that scholars estimate to be well over 10,000. There were 5,000 men, not counting the women and children. The issue was not the amount offered, but that it was offered. When we offer our little to God, he can do much. Never look at what you have and say “I don’t have enough for God to use.” Simply offer what you have and watch how much God can do with what you give. It will be infinitely more than what you can imagine.