Taking it In
There is a lot going on in our two verses today. God wants Jonah to not simply profess God’s goodness but consider it, starting with his own life and existence. God is wrestling for Jonah’s soul and much of that wrestling match is with Jonah himself. One word we need to have continually echoing in our minds throughout this section is the word, “good” especially in contrast to the repeated use of “evil” that we’ve become familiar with thus far. What’s God really up to, here? It’s like Jonah is in a personal exile and then he “goes out” from Nineveh, which is described using the same verb as the exodus of Israel from Egyptian slavery in Exodus 12:41 and other spots. But just like Exodus, getting out of the place of exile doesn’t solve every problem and can even create more questions than answers. And in a way, Jonah experiences this eerily similar to the Israelites who were wandering in the desert for 40 years. Jonah has entered his own desert wilderness at this point. Jonah builds a hut of sorts for himself, or a sukkah, which is the word for the little outdoor shelters built during the Sukkoth, that is, the festival of booths or the feast of tabernacles in some translations. This was one of the three annual festivals along with Passover and Pentecost (feel free to look those up if confused) and during these festivals is when all Israel is to gather before the face of Yahweh in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:16). Imagine the city decked out for a party where temporary shelters are built where all Israel lives for a week as a reminder of when they dwelled in tents while wandering in the wilderness (Leviticus 23:43). It was a special time of the renewal of the knowledge and obedience to the teachings of Yahweh, passed down from generation to generation. Interestingly enough, during this festival is when Israel is commanded to welcome foreigners within the walls of Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:14) anticipating the last days when all who revere Yahweh gather together and celebrate. Jonah, this son of Israel, sitting alone, burning with anger, and quite inhospitable in his sukkah outside the city, is at the same time a reversal and reminder of this picture.
Working it Out
There are many things in our current culture and social climate that can hinder us from growing spiritually and tuning into what God wants for us. A list of these things is hardly necessary as I’m sure you are well aware. Some of those things aren’t inherently bad or wrong, that is, until they block us from seeing things from God’s perspective and having God’s heartbeat for the world and everyone and everything in it. Sometimes, like Jonah, we need a fresh glimpse of God’s love that can often become second nature, at least conceptually, to us. Our priorities can often take a turn in the chaos of our everyday lives and we need rhythms built in that allow us to reorganize and reprioritize. And sometimes this needs to be more drastic than others whether that be changing your inner circle of friends with better influences or understandings. Maybe it’s chasing after the wrong things to the point of obsession and distraction. As Jonah found out, sometimes God sends us hints here and there to get our attention and kick us in the rear. And then other times God flat out helps move things along hoping we’ll catch up. Whatever the case may be, it’s hardly ever easy. But it is definitely worth it. All of us have been in, are currently in, or will have our own personal exiles that we have to deal with in life. Times when our vision isn’t aligning with God’s and so we feel as though we’re outside the city while everyone else is inside partying in their tents. But we also must remember that Jesus, too, operated much outside the city and was even crucified there. Those were his favorite people. However, Jesus is always inviting us back into the party rather than encouraging us to stay outside. Will we stay in our huts? Or will we rise up and join the party that is the kingdom of God at work in the world?