02 March 2008

La plus ca change . . .

The more things change, the more they are the same . . .
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In an attempt to keep current on the situation in Iraq, I follow the DOD press releases, the blogs, the military sites, online news, and yes even the NY Times. I read lots of different sources to get a rounded perspective (especially because my local media can tend to be . . . of a certain slant, shall we say?) I learned something tonight though, that I hadn't realized before: the city of Mosul is the capital of Ninevah Province.

Growing up, I spent my fair share of time in Vacation Bible School. And one of the most popular stories we read was Jonah and the Whale, of course. As a kid, I was fascinated that someone could get eaten by - and then spit out of - a fish. I learned that Jonah disobeyed God because he had been scared and decided to run away, and his consequence of not doing what he was told was being stuck in a smelly fish belly.

Well...fast forward a few years, and I realize that the story told in Jonah is not just about Jonah, but about the people of Ninevah and God's grace on his people.

Jonah was supposed to go to Ninevah because:

The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are."
But, of course, Jonah turned and ran in the opposite direction. Perhaps he didn't want to be blamed for the bad news he was to deliver. He was Hebrew, and not generally liked in the place he was called to go. Instead of being concerned for the well-being of the people of Ninevah, he was scared of what they might do to him for telling them they were going to face God's judgement.

Well, after spending what I can only imagine to be a horrible three days & nights in the belly of his fishy prison, God told Jonah a second time to go to Ninevah, and this time he did:

Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.”

This time Jonah obeyed the Lord’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all. On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.

When the king of Nineveh heard what Jonah was saying, he stepped down from his throne and took off his royal robes. He dressed himself in burlap and sat on a heap of ashes. Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city:

“No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all. People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence. Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.”
Jonah delivered his message - and to his surprise, the people actually listened! They took heed of his warning and changed their ways. Also to Jonah's great surprise and even his anger, God did not go through with his planned destruction of the city. Jonah was upset because he had thought God was indeed compassionate and wouldn't go through with the destruction, so he shouldn't have even sent Jonah in the first place! God should have shown his mercy from the get-go and why on earth did he bother with making Jonah go someplace he didn't want to go??

Well - perhaps the point of this book in the Bible is not that God has great mercy and love for the world - but do we? God made Jonah examine his OWN attitude towards the people of Ninevah, as we see in the last chapter of the book:

Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see what would happen to the city. And the Lord God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.

But God also arranged for a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant so that it withered away. And as the sun grew hot, God arranged for a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. “Death is certainly better than living like this!” he exclaimed.

Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”
“Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!”

Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness,not to mention all the animals. Shouldn't I feel sorry for such a great city?”
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Before P headed back out to "the Sandbox" on Friday, I asked him how we here at home could pray for him - besides, of course, for the physical safety of all our troops. His response?
"Pray for peace in the Middle East".

At first ... wow, that seems to be practically impossible, right? How do we pray for peace to reign in a city - a country, a region - which has been fighting and not peaceful for literally thousands of years? Do I have the tiniest bit of faith that God is compassionate, kind and ultimately wants to save the people of Ninevah - of Iraq, of the Middle East - again from their current path of self-destruction?

Well, I better not spend too much time trying to figure out if I have that kind of faith or not.
There are far too many lives at stake (Iraqi, American, TCN, etc) to delay.

1 comment:

math jedi said...

wow. that's deep. Thanks for sharing.