Day 4 Jonah 3-4 ... Beloved Enemies

Occasionally a natural disaster, such as that described by Joel, wracked the tiny kingdoms of Israel and Judah. But far more often, almost constantly, the Israelites faced the threat of invasion by great powers. Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon all cast giant shadows of fear across the land, and Israel and her neighbors scrambled to form alliances to counter the threat.

The prophet Jonah lived during a period when Assyria was the enemy most feared. This book about him is unique among the prophets for two reasons: 1. It takes the form of a short story, not a transcription of a sermon or prophetic message. In fact, the book contains but one line of formal prophecy (3:4). 2. Jonah delivered his message not to Israel, or to Judah, but rather to the hated Assyrians.

Nearly everyone knows about the misadventures that befell Jonah on his journey to Nineveh: the ocean storm and the detour in the belly of a whale. But readers of Jonah often miss the central point, the reason for Jonahâs misadventures in the first place. He was rebelling against Godâs mercy. Jonah offers a true-life study of how hard it is to follow the biblical command, "Love your enemies." While many people admire that command, few find it easy to put into practice.

Jonah had understandable reason to balk at Godâs orders to preach in Nineveh, for that city was the capital of an empire renowned for its cruelty. Assyrian soldiers had no qualms about "scorched earth" military tactics. Typically, after destroying an enemyâs fields and cities, they would slaughter the conquered peoples or hammer iron hooks through their noses or lower lips and lead them away as slaves. Jonah wanted no part in giving such bullies a chance to repent. But amazingly, God loved Nineveh and wanted to save the city, not destroy it. He knew the people were ripe for change.

The book of Jonah powerfully expresses Godâs yearning to forgive, and these two brief chapters fill in the lesser-known details of Jonahâs mission. To the prophetâs disgust, a simple announcement of doom sparked a spiritual revival in pagan Nineveh. And Jonah, sulking under a shriveled vine, admitted he had suspected Godâs soft heart all along. He could not trust God - could not, that is, trust him to be harsh and unrelenting toward Nineveh. As Robert Frost summed up the book, "After Jonah, you could never trust God not to be merciful again." The book also reveals Godâs ultimate purpose for his chosen people: He wanted them, like Jonah, to reach out to other people and demonstrate his love and forgiveness. Ninevehâs wholehearted response put the Israelites to shame, for not once did they respond to a prophet like these Assyrians did.

Point to Ponder: Have you ever consciously tried to love the "enemies" in your life?