Part 2: Rebellion
If you haven’t already read it, check out Part 1: What’s Jonah got to do with Elul?
Rebellion is all over the Scriptures. For a book that we look to to tell us how we ought to live it has an awful (and I mean AWFUL) lot of information about how we ought NOT to live. Rebellion starts right at the beginning of the Book and continues on, unabated, all the way to the end—and the book of Jonah is no exception to this rule. Why all these terrible examples? Well, maybe because they are supposed to serve as “examples” to us, so we can learn from somebody else’s mistakes. Maybe seeing the negative consequences play out in someone else’s life will inspire us to act in a way that we avoid them. Or maybe not… more often than we would like, we have to learn those lessons for ourself, the “hard” way. But.. it would be nice to avoid some of those situations, right? So what can we learn from Jonah’s “example”?
The first point about the rebellion in the book of Jonah is, who it is that is doing the rebelling. We begin the book with ADONAI talking about the people of the great city of Nineveh whose evil had risen before Him. Ah yes, these people were a pagan people who were worshipping idols and false gods. They were certainly not following the “Ways of the Lord.” It is very easy to see that these people are in rebellion against HaShem; they don’t even know Him! Scripture tells us that we all behave this way. Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of G-d.” But it is easy for us nowadays to point to the unsaved and the masses in our culture who are ignoring ADONAI and His ways and see their rebellion and sin. BUT there is much more rebellion in this story than just that of the Ninevites!
Jonah knew the Torah; he knew the histories of ADONAI’s dealings with man and, in particular, with His chosen people, Israel. Jonah was known as a Prophet—this means that he heard words from ADONAI and passed them along to the people. He knew exactly what the Word of the LORD sounded like, so when the Word came telling him to go to Nineveh, he knew it was an instruction from ADONAI. Instead of obeying, Jonah chose to flee from the presence of ADONAI. When he was supposed to go overland to the east, he headed west over the sea to Tarshish—at that time, literally, the furtherest away he could get. Jonah, of all people, ought to have known that he could not hide from ADONAI, but here he is doing his best to do just that.
Isn’t that just like us? We are children of the most High and have been adopted into His family. We know Him and we even have been given the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to indwell us and to lead, guide and comfort us. Yet we still do exactly what Jonah did in big and small ways. ADONAI speaks to us and we don’t always like what He has to say. We rationalize that He must not have said that; that He wants me to be happy and that won’t fit the bill; that I’ll serve Him this way instead because that’s what I’m good at. We busy ourselves in ministry and serving the Lord in every way other than the way the LORD has told us. We are traveling, like Jonah, but in the wrong direction. It may even be a perfectly good direction, but it is the wrong direction because it is not the direction we were given.
Then ADONAI sends the storm and Jonah is sleeping in the lowest part of the ship. He is still calm enough about his rebellious plans that he can rest. The pagan sailors have to wake Jonah up to beg him to pray to his God. He seems oblivious to his own rebellion. It is so easy for us humans to kid ourselves into thinking everything is fine, while we ignore our own sin and rebellion.
When Jonah is asked about himself by the desperate sailors he professes:
I am a Hebrew and I fear Adonai God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land. (Jon 1:9)
What a great profession! But it is coming from a man who is most certainly not acting as if he fears the Lord. It’s the same way as when we “say” that Yeshua is Lord of our lives and we are children of the Father, but we don’t always “act” as if Yeshua is Lord.
The story of Jonah also highlights something about those negative consequences. Who ends up bearing the consequences of Jonah’s rebellion? Well, there is Jonah of course. He is on that ship in that storm; if he stays quiet about whose fault this all is, he will go down with the rest of them. But there are all those sailors on that ship too and none of them were told to go to Nineveh and are headed the wrong way. Of course they were all idol worshippers and pagans from what was said so technically they were “in rebellion” to ADONAI, but this storm, this consequence, was the direct result of Jonah’s action. His rebellion had cost these sailors. Even after they tossed Jonah overboard and ADONAI calmed the seas, they had still lost their cargo. They had tossed all the cargo, their livelihood and the reason for the voyage, overboard to try to lighten the load during the storm. Jonah’s rebellion cost those around him dearly. We often lose sight of how our rebellion brings negative consequences on our friends and family and sometimes on complete strangers.
These Scriptural stories of rebellion hold another lesson though. This is not just the story of Jonah running away from ADONAI; it is a story of ADONAI chasing him down and redeeming him and giving him a second chance. This is “why” we examine our lives for rebellion during these forty days or repentance. It is not for us to feel bad and beat ourselves up; it is for us to return, repent and learn, and be restored and redeemed. Repentance is not just for the pagans and those who do not know the voice of ADONAI. It is especially for those who are children of the LORD and already know his voice.
Check out the next blog in the series, Part 3: Fathers Discipline their Children