Some Facebook friends and I are reading the Bible together. I will be posting some short daily readings based on the Scriptures we read each day. Day 1, Jan 1, we read Luke 1 and Jonah 1.
Today’s reading, if you happen to be following Brendt’s schedule, involved us in Jonah 1 and Luke 1. Jonah 1, of course, introduces us to the story of a somewhat rebellious prophet named Jonah who was called by God to go to the ‘great city of Ninevah’ and preach against it. Luke chapter 1 lays out for the reader the historical circumstances that were invaded by God as he began undoing centuries of sin and violence and anger. I’d like to share a couple of thoughts with you concerning these two passages.
I’ll begin with Jonah. I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before. It’s in verse 2: “Go to the great city of Ninevah and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” That last phrase caught my attention: Has Come up before me. How did the wickedness of Ninevah come up before God? Did Satan bring up to God as he had brought up Job’s righteousness? Not likely. Was it another angel who brought it up? I don’t know. There doesn’t seem to be much point in Satan bringing up his own handiwork though. So I thought: What if the wickedness of Ninevah came up before the Lord because people were praying? “The smoke and the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people went up before God from the angel’s hand” (Revelation 8:4). I thought more: What if had been Jonah who had been praying against Ninevah and brought up their wickedness before the Lord? “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish” (4:2).
What if it were Jonah who brought it up and what if in one of the greatest ironies of all ironies God chose Jonah to go and do something about it?
Then I read Luke 1 and the story doesn’t seem to change all that much: “And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside” (1:10). I don’t know what they were praying specifically but among them was surely one named Anna who ‘never left the temple worshiped day and night, fasting and praying…and spoke to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.’ I wonder if she was among those worshipers who were praying while Zechariah was inside the temple being interrogated by the angel of God? I wonder if those who were praying were like Anna and Simeon and praying for the consolation of Jerusalem? Here I think Luke is giving us a glimpse at what those worshipers (1:10) were praying.
What is interesting is that if Luke is giving us a glimpse of the content of their prayers, God is giving us a glimpse of his answers. Consolation. Redemption. And what does God do? Gives a pair of octogenarians a child; gives a young unmarried teenage girl a baby. God has a strange sense of irony, doesn’t he? He’s reckless. So is grace.
Someone prayed about the wickedness of Ninevah and God sends a prophet and then, as if that were not bad enough, he gives them 40 days to think about it! When they hurry up and repent, he relents and forgives them. Ironic to say the least. Grace is indeed reckless. So is God.
Assembled worshipers were praying outside the temple for redemption and consolation of Israel and what did God do? Send a preacher after the fashion of Elijah—and even then it was going to take several years for his ministry to get started. Ironic, isn’t it? What sort of God is this?
He’s a reckless God to be sure, but he is a God who, it seems, is rather unwilling to use our ways even if he is willing to use us. And in his rejection of our ways, he confounds us in his own. Kind of makes me wonder how often we miss what God is doing because we are looking for someone else to be the answer to our prayer or some other way or because we are not expecting the person he did choose to use (Jonah and Zechariah both said no; Mary, the small girl, said yes. More irony.)
What sort of God is this anyhow?
If you are following the reading, Brendt also wrote on Jonah 1: Wake Up (or Maybe Not) Stop by and give Brendt’s blog a read.