If you have not read the book of Jonah recently it may be well worth your time to refresh your memory on this short but powerful book and examine the events surrounding one of God’s reluctant prophets. Though many lessons can be drawn from the book, here are but a few.
First, running with God is the only wise course of action. When God tells us in His word to do something, we ought to do it. When God called Jonah to preach to the Ninevites, he ran the other way. At every turning, we see that running away from God took Jonah down. Down to Joppa. Down into the ship. Down into the sea. And finally, down into the belly of the fish. Running from God’s instructions will take us down as well. Another of God’s prophets, Samuel, put it quite well when he said, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).
Second, God truly is a God of grace and mercy. In spite of Jonah’s disobedience, of which God had every right to punish him, God’s mercy was available for him even in the belly of the fish. God had prepared a fish to save him from the sea and to allow him time to think. A little time out might be good for us as well if we are running away from God. Jonah’s plea reflects that of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15). In both cases, God’s grace and mercy were shown. The Prodigal returned to open arms of his father and Jonah to his new life and renewed purpose.
Third, our righteous anger must be tempered with grace. James put it this way: “…The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (1:20). God Himself was set to destroy Nineveh in forty days. However, by sending Jonah, God had hoped that they would repent and they did, from the king to the commoner. Therefore, “God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them…” (3:10). Did they deserve to be punished for their sins? Yes. Yet, God’s grace was shown to a repentant people. Jonah was angered by this. Jonah showed the great contrast between his wrath and God when he said, “I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, one who relents from doing harm” (4:2). Such a mindset is found in the words of Jesus when He said, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matt. 9:13). We need to meditate upon these words when we are so angry that we wish for someone’s harm or demise. Our wrath may be cloaked under the veil of seeking justice, yet God knows the heart of every man and woman.
As we turn to the book of Obadiah, let us consider three lessons. (Take a moment to read these twenty-one verses.) First, we see the destructive nature of pride. Verse 3 says, “The pride of your heart has deceived you…” It was the wise Solomon who said, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). Of the seven things the Lord hates, “a proud look” is the first on the list (Prov. 6:16-17). “The pride of life” is listed as that which “is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 Jn. 2:16). Pride is the one sin no one has a problem with because pride itself blinds us to it. Thus, we must be careful to examine ourselves intently to make sure that it does not spring up in our lives.
Second, the Edomites were prideful because they trusted in worldly things. They believed that their position was secure because they made their dwelling place in the clefts of the rock (v. 3). They believed their fortress was so impenetrable that no one could possibly defeat them. They placed great faith in their wise men and in their mighty men (vs. 8-9). Yet, they were of no avail because God had set Himself against them. In what do we place our security? Is it wealth, stocks, bonds or our possessions? Is it in our education, job or our health? All of these will eventually fade in time. It was King David who correctly said, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God” (Ps. 20:7).
Third, we need to be mindful that we have a responsibility to our brethren and our neighbors. God told Edom that Jacob was his brother (v. 10). Yet, in the day that foreigners entered the gates of Jerusalem, what had they done? “You stood on the other side” (v. 11). They did nothing to help their brother. Edom held back to God’s displeasure. How often do we stand to the side when we have an opportunity to help? The parable of the Good Samaritan is beloved by many, yet how often do we find ourselves in the position of the priest and Levite when we hold back our money, time and other support? The Lord lets Edom know, as well as us, that there are consequences for not assisting those in need.
These are but a few lessons from Jonah and Obadiah. There are many others. Let us take the time to learn some important lessons from the Minor Prophets.