Mercy as Big as He Is

Maybe many just remember Jonah and his book for a story about being swallowed by a big fish. Jonah is a special book to me, though. In this record of a man who was given instructions by YHWH to take a message of judgment to a sinful people, there is great and unexpected mercy where perhaps we would instead expect condemnation.

If you have ever been in need of great mercy when you knew you had no right to expect it, as i have, the book of Jonah is for you.

Jonah is commanded to take a message of condemnation to Nineveh,

Now the word of Yahuwah came to Yonah, the son of ‘Amattay, saying, “Arise! Go to Niyneweh, that great city, and cry out against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” -1:1,2

But instead, Jonah flees and boards a ship taking him in the opposite direction, He does not want the lot His Elohim has given to him. The consequences come with a storm which threatens to take the lives of all who are on the ship.

After praying to their own elohim and casting lots which fell on Jonah as the one responsible, they tried hard to find a way to spare him but at last reluctantly threw him overboard.

Because of these events, the pagan men who were aboard that ship witnessed first hand the power of YHWH, which resulted in them fearing Him, offering a sacrifice to Him and vowing vows to Him.

YHWH used these things which Jonah meant for selfish disobedience to turn these men who had been worshiping false elohim to Him. It is a show of mercy to those who had done nothing to deserve it which is maybe often missed in this book.

Jonah had become deserving of death for his disregard of the orders which His Elohim gave to him. A huge fish was prepared to devour him, and it did. Being swallowed whole and perhaps even experiencing death or near death for a time, Jonah had no reason to expect his death sentence would be reversed for any reason.

Still, Jonah hoped and prayed a desperate prayer in repentance, begging for His mercy.

“I cried out to Yahuwah because of my affliction and He answered me. Out of the belly of she’owl I cried. You heard my voice for You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me.

All Your billows and Your waves passed over me. Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight, yet I will look again toward Your sacred temple.’

The waters surrounded me, to my soul. The deep closed around me. Weeds were wrapped around my head. I went down to the moorings of the mountains, the earth with its bars behind me forever.

Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Yahuwah, my ‘Eloah. When my soul fainted within me, I remembered Yahuwah, and my prayer went to You, into Your sacred temple.

Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own mercy, but I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving. I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of Yahuwah.”
– 2:2-9

YHWH answered repentance with mercy in a situation which seemed impossible, and which should have meant certain death. Jonah was expelled from the fish’s belly onto dry land.

He did not make the same mistake twice but went directly to do what YHWH commanded him this time, and took the message of condemnation to Nineveh.

The people of Nineveh were known for their sinful lifestyles, and were deserving of the punishment which had been promised them, but instead of pridefully ignoring the warning, they made a decision to believe Him, and to respond with a repentance which perhaps they felt was mostly without hope.

“So the people of Niyneweh believed in ‘Elohiym, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.

The word came to the king of Niyneweh and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, clothed himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.

And he proclaimed and published throughout Niyneweh by the decree of the king and his nobles saying, “Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Do not let them eat or drink water.

But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth and cry mightily to ‘Elohiym. Yes! Let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.

Who can tell if the ‘Elohiym will turn and relent and turn away from His fierce anger so that we may not perish?”
– 3:5-9

YHWH had condemned them, He did not tell them if they repented, that He would reverse their judgment, but yet His mercy prevailed over the condemnation that they deserved.

“Then the ‘Elohiym saw their works, that they turned from their evil way, and the ‘Elohiym relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them and He did not do it.”
– 3:10

Perhaps believers often respond to seeing great works of mercy upon those they do not think should receive it, upon those who have already seemed to have received a message of condemnation, just as Jonah responded to seeing His mercy on Nineveh.

“But it displeased Yonah exceedingly and he became angry. So he prayed to Yahuwah and said, “Ah, Yahuwah, was not this what I said when I was still in my country?

Therefore I fled previously to Tarshiysh for I know that You are a gracious and merciful ‘El, slow to anger and abundant in kindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Yahuwah, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”

Then Yahuwah said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” So Yonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade till he might see what would become of the city.

And Yahuwah ‘Elohiym prepared a plant and made it come up over Yonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery.

So Yonah was very grateful for the plant. But as morning dawned the next day the ‘Elohiym prepared a worm and it damaged the plant that it withered.

And it happened, when the sun arose, that ‘Elohiym prepared a vehement east wind and the sun beat on Yonah’s head so that he grew faint.Then he wished death for himself and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

Then ‘Elohiym said to Yonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”

But Yahuwah said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night.

And should I not pity Niyneweh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left and much livestock?”
– 4:1-11

But we should all realize that His mercy is as big as He is, and i am eternally grateful that it is.

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