It has been said that if you want to know what someone’s idol is, you don’t ask them what they love most. Instead, you ask them what their worst nightmare is. What is it that, if taken away, would make you say, “I wish I were dead”?
Jonah was a bible believing prophet who saw a nation repent and wished he were dead.
Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live. (Jonah 4:3)
Why? Because, while Jonah had good theology and knew that God was a merciful God, He also had a bad heart.
This is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. (Jonah 4:2)
And, since Jonah did not want to go preaching mercy to a pagan nation filled with idols, God threw him into one. Jonah gets on a boat to Tarshish and, ironically, finds himself surrounded by pagan idolatry. He is then thrown into the sea where he finds himself swallowed by an idol (Hebrew, dawg, ‘dagon’, a fish god, cf. 1 Samuel 5:2).
Anyway, after a resurrection of sorts, Jonah preaches to Nineveh and they repent. So why doesn’t Jonah go home rejoicing? Why is he furious enough to die?
Jonah’s response to Nineveh’s repentance teaches us that it was not fear that caused Jonah to flee on a boat to Tarshish. It was state worship. Jonah was a nationalist.
He knew God could be gracious anywhere and at any moment and he did not want Nineveh to be the recipients of such grace. This grace belonged to the Jews, it was their birthright and their heritage.
Jonah had more pity for a plant than for Ninevah and would rather see Ninevah dead because it would be good for Israel. Jonah was a nationalist but God, much to Jonah’s dislike, was an internationalist and this made Jonah as mad as hell and jealous unto death.
We see a similar reaction when Jesus comes and announces that he will be a fulfilment of Jonah. In Matthew 12:39-40, Jesus says,
“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
Each time Jesus refers to Jonah as a sign (Matthew 12:39; 16:4; Luke 11:29-30) it is in reference to the idolatry of Israel. The hardness of Israel will mean judgment on Israel but riches and grace for the world. And this will provoke the nationalist to jealously (Romans 11:11-12).
Again we see this kind of state worship when Jesus brought up that time that Israel’s biggest prophets, Elijah and Elisha, left town and brought salvation to the Gentiles (Luke 4:25-30).
The account of Jonah looks forward to what Jesus would do through three days in the belly of the earth. He would rise to shed abroad the love of God upon the Gentiles and in so doing, expose the idolatry of Israel.
We have no king but Caesar. (John 19:15)
But, some will cry, “We are Christians! We are the children of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone”.
Really? Let us count the ways. If 2020 has taught us anything, it has taught us just how quickly God’s people will fawn and fall over themselves to lay aside the commandments of God in favour of the commandments and applause of men.
Hegel was not joking when he said that, “the State is the march of God on Earth”, and is therefore infallible.
For many believers, the state has become, in ever-increasing measure, a father, a provider, an educator, a protector, and more. And all of which are usually tied to cash. The state, in its own view, represents the presence of divinity and we are taught from cradle to grave to look to the state alone for life and liberty.
As one of our own poets has said, “Your gonna have to serve somebody..”
And so, as it was with Israel and Jonah, so it will be true with the church. Jesus comes as King of kings to expose and demolish our idolatry. Why? In order to bring us out from the slavery of false worship and into a greater affection for His grace.
And when that day of mercy comes, and we are granted repentance, we will join Abraham as true children and say to Sodom with a clean conscience,
I have raised my hand to the Lord God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will not accept even a thread, or a strap of a sandal, or anything that belongs to you, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ (Genesis 14:22-23)
Come, Lord Jesus, come.