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Council Letter: November-December 2020

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Council Letter

November-December 2020

The prophet Jonah lived in difficult times, just as we do today. 

By 800 B.C., Israel had steadily suffered military oppression by the Syrians and by the superpower in the region, Assyria. Despite two centuries of sinful kings, idolatry and disobedience to God after Solomon’s death, God declared through Jonah that He would extend mercy to Israel because He remembered His pledge not to totally destroy them for His name’s sake (2 Kings 14:25-27 2 Kings 14:25-27 [25] He restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath to the sea of the plain, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which he spoke by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, which was of Gathhepher. [26] For the LORD saw the affliction of Israel, that it was very bitter: for there was not any shut up, nor any left, nor any helper for Israel. [27] And the LORD said not that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven: but he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.
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). It was during Jeroboam II’s reign that He did this, even though Jeroboam II “did what was evil in the Lord’s sight” (2 Kings 14:24 2 Kings 14:24And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD: he departed not from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.
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, New Living Translation). God used him powerfully to save Israel, showing that He can use even a spiritually flawed man to carry out His will out of love for His people. Eventually Assyria came directly against Israel, requiring them to pay an enormous tribute to avoid being invaded, and making the king a puppet ruler—an arrangement the Israelites detested (2 Kings 15:19-20 2 Kings 15:19-20 [19] And Pul the king of Assyria came against the land: and Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver, that his hand might be with him to confirm the kingdom in his hand. [20] And Menahem exacted the money of Israel, even of all the mighty men of wealth, of each man fifty shekels of silver, to give to the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria turned back, and stayed not there in the land.
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). 

In the midst of this oppression, God asked the prophet Jonah to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, with a warning of destruction if they didn’t repent of their evil deeds. We can learn important lessons from the book of Jonah about how God operates through His Work. Let’s take a closer look.

Jonah’s calling and initial reaction

The account begins: “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me’” (Jonah 1:1-3 Jonah 1:1-3 [1] Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, [2] Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. [3] But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
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). But Jonah fled on a ship bound for the opposite end of the world, Tarshish. A freakish storm arose and was about to destroy the ship, when the anguished sailors drew lots to see who caused the storm, revealing that Jonah was the guilty one. At Jonah’s urging, they reluctantly threw him overboard and the storm ended. Jonah was swallowed up by a great fish specially prepared by God. After three days and three nights, the fish vomited him on the shore (Jonah 2:10 Jonah 2:10And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited out Jonah on the dry land.
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). Miraculously spared, he was repentant and thankful (Jonah 2:9 Jonah 2:9But I will sacrifice to you with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.
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). Once on land, he again received his marching orders from God (Jonah 3:2 Jonah 3:2Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the preaching that I bid you.
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). It’s no wonder that this time around, he obeyed right away!

In Nineveh, he proclaims God’s message: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4 Jonah 3:4And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
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)! What happens next is simply astounding. The Ninevites repented and declared a city-wide fast (Jonah 3:5-9 Jonah 3:5-9 [5] So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. [6] For word came to the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. [7] And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: [8] But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God: yes, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. [9] Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?
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). As a result of their conscientious repentance, “God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10 Jonah 3:10And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do to them; and he did it not.
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). 

Jonah’s anger

Was Jonah pleased that they had heard his warning and were spared? Absolutely not! Instead he was infuriated that God had forgiven them (Jonah 4:1-3 Jonah 4:1-3 [1] But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. [2] And he prayed to the LORD, and said, I pray you, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before to Tarshish: for I knew that you are a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repent you of the evil. [3] Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech you, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.
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)! The story ends with God raising a large plant that protects Jonah from the scorching sun, but then He destroys it and Jonah is heartbroken. God contrasts Jonah’s pity for the plant with his indifference to God having spared Nineveh: “This plant grew up in one night and disappeared the next; you didn’t do anything for it and you didn’t make it grow—yet you feel sorry for it! How much more, then, should I have pity on Nineveh, that great city. After all, it has more than 120,000 innocent children in it, as well as many animals” (Jonah 4:10-12 Jonah 4:10-12 [10] Then said the LORD, You have had pity on the gourd, for the which you have not labored, neither made it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: [11] And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more then six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?
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, Good News Translation)! 

Two-stage judgment

We thus see that God’s judgment normally consists of two stages: First, the stage when He shows mercy during a period of possible repentance. This period can be short-term for a nation being judged, but in the long-run, it means God will extend His mercy up to the end-time events, when He will decisively intervene in world affairs. As 2 Peter 3:9 2 Peter 3:9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
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says, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

In the second stage, wickedness reaches a certain threshold and the warning message has not been heeded. As it says in Daniel 8:23 Daniel 8:23And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up.
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about the end-time, “When the end of those kingdoms is near and they have become so wicked that they must be punished” (GNT). In fact, the book of Nahum describes what later happened to the people of Nineveh: they went back to their wicked ways and were totally destroyed around 612 B.C. 

Our role today

It is now one of our primary missions to get out a warning message, which also includes hope, to the world. As Jesus said: “And this gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14 Matthew 24:14And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come.
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). Yes, the gospel of the Kingdom of God is very good news, but as the context of Matthew 24 shows, there will be very difficult times ahead before Christ returns. Moreover, in Revelation 10:5-7 Revelation 10:5-7 [5] And the angel which I saw stand on the sea and on the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, [6] And swore by him that lives for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer: [7] But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he has declared to his servants the prophets.
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and Revelation 11:18 Revelation 11:18And the nations were angry, and your wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that you should give reward to your servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear your name, small and great; and should destroy them which destroy the earth.
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, we see God finally intervening in world affairs and ultimately establishing the Kingdom of God. 

Four action steps

In conclusion, we can learn a lot from Jonah, that initially reluctant prophet, about how God judges and acts. Here are four actions steps we can take.

1. We should understand the stage we are in, for there is still time for the world to repent! Meanwhile, we are to help get the gospel of the Kingdom out and aid in preparing the people who do repent so they can be part of that coming Kingdom. 

2. Don’t be glad to see God’s punishment on the unjust, but rather feel compassion. After all, as the saying goes, “There, save for the grace of God, go I.” To the point, Jesus tells us, “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:36 Luke 6:36Be you therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
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). 

3. The time will come when God’s judgment can’t be withheld any longer. So, we should be very thankful for the time we have to prepare for God’s Kingdom and remain faithful, doing our part in God’s Work.

4. We can help carry out the “work of Jonah” at this present time. Only God knows when to intervene and punish evildoers, while rewarding His obedient followers.

Indeed, Jonah was supposed to give the Ninevites a chance to repent, which was fulfilling God’s work in that region, but he failed to have compassion on them. Today, the Church is doing a “work of Jonah” but on a worldwide scale. Presently, the world is headed the wrong way, just as ancient Nineveh was. Man’s wickedness is again rising to heaven. 

Let us heed, then, the prophecies of what’s coming. Let’s keep doing a work like Jonah did—and let’s remain faithful! Remember, as Jonah learned, God’s timing is always perfect.