Jonah Project 45

Jonah 4:5 

Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 

In our world of entertainment, spectators are used to waiting. A month ago, I sat down with family in expensive seats at Providence Park, home of the Portland Timbers to watch our hometown team take on the 1st place Seattle Sounders. A year earlier, the Timbers beat the Sounders in this same final match up of the season, helping the Timbers win their first Western Conference championship. We got to our seat early and waited for the game to start as the Timbers Army cranked. The stadium was bristling with excitement, as we waited for something exciting to happen on the field. We watched 90 minutes of exciting soccer, but our hometown team lost. Too often, we don’t get what we wait for and we go home a bit disappointed.

Jonah waits. The shortest sermon ever preached is over. Jonah has said all he’s going to say. Now he heads east out of the city, builds a little shelter against the desert sun, sits down and waits in the shade. What is Jonah waiting for?

Strange to say, Jonah waits for fire to fall on the city. He knows about Sodom and Gomorrah. He waits for that same kind of destruction to come to Nineveh. He wants the opposing team to lose; to lose it all; to be humiliated; to be destroyed.

According to writer Andre’Lacocque, author of “The Jonah Complex”, “The destruction of Nineveh corresponds in Jonah’s mind to the salvation of Jerusalem. The paradox of a prophet looking forward to the accomplishment of doom is therefore counterbalanced by the fact, according to Jonah’s logic, it is ultimately Jerusalem’s fate that is at stake.”

So Jonah heads out of the city and waits. One practical reason Jonah heads outside the walled city is to avoid being destroyed in the firestorm he’s waiting for. He distances himself from the place of hoped for destruction, he sits in his box seat, looking down upon the city from the outside, waiting for his enemy to be destroyed.

Whenever I’ve traveled in foreign cities, I’ve always looked for a viewing place where I can look over the whole city in a glance. I love to get the scope of a city from a hilltop, or rooftop. Jonah finds his waiting place outside the eastern wall of Nineveh. There’s hope in that place.

In the east comes hope. The east is the place of new birth, the rising sun, new morning light breaking across a darkened world. As old man Zechariah sings early in the Gospel of Luke, 
     …the rising sun will come to us from heaven 
     to shine on those living in darkness
     and in the shadow of death,
     to guide our feet into the path of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)
From the east comes the rising sun, to shine on Jonah and all the inhabitants of Nineveh, living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide Jonah’s feet into the path of peace.

At this point in our journey with Jonah, the prophet is done walking. He sits down in self-made shade. As the saying goes, “he’s got it made in the shade”. Jonah makes shade for himself, a tiny shelter offering enough shade for one. That is as wide as Jonah’s compassion stretches on this day at least. Jonah’s heart waits. 

There’s a beautiful image from Bruce Springsteen’s song “Cautious Man” from his Tunnel of Love album about a traveling man named Billy who finally decides to settle down:
     On his right hand Billy’d tattooed the word love,
     and on his left hand was the word fear
     And in which hand he held his fate was never clear.
We’re not clear about many things in life. So we wait, caught between love and fear, between regret and hope, between the past and the future.  Waiting is not easy for most. We get impatient. We get twitchy. We jump to conclusions and spring to action. Waiting on God is not easy.
What are you waiting for? How hard is it for you to wait? How patient or impatient are you? When you sit down for ten minutes, how twitchy do you get just waiting, for example, in a doctor’s office waiting room? What are your thoughts about the future? What is coming? Doom or delight? Condemnation or compassion? In which hand is your life held, in love or in fear?