In the Strangest of Places
By Anthony Casperson
There’s a wonder when God communicates with us. I know that I have to often step back and appreciate the amazing lengths he’ll go through in order to speak with us. Not only do we have the typical methods of engaging with his written word and listening to godly individuals we know, but from time to time, he talks through the strangest of ways.
The lyrics of a song. The dialogue in a TV show. A theme in a book. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been reminded of the truth of God, or shown a different perspective on that same truth. This is kinda the reason why I like to look at various aspects of nerdiness and relate it to the beauty of God.
It really shouldn’t surprise us that God can speak his truth to us in many ways. After all, everything that’s true has been made that way by God. Additionally, he’s shown in his word that he occasionally speaks in odd ways.
Just ask Balaam about having his female donkey speak God’s word with the voice of a man. Or look at how God continually reminded the Israelites about their need for repentance and rescue as he utilized nation after nation as his agents of justice against his people’s sin. And that’s not even counting the things God had various prophets perform to symbolize the message he had for the people.
These thoughts came to my mind again as I read through the book of Jonah recently. I sat back and considered that this runaway prophet might just be the most successful, reluctant and rebellious spokesman of God.
While on the run, Jonah tells the sailors who fear for their lives that he’s the reason why they’re in danger and that they should throw him overboard. They pray to God for forgiveness and toss him in the water, which immediately calms. And then they make sacrifices and vows to God afterward.
And while I doubt that many of those sailors became lifelong, monotheistic converts, their response was certainly better than the prophet’s. He’s ready to die by stomach acid. But then on the third day, he prays this poem of supposed repentance that’s so overly-flowery that God allows the fish to get the bitter taste out of its stomach. Literally, the prayer made the fish throw up.
Then, with a hateful attitude and mumbled disgust, Jonah makes it to Nineveh and preaches the same sermon throughout the city. But don’t think this is some newly-turned-over leaf. No, the sermon contains five words in the Hebrew. This guy’s doing the bare minimum effort.
Yet even with so little, God uses those words to change the hearts of the entire metropolitan area. From king to commoner, they were moved by the meager words of a prophet who hated them to realign their ways. At least for a time. Until God could use the Assyrians to act as his agents of justice against the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the coming generations.
Jonah then points his finger at God, “I knew this would happen. Why do you think I didn’t want to prophesy here. You’re a gracious God. Full of mercy. Slow to anger. Abounding in love. And relenting from disaster. Those people there don’t deserve you.”
Then, as the prophet sits outside of the city, with a good view of what he’d hope would be the city’s eventual destruction, God speaks through a plant and a worm. The vine gives shade to Jonah from the heat of the sun. But on the next day, he awakes to a pest-eaten canopy. And he gets angry at God again.
But God asks how Jonah could be so angry when he didn’t do anything for the plant to grow. No, it was by the hand of the gracious God that the vine grew to protect the prophet. God will do as he wills. Rebelling against him, hating what he is working (even if it will eventually leave us in a difficult situation), will accomplish nothing other than showing what sort of person we are.
And the book ends without a proper conclusion. Though, I believe the fact that the book exists, shows true repentance from Jonah.
When God desires to speak to us, it can come though many various ways, even people who rebel against the ways of God and hate us. But if we are willing to listen, finding the truth of God amidst the words, we can witness the gracious and merciful God who is in control of it all.
So, let’s take the time to listen, not for merely entertainment or argumentative attitudes, but for God’s truth that he wants to speak to us. Ready yourself to listen.