September 14, 2015

Obedience and disobedience

Jonah 1:1–4:11, Acts 13:1–12, Job 22:1–13

In the debate concerning the sovereignty of God and the will of man, some say God never forces anyone to do what He wants them to do. However, at the very least the story of Jonah shows how God can change the “I wants” of those who resist Him.

God said to Jonah, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went the opposite direction from Nineveh in his attempt to run from God. (Jonah 1:1–3)

Jonah found a ship and after he boarded and it set out, “The Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.” (Jonah 1:4)

At this, the sailors questioned everyone and Jonah admitted what he was doing and told them to throw him overboard. They tried to avoid such a drastic measure, but eventually picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea. The sea ceased from its raging. “Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.” (Jonah 1:15–16)

As for Jonah, “The Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah 1:17) Like most people in dire situations, “Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish.” (Jonah 2:1) He didn’t voice any repentance, but God heard his prayer, spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. (Jonah 2:10)

Then the Lord spoke to Jonah the second time, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” This time Jonah went to Nineveh, just as God commanded the first time. (Jonah 3:1–3) He obediently gave them God’s message and the people of that wicked city repented and were saved from God’s wrath.

Jonah does not earn any medals. He was pushed to obedience lest a worse thing happen. He realized that God controls the weather and the actions of fish. He also controls vegetation and bugs. He “appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered.” (Jonah 4:6–7)

This incident reveals that even though Jonah finally obeyed, his heart wasn’t in it. He continued to put his own way and his own comfort at the top of his priority list, with the salvation of lost souls somewhere farther down. I can relate to Jonah.

Job’s ‘friend’ Eliphaz is also a frustrated man. He thinks Job brought his troubles on himself by being disobedient, but will not admit it. He says to Job, “Can a man be profitable to God? Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself. Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are in the right, or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless? Is it for your fear of him that he reproves you and enters into judgment with you? Is not your evil abundant? There is no end to your iniquities.” (Job 22:2–5)

In this, it’s easy to see the error in his words (as God later affirmed). Eliphaz ignores Job’s life pattern. God even said Job was a righteous man, but this ‘friend’ insists otherwise. Obedience does not always look like it to others, but God knows our hearts.

I can relate to Job also. I’ve had Christian friends question my obedience and accuse me of doing my own thing when I was certain that God had commanded me to act. Part of that certainty was being aware that in my flesh, I didn’t want to do what He said. If I was doing my own thing, the Spirit of God would be opposing my actions.

In the NT, God told his people, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2) They obeyed. On their travels they met a magician who tried to thwart their efforts. But Saul (Paul), filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.”

Paul obeyed and “immediately mist and darkness fell upon (the magician), and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand.” (Acts 13:6–12) In this case, disobedience didn’t bring a second chance like Jonah got, but instead brought disaster.

Enough said. God is able to ensure His will is done. I need to cooperate!

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