"Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls."
1 Peter 1:8-9 (KJV)
1 Peter 1:8-9 (KJV)
Ethical Principles and Christian Values
For centuries the book of Jonah has been not only used as a children’s Sunday school lesson, but also as a practical example of God’s grace, mercy, and forgiving love. While these are excellent points to ponder and teach upon, what does this Old Testament legend have to say about our ethics as followers of Christ and ministers for the God the book represents? Upon reasearch, I have found that many others have also asked these very questions. This essay will reflect upon the disconnection between Jonah’s faith and actions, what happens when Christian leaders cease to live by the call to love God and their neighbors, the struggle for Christian leaders to act on what God calls them to do during seasons of ministry, how my ethics have been shaped by the tough seasons in my own life and the role God has played in the process, and two significant ethical principles the book of Jonah can inform our ethics and values as a leader when engaging other ethical dilemmas.
The Disconnection Between Jonah’s Faith and Actions
For most scholars, Jonah’s behavior is mind boggling and does not make logical sense when compared to other prophets of the Old Testament. Some scholars even refer to Jonah as an “anti-prophet”. While his actions were surely rebellious and disobedient in nature, it does not appear that Jonah means any harm towards the will of God or His people. For a prophet in his time period of Israel; it seems that Jonah either lacks the faith that God can change the hearts of foreign men, the hearts of his own people, or fears what may become of him as a result. Hayyim Angel mentions that, “Alternatively, one could say that Jonah, as a prophet of Israel, sees the idolatrous ways of his people. If gentlies repent, then the Isrealites will look worse by contrast.” Another disconnection that could be pointed out is Jonah’s priority of his nation over another and even over God. Hayyim Angel says later that, “In addition to its omore obvious messages, Jonah teaches that each person must take an active role in his or her life, trying to uncover the truth regarding one’s motiviation and promoting justice even where doing so is destructive to oneself or one’s nation.” For a man of the Faith, Jonah surely lacks the understanding and possibly the substance of faith itself judging by his actions within the book. Rob Barrett says, “While the Ninevites exhibit no resistance to changing their behavior in the face of threat, Jonah persists in his resistance to YHWH regardless of threat.” It was obvious that Jonah believed that even in his rebellion he was heaven worthy, thus not fearing death and preferring it over this calling. He even seemed to believe that God would somehow be pleased by his death due to his rebellion, despite God’s call on his life.
What Happens When Christian Leaders Cease to Live by the Call to Love God and Their Neighbors
When Christian leaders fail to live by the the call to love God and their neighbor, it causes a huge disruption in that leaders life, the world around them, and those who God has called that leader to serve. The failure to live by the call surely sparks a chain reaction. It is the equivalent of gas engine in a car with malfunctioning spark plugs. Without the spark, the whole system is disrupted. In order for God to fix that situation, He either has to replace that plug (leader) or fix him/her. Fixing a leader can often be a long and grueling process, as many of today’s leaders are about as stubborn as Jonah himself. Jonah’s stubborness is even pointed out by Hayyim Angel regarding Jonah’s absence of the fear of God by saying, “Jonah does not fear as do the sailors; he sees himself on a higher plane of knowledge.” Rina Sadun points out the similarities between the story of the flood and Jonah, which is complemented by the repentance of the massses rather than their rejection. They change the path of their morality therefore change God’s decision regarding their fate. When this happens, many horrible things are the result of these actions. Failing to live by the call and love God means that we perish as leaders. Followers of Christ also fall because we are placed in charge of providing the supervision and structure that they trust leaders with. God’s people perish as a result of our failure to love God and set that example of leadership. Those who God instructs us to lead, witness to, instruct, teach, etc all perish due to our disobidience.
The Struggle for Christian Leaders to Act On What God Calls Them to Do During Seasons of Ministry
The struggle for Christian leaders to first get into God’s will, then to stay in His will are among one of the toughest jobs for leaders. While the followers of Christ are losing their faith, quitting the church, fighting against all decisions, and refusing to do His will; God is demanding that we must. This can be difficult because as the Scripture tells us in Ephesians 6:12, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against the spiritual wickedness in high places.” Perhaps, this is a season in which Jonah is seeking to settle down in life and cease risky and uncomfortable behavior, however God’s will and call are rarely comfortable. Given the need to accompany His will, God stretches our comfort zones and brings us out of places of familiarity such as He has asked of Jonah in this instance. Even in his rebellion, Jonah is given multiple exaples of leadership ethics and how to love his neighbors, including many from the ships crew. Etan Levine says, “Only as a last resort, after the lot falls on Jonah, after the lot falls on Jonah, after he himself confesses to being the case of the storm, after he tells them to throw him to the waves, and after they exhause themselves trying to reach shore by their own efforts, do they finally throw him overboard (1:8-15).” However, many academics disagee regarding the regularity of disobedience of God’s calling. Rina Sadun points out, “It is quite common for prophets to verbally refuse God’s call.” However, as Hayyim Angel points out, “The most astonishing feature of chapter two occurs at its outset: Jonah waits three entire days inside the fish before praying!” No matter how defiant we are regarding God’s will for our lives, if He so disires, we will be broken. The bigger question is not if, but rather by what means and how long will it take? For Jonah, it was being thrown out to sea, swallowed by a “great fish”, and remaining in this empending doom three days before repenting and surrendering to God’s call.
How My Ethics Have Been Shaped By the Tough Seasons In My Own Life and the Role God Has Played In The Process
Just as there have been many tough seasons in my life, there were many issues God has had to tolerate from me in order to be where I am today. I am only worthy of death and suffering for the many sins I have committed in my past life and nothing seperates me from those trespasses except the blood poured out on Calvary. Like Jonah, I have been through my seasons of running away from God. First it was by rebellion, then running from my calling. Most recently, it has been the opposite issues. Instead of running away from my calling, I have rushed God into making His will for my life come to pass based on what I have thought of it to be. The problem is that God will simply not be rushed into anything. He is on His own timing, not ours. God has had to remain patient with me and allow me to go through seasons of both suffering and joy to learn the character of God. This has influenced how I not only percieve God’s words spoke into my life, but also how I percieve the world around me.
In the midst of those tough seasons, God’s role is to sustain and keep us as believers. If there is one thing I could say regarding the role God has played in the process of shaping me and my personal ethics, I would have to admit that He has surely been the patient “potter” because this old clay is rather grainy. There have been and still are, many spots that He has had to work with me to get out, to make me the vessel that I am today. Although I am far from perfect, I have surely come a long way from where I was. Just as God sustained Jonah with life in the belly of the “great fish” and with the shade of a plant during the heat of the day, we are sustained by God even in our unbelief in God’s will for our life. When we fail to act according to His will, the root cause for this is we do not trust Him with our life. Whether you are a missionary who fails to act on your calling due to not knowing the technicalities how you will reach the lost, or a Sunday School teacher who feels they do not know the Bible well enough to teach, the root cause is trust. Will we trust Him enough with the calling He has given us? The King of Nineveh was willing to trust God more than even Jonah himself as Rob Barret points out saying,”The king cedes authroity to Jonah’s God by exchanging his sings of authority for those of repentance.” The king did not consult his advisors of whether or not the people would lose respect or if he would lose power based on such an action being taken, he just trusted on God to take his sins and forgive him. Like this king, I am trusting God to do what His will calls for in my life and I do not wish to stand in the way, but I have only learned this through the tough seasons of suffering due to my own mistakes.
Two Significant Ethical Principles the Book of Jonah Can Inform Our Ethics and Values as a Leader When Engaging Other Ethical Dilemmas.
The first and in my opinion, the most important ethical principle that I have learned from the book of Jonah that informs our ethics and values as a ldeader when engaging other ethical dilemmas, has to be God’s will. Above all other things in this world, we must expect to have “thy will on earth as it is in heaven.” I have come to learn and realize not only through life experiences, but also from stories such as the one found in Jonah, that God’s will always prevails no matter the circumstances. We may try to do things our way and they enemy may try it as well, but God can even take the curcumstances of life and flip them to play into His will being done. The question of how it will look on and for us is, did we stand in the way or did we get out of His way? When I pray for a request that has been given to me by another believer, usually within the first three lines of my prayer, I pray that God’s will be done regardless of what the request is because His will should always be the focus in our life. His will should be the most significant aspect of our life, so much so that if it meant His will to be our death for Him to be glorified as many of the disciples suffered, so be it. Sandy Habib understood this principle well when she said, “Going against God does not lead anyone to any place of comfort; disobeying God can mean one thing; a constant succession of spiritual descents, which can have an effect on other aspects of the life of that person.”
The second significant ethical principle that can be drawn from the story of Jonah is that God will use whoever and whatever means He so chooses to go about doing His will. Just as His will always prevails, God’s chosen method and chosen vessel always prevails. There are times when God decides that He has had enough of a person’s disobedience and moves on to a new follower who desires to see His will come about, but many times this is not the case. God will often take that broken vessel, molding them into who He needs them to be, and fulfilling His will through them all for His glory. This was a common theme throughout many of the articles that I have read regarding the Jonah story. Rina Sadun states while comparing the story of Jonah to Noah, “But herein lifes the primary difference: while Noah, who follows God’s instructions to the letter, manages to rescue only his family and a handful of the earth’s animals, Jonah’s drudging call for repentance resolves the situation without a single life being lost, in one of the Hebrew Bible’s most dramatic instances of divine mercy.” Etan Levine also states regarding the lack of genuine remorse of Jonah that, “he makes no admission of wrong nor plea for forgiveness, In sum, there is no spiritual conversion or reconcilliation. Jonah is coerced by God, not convinced.” Regardless of how remorseful, pessimistic, without faith, or understanding of God’s actions that Jonah was, God was determined to use him to bring about His will for the people of Nineveh. I have seen instances and heard stories of both unwilling, willing vessels, and items that God has used to bring His will to past. From using the staff of Moses, to the unwilling bodies of men, God’s will always previals.
Whether you are a seasoned minister or serving laymember, my prayer is that Jonah’s story will inspire you to act upon God’s will in a tactiful manner. We have observed the disconnection between Jonah’s faith and actions, seen what happens when Christian leaders cease to live by the call to love God and their neighbors, witnessed the struggle of Christian leaders in different seasons of ministry act upon God’s call, seen the ways Jonah’s disobedience was part of his ethical development, seen how my own ethics have been shaped by the tough seasons in my life, discussed what God’s role in the middle of those tough learning seasons and how they have shaped my ehtical principles, and stated the two significant ethical principles the book of Jonah can inform our ethics and values as a leader when enganging other ehtical dilemmas. Regardless of our views and opinoins of Jonah, there is much to be learned regarding from this famous prophet and his journey in the belly of a whale.
Angel, Hayyim, “The Book of Jonah: A Call to Personal Responsibility,” Tradition 30, no. 1 (September 1995):56-67. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed August 29, 2017).
Barrett, Rob, “Meaning More than They Say: The Conflict between YHWH and Jonah,” Journal For The Study of The Old Testament 37, no. 2 (December 2012): 237-257, accessed August 29, 2017. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.
Evine, Etan, “Justice In Judaism: The Case of Jonah,” The Review of Rabbinic Judaism 5, No. 2 (2002): 170-197, accessed August 28, 2017, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost
Habib, Sandy, “Who Converts Whom?: A Narrative-Critical Exegesis of the Book of Jonah,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 44, no. 2 (May 2014): 67-75, accessed August 29, 2017, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost
Sadun, Rina, “Sometimes, Everyone Lives: Jonah and the Genesis Flood Story,” Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa 38, no. 2 (September 2014): 1-12, accessed August 29, 2017, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost
 Hayyim Angel, “The Book of Jonah: A Call to Personal Responsibility,” Tradition 30, no. 1 (September 1995):57. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed August 29, 2017).
 Angel, “The Book of Jonah: A Call to Personal Responsibility,” 58.
 Ibid. 66.
 Rob Barrett, “Meaning More than They Say: The Conflict between YHWH and Jonah,” Journal For The Study of The Old Testament 37, no. 2 (December 2012): 242, accessed August 29, 2017. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.
 Ibid. 59.
 Rina Sadun, “Sometimes, Everyone Lives: Jonah and the Genesis Flood Story,” Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa 38, no. 2 (September 2014): 1, accessed August 29, 2017, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost
 The Holy Bible, KJV unless otherwise noted.
 Etan Evine, “Justice In Judaism: The Case of Jonah,” The Review of Rabbinic Judaism 5, No. 2 (2002): 175, accessed August 28, 2017, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost
 Sadun, “Sometimes, Everyone Lives: Jonah and the Genesis Flood Story,” 6.
 Ibid. 60.
 Barrett, “Meaning More than They Say: The Conflict between YHWH and Jonah, 241
 Sandy Habib, “Who Converts Whom?: A Narrative-Critical Exegesis of the Book of Jonah,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 44, no. 2 (May 2014): 70, accessed August 29, 2017, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.
 Ibid, 1.
 Evine, “Justice In Judaism: The Case of Jonah,” 175.