New Year’s Resolution




Jonah 4:1-3

1 But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. 3 And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’


Do you make New Year’s Resolutions? I am not so good at making resolutions for myself, but I am great at making resolutions for other people. For example, I read in the newspaper about a 52-year-old Michigan man who wanted a cup of coffee so badly that after being stabbed during an attempted robbery, he walked a half mile to a diner, called for an ambulance, then sat down and ordered that cup of Joe — all with a knife sticking out of his chest. That man really wanted his coffee. Maybe he needs to resolve to get off caffeine.

Then there were the two Kentucky men who stole a lizard from an animal hospital and tried to exchange it for a pint of Jack Daniels at two ABC stores. They wound up in jail, without the Jack Daniels. I have a resolution for them. No more alcohol.

I have another suggestion for the Boston woman who called 911 to report that her 14-year-old would not stop playing "Grand Theft Auto"—not “could not,” but “would not”--until the cops told him to go to bed. My resolution for her is be an Adult. Turn it off.

OK time to get serious. How about your New Year’s Resolutions? What are you resolving to do in 2010?

According to Albrecht Powell of, these are the top ten New Year’s Resolutions.

1. Spend More Time with Family & Friends.

Recent polls conducted by General Nutrition Centers, Quicken, and others shows that more than 50% of Americans vow to appreciate loved ones and spend more time with family and friends this year.

2. Fit in Fitness.

Regular exercise has been associated with more health benefits than anything else known to humankind. Studies show that it reduces the risk of some cancers, increases longevity, helps achieve and maintain weight loss, enhances mood, lowers blood pressure, and even improves arthritis. In short, exercise keeps you healthy and makes you look and feel better.

3. Tame the Bulge

Over 66 percent of adult Americans are considered overweight or obese by recent studies, so it is not surprising to find that weight loss is one of the most popular New Year's resolutions.

4. Quit Smoking

By the way, if you have tried to quit before and failed, do not let it get you down. On average, smokers try about four times before they quit for good.

5. Enjoy Life More

Given the hectic, stressful lifestyles of millions of Americans, it is no wonder that "enjoying life more" has become a popular resolution in recent years. It is an important step to a happier and healthier you.

6. Quit Drinking

Many people use the New Year as an incentive to stop drinking, but that is a drastic lifestyle change for some folks and they mostly fail. Heavy drinkers are almost always unable to quit cold turkey, but they do much better when they taper gradually, or just learn to moderate their drinking.

7. Get Out of Debt

Was money a big source of stress in your life last year? Join the millions of Americans who have resolved to spend this year getting a handle on their finances.

8. Learn Something New

Learn a new skill. Maybe you always wanted to know how to crochet. Maybe you always wanted to know what was in the book. Read it. Maybe you want to learn how your ipod works. Do it.

9. Help Others

Volunteer in same way to help other people. Many nonprofit volunteer organizations could really use your help. PATH right down the road is a good example. The Thrift Store right up the street is another example. Or if your time is in short supply, maybe you can donate all that stuff you have that you do not need.

10. Get Organized

This is on everyone’s top ten list of resolutions. Clean up the clutter in your life.

Well those ten resolutions are all good, but I would like to add one: Love more, and I would like to talk about a negative example—Jonah.

You probably know the basic story of Jonah. We assume that the main character of the book of Jonah is that same prophet mentioned in II Kings (14:25) who counseled Jeroboam II. That would place him in the eighth century BC. He is called of God to pronounce judgment upon the capital city of the military superpower of that time. We read in 1:2 Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” There is no hint of mercy. Jonah is just to “cry out” against their wickedness, but Jonah knows God all too well. He knows how much God loves people and he suspects that if the Ninevites repent, God will forgive them, and that is the last thing he wants. He hates them. He wants an asteroid to fall on the city and blow it to bloody smithereens. He wants them all dead—men, women, and children.

So he runs from God. This is absurd, of course. You cannot run from God. Some commentators argue that the book of Jonah is filled with humor. Admittedly, when most people read the Bible they do not find much to laugh about, but Jonah is a joke. The joke is on Jonah and he never seems to get it. He buys passage on a ship bound for Tarshish—which in that day was the most faraway place imaginable. I suppose we would say we are going to go to Antarctica or Timbuktu.

Then, once on board, he falls asleep in a violent storm, which seems like odd behavior, but maybe not, I slept through most of Hurricane Hugo, until a tree fell against the house.

But back to Jonah. There is a confrontation with the crew. The sailors seem to be decent people. Only in the last desperate extremity do they throw Jonah overboard. Then the storm ceases and the crew of the ship is converted. Of course, Jonah does not know about their conversion because he has been swallowed by a great fish. He spends 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of the fish. Maybe the Lord enclosed him in a bubble and protected him from gastric acids. Then he offers a long prayer of thanksgiving in chapter 2. Now prayer is always good, but strikes me as weird to imagine Jonah praying in a fish stomach. However that may be, Jonah then goes to Nineveh.

Now I have heard many sermons on Jonah, and I have heard some fine ministers say that Jonah is a prophet of repentance, that he went to Nineveh and told them to repent or God would destroy them. Not so. Again, the last thing Jonah wants is for the Ninevites to repent.

He preaches in 3:4, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” That is Judgment. Jonah said, God says in 40 days you are going to die, and I hope you do.

But the people of Nineveh believe Jonah and believe God and put on sackcloth and fast and repent of their sins. Even the king takes off his royal robes and covers himself with sackcloth and ashes, and he makes a proclamation that even the animals should be covered with sackcloth and should fast. That seems overdone, but they are trying to get God’s attention.

The king says in 3:9, “Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.” And God did just that. God changed his mind and did not bring destruction upon the city.

And this was exactly what Jonah had expected from the beginning. In chapter 4, we read that Jonah was fuming. He was so angry he was gnashing his teeth. He said, I knew this would happen. This was why I took ship for Tarshish. Because I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, “slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”

Jonah knows about God. He knows that God is love. Of course, that is what the New Testament would tell us—more explicitly than Jonah ever did. I John 4:16, “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” In the eighth century BC, Jonah already knew that, but he did not apply that. He knew that God is forgiving and merciful, but the problem was that Jonah was neither forgiving nor merciful. I John 4:16 says that if we live in love, God is with us. Jonah knows this, but Jonah does not do this.

In fact, he is so filled with hate and spite against the Assyrians, that he cannot stand it that God has forgiven them and he pleads with God in v3 to kill him. “And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” He would rather die than see God forgive these Assyrians.

You realize that the Assyrians are not the only ones that stand in need of an attitude change; the Assyrians are not the only ones that need forgiveness. But Jonah never gets it. This is the joke of Jonah. The sailors on the boat are converted; The Ninevites repent, but Jonah does not.

We read in v5 that Jonah went outside the city and made himself a shade of palm leaves and waited to see what would happen to the city. He is still in hopes that God will change his mind yet again and destroy the place. And a bush grew up and gave Jonah some shade, and Jonah was very happy about that. Then the bush died, and Jonah was sad, and again he said in v9, I would rather die than live like this. Apparently Jonah is something of a prima donna, who overreacts to everything.

God said to him, are you angry that the bush died, and Jonah replies, angry enough to die. This is childish. Jonah is mad about a bush. God points this out saying in vs 10-11,

You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

That is the conclusion of the book of Jonah. Some scholars are unhappy with the ending. We never know that Jonah ever got it. But that is not the point. The point is do we get it?

The people of Nineveh were uncaring, indifferent, insensitive—sort of like us, sometimes. God loved them and sent Jonah to them. Just as God loved us and sent Jesus to us.

Jonah preached an 8-word sermon on judgment, and the whole city repented, but Jonah did not. He went outside of town and sat down, and fell in love with the bush that gave him shade. He did not care for people at all. Jonah reminds me of people who love their car, love their computer, or love their money. They love things that benefit them.

The book of Jonah is sometimes called a missionary book. If so, Jonah must have been the worst missionary that ever lived. For Jonah it is all about Jonah. He does not care about other people at all, but through Jonah, God is teaching us another way.

In I Corinthians, the apostle Paul calls it “a more excellent way.” And Paul says that if we have everything else in the world and have not love then we are “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

Jonah was a noisy gong. He could only love his little group; he hated everyone else. This is what the world ordinarily calls love. Love your family, your group. Look with suspicion on everyone else. The NT teaches a more excellent way.

God shows us what love is. God calls us to love. That is what the verse from I John said. God is love. If you do not love others, you do not have God. If you love others, you have God—so love more in 2010.


If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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Last Modified: 05/02/13