“And the LORD said, ‘Do you do well to be angry?’” Jonah 4:4
What kind of person do You use God? What kind of person do You choose? Somehow, I think we get hung up on this idea of what a saint is and I don’t think our idea is right. It’s like You choose people to be saints who are above other people because there’s something so good about them. But the more I dig into Your word, that’s not what I see. It’s not that these people were such great people by nature. They weren’t. They were just people like everyone else. The difference is that when You called them in the middle of the world system where they were, they listened. Well, some listened more intently then others, but nevertheless, there was some level of listening and turning to You.
I mean, try to tell me that Sampson was a perfect guy. Excuse me? I don’t think so. It wasn’t that he absolutely obeyed all that God said. He was supposed to be qadosh, holy, set apart from the world for God, and in some ways he was, but in other ways, like his treatment of women and his lack of respect for what God said was holy, i.e.. eating the honey out of a dead lion carcass, he was not set apart from the world. So why would You still use him, Lord? Why not toss him off and choose another?
That makes me think about King Saul who valued booty more than obeying God. God had chosen him and set him apart for something more than being king. He was set apart to lead the people in what it was like to live out a relationship with You, Lord. But his main focus wasn’t on that relationship even though Yours was. And when David came along with the praises of all those women, Scripture says, “And Saul was very angry…” ( 1 Samuel 18:8) His son, the heir to the throne, was so pleased with David’s heart for You, Lord, that he actually acknowledged David as the next heir by the gift of his robe and armor, but not so Saul. Saul wanted the kingdom more than a relationship with You. Saul still had his eyes on the booty. It’s how he lost the kingdom in the first place. Seeing David probably brought up those memories of Samuel’s words, “The Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” Now, I wonder if Saul worried about being cast away from God? Or was his only worry about being cast off the throne?
But the fact of the matter is that God already knew Saul’s heart just as much as he knows mine. And God chose Saul for a time and a reason. God chose Saul to save the people from the hand of the Philistines. Samuel’s words to him are interesting. In one part he tells Saul how he will meet some prophets on the way to his “swearing in.” And when he comes to them, “Then the Spirit of the LORD will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.”( 1 Samuel 10:6) Imagine that! And after Samuel finished sharing these things along his way and about their meeting in Gilgal, Scripture says, “When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart.” Wow, again! And everyone saw what was going on in Saul. Only, I’m not so sure Saul saw. Because he gets back and won’t tell his uncle what had happened. And I wonder how he can have a changed heart by God and not declare those things that God has shared and done. But Samuel gathers the people to share. But Saul hid. Maybe what this meant to what his life ought to look like started to hit home. Maybe he was afraid of what people would think.
And maybe Saul should have payed attention better to Samuel when he said to the people, (who included Saul), “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty [like kings and cattle and booty and people]. For the LORD will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for Himself. Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and right way. Only fear the LORD and serve Him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things He has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.” ( 1 Samuel 12:20-25)
Here’s what I’m thinking about. Jonah and Sampson and Saul were each chosen and set apart for You by You. That makes them examples for us, albeit not the best examples, but definitely honest examples. And we can choose to follow their lead or we can recognize the dangers in ourselves and refuse to let disobedience and selfish desire creep in and take control. We can refuse our own self-righteous anger. It’s the same story as in the garden of Eden and it’ll destroy our testimony if we let it. And our testimony isn’t about us, though we’d like it to be. Our testimony is about all the wonderful things You are doing in and through and for us, God. Because the truth is, we have nothing without You.
When Saul held back Agag and the spoil, disobeying God, Samuel asked, “What have you done?” That’s reminiscent of God’s words in the garden, isn’t it? And it wasn’t that God didn’t know. He did. But it’s important for us to understand what we’ve really done, isn’t it? But sometimes we don’t really listen to our own thinking. I mean, really Saul was saying, “I was afraid so I hid myself in my own good works.” That’s not so far from Adam and Eve is it, who hid in their own fig leaves because of their fear, or Jonah who hid in the bottom of the boat or hid in his anger out of fear that You wouldn’t respond His way.
But Samuel had it spot on for each of them and each of us. “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which He commanded you. For then the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought out a man after His own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be prince over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.” (1 Samuel 13:13-14) Jonah, Sampson, and Saul invited sorrow into their lives by their choices. Time and time again, You were trying to show them what they were missing so they could find their way back in You. Saul lost his kingdom because his kingdom was earthly when it was supposed to be heavenly. But he didn’t lose you. And Jonah didn’t lose you. And Sampson didn’t lose you. They lost their way, and You allowed some really rough stuff in their lives, but You are always faithful, and You don’t leave, even when we fall so hard.
So back to Jonah, the prophet sent to Ninevah, this gentile city. And Jonah new about how merciful You were God because he knew that You would “let Ninevah off the hook” and forgive them if they repented. That’s why he tried to run and hide on the boat. He knew all these true things about You, but he didn’t like it when that goodness was turned to those he hated and was angry at.
I think about when he told the sailors who he was, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” (Jonah 1:9) That’s great, really. But somewhere along the line there were other prophesies of Jonah, but this is the only book remembered. But I discovered something in 2 Kings 14:25, that God had shared some other things with Jonah that’s not in this book we have of him. During Jeroboam’s reign, Jeroboam “restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which He spoke by His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher.” So was he still used and set apart, but just not as effectively as if he had agreed to set himself apart according to God’s will and not his own? Or had he prophesied other things before this event and then wallowed in self-pity afterward instead of rejoicing with the Lord?
I wonder that because there are lots of things we can say, like Peter when he said, “Even if I must die with You, I will not deny you!” Or like Jonah saying how he feared God yet didn’t fear You enough to want what You wanted or to think Your way more right than his. And then he says, “But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to You; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9) But maybe our point of view changes from the time we are inside the belly of the fish to the time we’re back on the outside with more room to choose. Because something happened in Jonah’s heart and mind after that, and he didn’t seem to be willing to sacrifice his ideas with thanksgiving and he certainly didn’t seem to want to pay his “vow” to You.
Now, I’m not holding these “saints” to a higher standard than me. Every one of us is held to Your standard. Thank God that Jesus knows our humanity! The point is, when I make choices against You, I always lose out. And what I lose out on most of all is that relationship with You. And the truth is that I can be rejected as a prophet or as a king or as a witness, like Saul was rejected from being king (1 Samuel 15:22) Because the problem with rebellion is that it’s as evil as practicing witchcraft. It’s worshipping another power, even if it is our own power to decide. Rebellion and stubbornness aren’t little sins. Rejecting the word of the Lord doesn’t just mean you’re an atheist. It means that God has said that something is right and we just won’t agree with Him.
What does that look like? Well, when God establishes one man and one woman in the garden to be one, not only in flesh but in spirit and worship, and Sampson doesn’t give a hoot if his woman loves God or not, that’s sin. Or when God loves and wants to show mercy to a repentant gentile people, and Jonah will have none of it, that’s sin. Or like Peter, when Jesus tells him he’s going to deny him, and he basically answers, “You’re a liar Jesus, I would never deny you.” Or like when we pick and choose what we want to obey in Your word, like maybe everything about salvation but then we talk with disrespect and meanness to others created in the image of God. Or we choose bitterness over anger because our rights trump Your word to forgive. Or I want so much to be loved and valued that I would disobey You just to find that feeling.
But Samuel reminded Saul that obeying the voice of the LORD, that listening to You and doing Your will, was better than any vow we could pay or any sacrifice we could give. It’s one thing, after that, to say that I’ve sinned and to say that I am agreeing with You, but it’s only true if I act in accord with what You want. It’s not enough to go through the motions even though that is a start. I have to change my mindset and heartset and want to obey, and want to feel Your way. I can go to Ninevah and witness and walk away and still hate, but then I haven’t fully obeyed, because obeying is letting God work and feel through me. I’m a living vessel because He lives in me. I’m not just some lifeless pottery that pours out His words.
I just don’t have the right to pick and choose where I want to be set apart in my life and where I don’t. I either am, or I’m not. Psalm 16:3 says, “As for the saints who are in the earth, they are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.” Am I really willing to be put aside for God’s use and not my own. The majesty is that You choose to use me and make me more than I could ever be. You choose to use me as Your living vessel in this world. Do I want to be Your vessel or remain my own? Whose will shall I adopt? But those who choose to remain set apart by You and for You, You delight in and make them majestic. Why? Because You are majestic in them. And the truth is, we’re never alone and never on our own, because there are always other set aside ones.
And even if all the set aside ones, lose sight of their set asideness, we have the greatest example of God and human to follow, Jesus Himself who for our sake, for the sake of the set aside ones, consecrated Himself, that we also might be sanctified in truth. (John 17:19) It’s not easy being set apart. It takes violence, “violent separation from worldly ways,” like dying to them. Jesus payed the price to death and beyond. What price will I pay to remain truly set apart for You, Lord? You have set me apart, but I must choose to remain set apart in and for You. Many are called, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22;14) Maybe that’s all because many refuse to choose being set apart as their way of life.
In reality, our minds, that think we have a right to be angry when we don’t, are a dangerous thing. So are our hearts which are deceitful and desperately wicked to the point we don’t even realize it. Now here’s the interesting thing. Jonah, that saint and sinner, became a sign to the people of Nineveh. (Luke 11:30) How? I think they heard of his being tossed off the boat, and swallowed by a fish, and spit back out, because Jonah’s God does real things, real miracles like that because He cares that Jonah gets His message to the people of Nineveh because He cares about them. See, Jonah was set apart to show that You care. And You did that with him despite himself. And Jesus, the Son of Man, was also a sign, only a perfect miracle sign by being swallowed by death and rising alive three days later. Why? To show how much You care for us and how far You would go to set us apart again for You. Something and someone greater than Jonah came to rescue us from sin and from ourselves. Isaiah warns us to seek Him “while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD.” ( Isaiah 55:6-8) God is calling and setting us apart. Am I choosing for me what You are choosing? Because only when I choose what You choose for me will I ever learn to be faithful. And the truth is, You determine what is considered faithful and it is that which honors and reflects You alone. (Revelation 17:14) Keep me ever learning.