by Janet S. Wolff
Yom Kippur (this year celebrated on September 25–26) is considered one of the most holy, solemn holidays of the Jewish year, where fasting and repentance are the focus. During the services of Yom Kippur, the book of Jonah is read.
In this familiar story, Jonah ran from God, repented, and carried out his mission, albeit with a clenched jaw. He is the perfect example of how we have a tendency to run from what God has required of us. (“But, God, You don’t understand! You can’t honestly expect me to love them after what they did to me!”) Yet when we are overwhelmed by desperation because of our sins, we cry out for immediate forgiveness and grace.
The question is, do we extend that same grace and compassion—which we were so desperate to receive—to others?
After being cast overboard, Jonah was tossed around in the waves, with seaweed wrapped around his head, and ultimately descended into the depths (Jonah 2). As Jonah’s life was in the balance, he was swallowed by a great fish. It is from within this fish that Jonah rejoiced:
“When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.” (Jonah 2:7–9)
Jonah cried out to God in prayer and thanksgiving for sparing his life and for hearing his cry for help. He remembered the mission God had planned for him and promised to go. At that moment, God commanded the great fish to vomit Jonah back onto the shore.(Consider this vivid word picture and how Jonah must have looked – and smelled! No wonder the king wanted everyone to listen!)
Jonah kept his promise to God and went into Nineveh, proclaiming God’s impending punishment to them for their wickedness. And even though Jonah did not offer a redemptive option, the king and all the residents of Nineveh sought forgiveness anyway. Only recently, Jonah had been in this same position of impending destruction and had cried out to God for His mercy. Yet Jonah was angry with God for forgiving the people. Jonah wanted to see destruction, not compassion.
How many of us have been there? A moment of desperation is all it takes for us to be full of promises, deal making, and bargaining. And then we walk away and forget God’s mercy and the promises we made when God was faithful to us.
Are we so base as to think we deserve God’s grace but others do not? We cry out to God and actually expect mercy and grace from a sovereign God. But many of us are like Jonah when it comes to forgiveness for others. Whether we see others repent and receive God’s mercy and blessings or see them reject Christ (as did James and John in Luke 9:54), it is important to remember that God’s mercy, love, compassion, and blessings are for all. We are expected to seek God’s mercy for all, not just for ourselves.
This is a season for all of us to reflect, not only for ourselves, but for those around us. Consider those who have betrayed us or caused pain to us or to someone we love. Do we really consider them to be worthy of the same forgiveness we hope to receive ourselves?
God is sovereign. He owes us nothing. Yet God chooses to offer us forgiveness if we only seek Him and ask. He also offers that same forgiveness to others. God’s heart is for mercy. Our challenge, then, is to use this time of Yom Kippur wisely: to pray and fast for our own forgiveness, and then to pray for those around us—for grace and compassion, not for destruction (despite what we may feel).
Janet S. Wolff is a Berean School of the Bible student from Lakewood, Washington. For more information about Berean School of the Bible, visit www.globaluniversity.edu/berean