Inside the bend of a river, there lies a city. Outside the city, on a ridge just across the river, sits a man. From where the man is, the city spreads as far as he can see. Huge walls surround it. They must be over 30 cubits tall. When he first arrived at the city weeks ago, the city guards were doing their rounds in chariots on the walls. At times he had seen three chariots riding abreast with room to spare. Now there was no activity at all.
The only thing moving in the city from what he can see is the smoke still rising from the fires all over town. No, the town had not been destroyed by fire. These fires had been deliberately set and controlled. Their purpose was to produce the ashes that currently covered all the towns' residents, human or beast. The city is otherwise fine, and that enrages the man.
He sits under a shelter he had built for himself. Not a great construction, after all, he is a prophet not a carpenter. The shelter is really just a bunch of dead branches leaning up against the sapling from which he had cut them. He had lined it with some sackcloth from the city. It had been the only material he could find. All the nice clothes and textiles had been burned.
Despite its shortcomings, the shelter is great today. He is fortunate in that he built it right where a vine had decided to spring up, and it has grown exceptionally fast. It appears to the man that shortly some fruit will be ripe enough to eat.
The man feels better than he has in weeks. He had been through a lot. Back home, he was considered a great prophet. He was well respected and people listened to him. That all changed when the Word of God came to him, telling him to warn these Assyrians that their city would be destroyed in forty days.
Well, he had not initially liked the idea of giving the Assyrians a warning of their destruction. He ran. He wasn’t afraid, even though his friends accused him of fearing that great city. He was a prophet! He trusted God totally. He had been in His presence! He knew that God could protect him from anything. He also knew God enough to know that if He was telling a city they were wrong, He would give them a chance to repent.
The truth was he hated the Assyrians. They did not deserve forgiveness. They were a terrible, evil people. So he ran, but not away from God—no one could get away from the Almighty. He simply booked passage as far as he could go in the opposite direction. Traveling in the wrong direction was the best step towards not fulfilling God’s command.
God, however, had different plans. The first night, he was awakened in the belly of a storm tossed, quickly sinking ship. When he realized that the storm was a result of his disobedience, he told the sailors to toss him overboard. They tried as best as they could to save the ship without doing as he said. (They cared more for his life than he had ever cared for theirs.) In the end they had to toss him; and over he went.
Next he woke up in Sheol, the place of the dead. At least that is what he thought. Actually he had gone from the belly of a ship to the belly of a fish. God had saved him. He realized that he was not in control. So when the fish threw him up on the beach and God told him again to go… he went. The best he could hope for was that this would turn out as Sodom and Gomorra had, and these sinners would get what was coming to them.
But that wasn’t happening at all. And as he sits looking at the city, he starts to lose hope.
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