My Come, Follow Me studies took me to the books of Jonah and Micah this week. The lesson was titled “He Delighteth in Mercy” and was introduced by the following paragraphs.
Jonah was on a ship headed for Tarshish. There’s nothing wrong with sailing to Tarshish, except that it is far away from Nineveh, where Jonah was supposed to go to deliver God’s message. So when the ship encountered a great storm, Jonah knew it was because of his disobedience. At Jonah’s insistence, his fellow mariners cast him into the depths of the sea to stop the storm. It looked like the end of Jonah and his ministry. But the Lord hadn’t given up on Jonah—just as He hadn’t given up on the people of Nineveh and just as He doesn’t give up on any of us. As Micah taught, the Lord does not delight in condemning us, but “he delighteth in mercy.” When we turn to Him, “he will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and [He will] cast all [our] sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-19).
There were several principles taught in this scripture block, but I feel prompted to discuss this one: “All of God’s children need to hear the gospel.” Chapter 1 of the book of Jonah starts with the Lord commanding Jonah to “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me” (Jonah 1:1-2). Jonah 3 tells us that Jonah “rose up” as he was commanded, but he fled to Tarshish to escape “from the presence of the Lord.” He traveled to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish, so he paid the fare and boarded. The problem was that Tarshish was in exactly the opposite direction than was Assyria.
Nineveh was part of the Assyrian empire, an enemy of Israel known for its violence and cruelty. The situation would be similar to an LDS missionary being called to preach the gospel to the Taliban or even ISIS. Obviously, Jonah did not wish to go to Assyria. It is possible that he doubted that such wicked people would hear the word of the Lord and repent. Yet, the Lord had commanded this prophet to go to Assyria to warn them.
Members and missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have also been called to warn our neighbors. Most of us are not required to go to our sworn enemies to declare repentance, but we are asked to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with our family, friends, and neighbors.
President Dallin H. Oaks taught the following: “We should never set ourselves up as judges of who is ready and who is not. The Lord knows the hearts of all of His children, and if we pray for inspiration, He will help us find persons He knows to be ‘in a preparation to hear the word’ (Alma 32:6)” (“Sharing the Restored Gospel,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2016, 58-59).
Jonah quickly learned that he could not hide from the Lord. Soon after the ship on which Jonah traveled set sail, a strong storm arose. The sailors did everything that they could to stabilize the ship, but they feared that it would be destroyed. Jonah told them to toss him into the sea, and the waves would calm. The sailors reluctantly did as they were told, and the sea became calm.
Jonah was caught by a big fish and swallowed. He spent three days in the belly of the fish before he turned to the Lord, and the fish soon spit him out on dry land.
Jonah traveled to Assyria and cried repentance to the people. All the people as well as the king repented in “sackcloth and ashes.” This was not the situation that Jonah expected, and he was not happy about his enemies receiving the blessings of repentance. Hopefully, we will be happy for anyone who hears the gospel and is blessed by it.