Debra Isenbletter - Pastor Springfield, Missouri
Jonah 2:8: “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.”
After Jonah Fainted and Remembered and Prayed Jonah made a Confession. At first glance when reading this you would think that Jonah is speaking of others but this is a personal confession and Jonah is speaking of himself. He begins with a Confession: “They that observe lying vanities” and he ends with a Conclusion: “they forsake their own mercy.”
When Jonah says “They” he is not just referring to others, but himself. He could be thinking about Israel, for “they” had trusted in “vanities” and of course he could be thinking about the Gentiles, for “they” too had done the same, though they did it in ignorance. But this is personal for Jonah, he is also speaking of himself, for he also had trusted in “vanities.” Jonah says “observe” which is another way of saying trusted. It means “to regard, to guard and preserve,” that is a striking statement. To “observe” means to look at and to recognize, the idea is that it is not done in ignorance. To “guard” means to accept it, to believe it, to protect it. That is what is so dangerous. Jonah’s confession is that he knew what he was doing, he did it with his eyes open, he did it willing, knowing that it was wrong when he ran from the Lord.
The word “lying” means emptiness” or “falsehood” and “vanities” means “emptiness, something transitory.” It is like a double emptiness. How sad, how very, very sad for someone who knew the Lord, knew the Word to be taken in by something that was nothing, to be taken in by a lie, by lying to himself. A lie has no truth, no substance, no reality and although Jonah did not worship an idol, he told himself a lie and believed it to justify himself. These “lying vanities” can be anything we tell ourselves to justify ourselves in disobeying the Lord. In Jonah’s case I think there were two things that he put before his God that became “lying vanities” and he used them to justify disobeying God. One was his Pride and the other was his Patriotism. Pride in being a prophet for Israel, and Patriotism for Israel in his attitude against the Gentiles. When Pride and Patriotism were put before God’s Word and God’s Will they had become idols, something that was empty that could not support or satisfy in time of crisis and the Lord had to show him how very vain these things were.
In our own lives, these “lying vanities” can speak of deception, either by ourselves or by others. Both are equally dangerous and destructive. We can believe the lies others tell us because that is what we want to hear and we can believe lies we tell ourselves for the same reason. We can do this when we are discouraged or disobedient. We can do this when we are walking by sight and not by faith. These “lying vanities” may not be physical idols or statues but they are just as powerless to help us when the time comes to face the consequences of our actions or decisions. What is so striking is that Jonah, who would have shuddered to go to an idol for help, had fled to Tarshish, to those that trusted in idols. Now, a chastened Jonah, realizes what he has done and makes this confession and identifies himself with those who have done the same. The result of trusting in “lying vanities” is trouble and turmoil (Psa.88:3; Psa.143:4) and the remedy for “lying vanities” is simply to trust the Lord (Psa.31:6).
The conclusion that Jonah comes to is striking for he realizes that those who trust in these vain lies have “forsake their own mercy.” Other translations for this are: “Forsake their own [Source of] mercy and loving-kindness. (Amplified Bible); “Forsake their faithfulness,” (New American Standard); and “Give up their source of mercy” (Complete Jewish Bible).
To “forsake” means to relinquish, to leave, to refuse.” Jonah knew what God’s mercy was, he knew that it belonged to him, that it was his privilege, as did the rest of God’s people. Yet, in disobedience he forsook it, he left it, he refused it, as did Israel in their disobedience. Jonah, though he did not realize it at the time was refusing God’s “mercy,” His “loving-kindness,” His “goodness;” His “favor.” He was refusing to believe in God’s “faithfulness” and refusing to be “faithful” in return. He took it for granted and when he turned away from it, the Lord let him feel how empty his life was without it. He did not realize what he had turned away from until he denied it and suddenly felt the need for it and could not seem to find it. Another meaning for “mercy” is “steadfast love,” and despite Jonah’s departure, the Lord was still there and still loved him. Jesus made that same promise to us when He said, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee” (Heb.13:5).
The real lesson that Jonah learned was that he had mercy at his disposal and he did not accept it. He failed to show mercy to others when he refused to go to Nineveh and now he saw how precious “mercy” was. But, Praise the Lord, despite that and because of that realization, the Lord will show mercy to Jonah and he will preach to Nineveh and the Lord will show His mercy to them.