Jon 1:1-2 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, (2) “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”
Jon 3:4-5 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (5) And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
Many of the churches that we have dealt with in regard to their cruel treatment of domestic abuse victims proudly include in their doctrinal statements an unbending confession of the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. I fully concur with that doctrine. The Bible is the very Word of God and is the rule for our faith and practice.
However, it is not enough for us to confess the Bible to be the Word of God. We must also interpret and apply it as the Lord intends for His Word to be understood and applied. The Pharisees, as you know, were very conservative in doctrine and held to the letter of Scripture. And yet they were so, so very wrong in how they used it. Grievously and mercilessly wrong.
Jonah’s mission was given to him by the Lord. He was to go to Nineveh and preach to that wicked city that in 40 days the Lord was going to destroy everyone there. Amazing as it was the people believed the Lord’s Word and repented:
Jon 3:10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
God himself “repented.” The Lord whose Word is true, whose decree is unchanging, whose very nature is the same yesterday, today and forever, changed His decree. Jonah of course was not happy-
Jon 4:1-2 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. (2) And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.
Admonishing Jonah, the Lord put this rhetorical question to him-
Jon 4:11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
The inerrant, authoritative Word of God must always be handled as He handles it. God Himself does not apply His Word with an unbending, stiff, merciless “well, that’s too bad. What I said stands no matter what. Nineveh is toast.” That was the lesson Jonah needed to learn and I suspect he did learn it. After all, it is most likely that Jonah himself is the one who recorded His own story right here in the book of Jonah.
Pastors and elders and theologians and professing Christians in so many cases have never learned about the mercy of the Lord and the proper application of His Word. To them, prideful as they are in their allegiance to the inspired letter of His Word (and the very letters are indeed inspired by God), the spirit of His Word goes wanting and unheeded.
Mat 12:7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.
And this is why the majority of “Bible-believing” Christians treat abuse victims and the oppressed with such hard-heartedness and cruelty. “God’s Word says this and that about divorce and remarriage. It says this and that about a wife submitting to her husband. And therefore that is what a wife must do no matter how terribly her abuser is tormenting her. She must give sacrifice. That’s what they say. But Jesus said the Lord requires mercy, not sacrifice. Mercy.
Over and over again we see it. I tell victims of abuse that they have every right before God to divorce and be free. Then their pastor steps in. He and his elders take the details of her case and filter them through the grid of their Bibles, and then strain out the gnat while ignoring the camel that gets by them.
Mercy in the handling of Scripture does not mean that we endorse all manner of sin. It does not mean that we embrace the evils of our day and declare that all is forgiven by the Lord because He is merciful. No. Not at all. But if our interpretation and application of the Lord’s Word is exercised without mercy, then our merciless result twists and perverts that Word so that it is no longer the Lord’s Word at all.