What does it mean to idly desert God’s mercy? I like to casually read the NIV Bible and recently the words of Jonah, yes the same man swallowed by a sea creature, jumped off the page…
Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. Jonah 2:8 NIV
Turn away from God’s love by clinging to the things of this earthly world? Why yes, I can see that happening to myself and all those around me. What a truth. God the loving Creator calls and I am distracted by an obsession with a new car, or a new boat, or chasing women, or wanting to resist the oppressive government, or wanting social justice. I turn way from God because I want to use my talents for the good of the culture. Jonah is speaking to me. I wanted a more literal translation than the NIV so as usual I turned to the ESV and the clarity became muddied somewhat.
Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love Jonah 2:8 ESV
The clarity of turning away from God’s love becomes forsaking hope of steadfast love. It is an interesting change in the translation. I like the direction of the NIV creating the image of worldly focused peoples turning away from God’s love that is so clearly present. The literal ESV translation however presents the image of a worldly focused people giving up the hope that God will love them. The ESV is a more realistic translation of the nature of people. Sure giving up the hope of love not yet experience is understandable and God’s love is not so clear and present as the NIV might make it sound. It is a subtle but striking difference.
The word Jonah used in this sentence from Hebrew חֶסֶד and means “goodness, kindness, faithfulness”. The context of this verse is that Jonah is fleeing from God. God has asked Jonah to warn the Assyrians that they need to repent of their sinful ways. Jonah is worried God’s mercy will be given to this murderous people. Jonah as a prophet has lived a called life. A life with a deep spirit filled relationship with a most good, kind, and faithful God. Jonah has witnessed firsthand God’s character and it is not a hope for him it is real and it is present. The NIV and ESV leaving me unsatisfied I continued on in my research and then I found clarity in the Wycliffe translation. Wycliffe is one of the first translations of the bible into English predating even the King James version.
They that keep vanities, forsake their mercy idly. (Those who worship idols, idly desert thy mercy.) Jonah 2:8 WYC
Wycliffe communicates the image of people who idly throw away without concern what God is ready to be to them… “Goodness, kindness, faithfulness”. Deserting his mercy we keep our own selfish vanities or idols of this world. We turn to the physical offerings of the here and now and idly fail to pursue the mercy of God. It is more complicated than making a conscious decision to turn a back on God, although some do come to that point. We are distracted by idols of money, fame, power, sex, and whatever makes one supposedly happy. In self-seeking such vanities people have no regard for their Creator. Jonah with wisdom from his relationship with God knows that many people have deserted God through ignorance, laziness, and the consuming distraction of physical pursuits in this life. Jonah also knows that given the opportunity of a confrontation by God they can be overwhelmed by God’s love because these earthly pursuits ultimately are empty, worthless, and loveless.
Here Jonah uses the same word for חֶסֶד “goodness, kindness, faithfulness” in his complaint to God that he has been asked to preach to this people.
He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Jonah 4:2 NIV
There is an opportunity here even for the enlightened and educated person. An opportunity for the wise of this age. Paul preaching to the philosophers, and those that think much like the western world of today, told them how God is still calling for peoples to repent of their obsession with the material pleasures. Paul is telling us, the modern reader, to repent. God has placed each of us in our country and in our time that we might find Him because He is not far away. God as Christ is near and ready to be involved in the life He has given.
26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, … 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:26-27;30-31 ESV
Repent dear reader. God is near and he embodies what we need “goodness, kindness, faithfulness”.