My pastor is preaching slowly through Jonah. I love Jonah. What’s not to be intrigued by? The book has everything. A disobedient prophet, action, sovereignty of God, grace, patience, repentance, revival, and miracles- ten of them! (Jonah 1:4, 1:7, 1:15, 1:17, 1:17, 2:10, 3:10, 4:6, 4:7, 4:8).
I think it is amazing that the Spirit inspired Jonah to write his deeds down – all of them, from the petulant, to the racist, to the rebellious, to the glorious. The Bible doesn’t hide our foibles, sins, and rebellions. The Bible is not a sanitized record of perfect human behavior. Far from it. It’s an honest record of our relationship with God.
Anyway, there’s danger, action, and supernatural miracles, ten of them, in just four short chapters. So naturally I bought the book Moby Dick at Amazon and started reading it. LOL, of course I’m following the pastor and reading the actual Bible. I also listen to other sermons on the topic, as well as give a repeat listen to his sermon later in the week, thanks to podcasts.
But it’s summer, and I’m tired of reading badly written modern books, and the trusty classics never fail me. I had never read Moby Dick, though I’ve read some of author Herman Melville’s short stories. I started reading it and I’m in love with the story.
I got to chapter 9 and Father Mapple’s sermon. It’s a good one, and it’s on Jonah, of course. In the book, Mapple is preaching to New Bedford seamen, including whalers. They’d click with the topic. In Moby Dick, Mapple illustrated the supposed scene as Jonah was ushered to his bunk in the bowels of the ship,
The air is close, and Jonah gasps. Then, in that contracted hole, sunk, too, beneath the ship’s water-line, Jonah feels the heralding presentiment of that stifling hour, when the whale shall hold him in the smallest of his bowels’ wards.
I read that stifling hour as “that sifting hour.”
I like “that sifting hour” better. Not to re-write Melville. But the phrase stuck in my mind. It brought me to Peter. The Lord told Peter,
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. (Luke 22:31-32).
This one verse clues us in to so many things. The spiritual war. Satan’s activity. Satan’s targets. God’s sovereignty that satan needed to ask permission. Our cluelessness about whom satan has asked to sift like wheat today. The fact that Jesus prayed for Peter.
It wasn’t more than a few hours that Peter encountered his sifting hour when he denied Jesus three times.
Thoughts of ‘the sifting hour’ brought me to Job.
And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (Job 1:8).
Satan’s answer certainly reveals that satan had considered Job, more than once.
Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.” (Job 1:9-10).
Satan had in fact been carefully watching Job for a long time. He’d noted the hedge, the increase of possessions, the blessings (plural) and all the sides of Job’s life that satan had tried to access, unsuccessfully thus far. Yes indeed. Satan had considered Job.
The sifting hour did come to Job soon after. Absolutely everything was taken away from Job. Except his wife, who told him he should die.
Our own sifting hour might come soon enough. Satan does have a lot of power in this world, being the god of it. (2 Corinthians 4:4. Ephesians 2:2). He messes with God’s people, he has power to bring winds/tornadoes, to draw fire from heaven, to incite armies to raid your home, and to attack your health. Those are just a few of the things satan did to Job. Satan has much power, and is allowed to operate within that power fully as long as it is within God’s will and permission.
Our trials do not always come from satan. Sometimes God Himself brings about chastisement and we endure a sifting hour. He appointed the storm in Jonah’s case, appointed a big fish to swallow him, appointed the hot wind to scour Jonah, and appointed the worm to eat the shade sheltering him. All to bring about obedience and repentance so God’s will and plan would proceed.
Your and my sifting hour might be coming tomorrow or today or next week. Either because we are devout, like Job, or because we are rebellious, like Jonah, or somewhere in the middle like Peter to strengthen our faith. If we stand for Jesus in this world we will have troubles. (John 16:33). When we rebel and are not repentant, we can expect discipline. (Hebrews 12:6, Proverbs 3:12). Trials strengthen us, James says.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4).
The sifting hour is something I dread emotionally but spiritually I know that it will be good for me in the best possible way- my faith will be strengthened and Jesus’ glory will be gotten.
Let’s go back to Peter’s sifting hour and focus on the wonderful part of the scripture. Satan has asked to sift you like wheat and Jesus said,
but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.
Our Mediator and interceder prays for us! John 17:20-23 shows once again that He prays for His sheep. Has ‘the sifting hour’ come upon you? Rest assured that Jesus ordained it, appointed it, and is praying for you and is interceding for you and intends the best for you. And when it happens to me, I’ll repeat those comforts to my own mind and heart as well. Jesus said in His high priestly prayer, this is-
-so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:23b)
What is sifted out of the chaff is love and glory. And this is the best of all.