We know from II Kings 14:25 that Jonah was a prophet of God, and in the book named after him, he is called to be a foreign emissary for God’s word. His message is to go to Nineveh, center of the Assyrian Empire – a region on hostile terms with the lands of Judah and Israel.
Applying Jonah to Ourselves
We cannot run from God. Jonah does not comply, though, he flees in the other direction, and the Bible tells us that he is attempting to hide from God. He is seeking to avoid the Lord’s presence, going down to Joppa, down to the ship, and down into the hold of the ship. These words indicate a moral journey as well as the physical direction he is going. Really, we go through a similar process when we find ways to avoid God and His message. We go deeper into our sin, and we put a gulf between God and ourselves that still does not help us escape.
Our speech should line up with our actions. It’s fascinating that, when the lot falls upon Jonah, that he claims to “fear Jehovah,” but his actions betray a different attitude. What he says does not line up with his behavior. In modern vernacular, “he talks the talk but does not walk the walk.” When Jonah admits that throwing him to the sea will save them, but the sailors demonstrate concern for his life and initially avoid this solution.
Our spirituality should be evident to others. Finally, they have no choice. In Jonah 1:14, the sailors pray to God, begging for mercy, admitting His will in these events. Then they throw Jonah to the sea. The storm ends, and the sailors fear the Lord. These sailors’ humility and reverence stands in stark contrast to the lack thereof found in Jonah’s actions. These pagans show more concern for Jonah’s well being than Jonah shows for the souls of the Assyrians. How often are Christians made to look bad due to the lack of concern and reverence we show when compared to the world.
Repentance and re-dedication are always available. The great fish acts as a lifeboat for Jonah, as indicated in the prayers recorded in chapter 2 – demonstrating repentance. He recognizes that his separation from God has led to his own doom, and he recognizes God’s role in his salvation. No matter our situation, repentance is an option, and we, like him, can rededicate ourselves to the service we had once promised to God. As chapter 3 opens, Jonah is redirected toward Nineveh, and, this time, Jonah obeys.
God’s message is powerful. Little is said about Jonah’s message, but, within a day, the king humbles himself and commands national repentance. They are not presumptive about their repentance. From the highest nobles to the lowliest peasant, they turn from their evil ways. Jonah’s experience of mercy is now visited upon the Assyrians.
God’s mercy is for all. Jonah, in chapter 4, despairs due to the sparing of Nineveh. He is furious at his own success, and he admits that he had been afraid the Assyrians would repent and that God would relent. He is happy when mercy is granted to him, but he is furious when mercy is visited upon his enemies. He demonstrates a childish attitude, so God prepares one more lesson for Jonah in the form of a plant that grows, then dies. The book concludes with God asking why Jonah should be compassionate towards this plant rather than the souls in Nineveh.
Jonah demonstrates several character flaws, but, despite these flaws, God’s message is accomplished. God demonstrates mercy that Jonah was unwilling to extend. Like Jonah, we may feel that our enemies are necessarily God’s enemies, and we blind ourselves to the fact that God cares for all of humanity, regardless of race, history, or politics. We are no more deserving of God’s grace than those peoples we resent. We cannot allow self-centered attitudes to color our reactions toward others and our willingness to share God’s word. God has granted us free will, but His plan will ultimately accomplished – either despite our choices or because of our choices.
lesson by Gary Fisher