Now we come to the book of Jonah, which is one of my favorite stories of the Old Testament. It’s a short book: You can easily read it in one sitting. But there’s so much meaning packed into these four small chapters that we’re going to take about a chapter a day.
First, we need just a little bit of background. Ironically, the name Jonah means “Dove,” which is the last word I would’ve chosen to ascribe to this man. He was a contemporary of Amos, so this was a time when Israel was a dominant power in the area. During this time, however, the nation of Assyria was a perennial threat, and its capital was Nineveh. This city was infamous for its aggression and brutality towards its neighbors. Commonly when it captured prisoners of war, it used large hooks thrust thru the mouths of its captives to lead them into exile. So Nineveh was A) a thoroughly wicked and brutal city, and B) a mortal enemy of Israel and Judah.
And it was to this city that Jonah was called to preach. The Lord called him and told him basically “I’m sending you to proclaim my word to Nineveh. You’re going to go to them and urge them to repent, because I’m about to execute judgment on them.”
What did he do? He ran away. He went in the exactly opposite direction. Later in the book he gives a very specific reason for his disobedience: The last thing he wanted to see was Ninevah repent. He didn’t want to see God forgive them! He wanted to watch them burn!
So he figured that if he didn’t complete his mission, Nineveh would be destroyed.
Here’s where it gets almost funny if it wasn’t so serious. Let me get this straight: You’re going to run and hide from an omniscient God. Well, what else was he going to do? Actually do what the Lord had told him to do?
So he boarded a ship heading in the opposite direction from where he needs to go. The Lord sent a storm onto the ship, and its hardened, most experienced sailors were terrified. The captain, out of concern for everyone on the ship, went and found Jonah. In stark contrast to the pagans—who at least knew that there were supernatural reasons behind the storm—the prophet was asleep below. In other words, his physical state matched his spiritual state.
They all drew lots to see who’s the cause of all this, and the lot fell on Jonah. To his credit, he finally showed some concern for people other than himself, and he urged them to throw him overboard. And to the credit of these pagans who didn’t know the one true God at all, they did their best to avoid doing this to him. But although they did their best, it was—as always—the Lord’s purpose that prevailed. They realized that they had to do the unthinkable, and tossed him overboard. And as Jonah sank into the depths, the Lord provided a big sea creature (the Hebrew is a generic term, not necessarily a whale) to swallow his wayward prophet and save his life.
So what can we learn?
A) It’s really really really foolish to try to run away from the Lord. Whether you do it literally (like Jonah) or figuratively, you’ll only end up hurting yourself.
B) When you do things your way instead of God’s way, you don’t just hurt yourself. Jonah’s disobedience jeopardized the lives of everyone on that boat.
C) It’s a sad state of affairs, but it does happen at times. More often that we’d like to admit, sometimes pagans acts better than God’s people. What that happens, it brings disgrace to the name of Jesus. This should not be. It must not be.
Alright, I think we have enough to ponder for today.
Father God, I hate to admit it, but I think there’s more Jonah in me than I care to think about. It’s not just wrong and sinful to be disobedient to you, it’s really stupid. When I’m acting like this, please wake me from my slumber.