Key Verse: “But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD. ” Jonah 1:3
Often in life, we struggle with knowing what to do next. How many times have you sought God for guidance over a decision? Maybe in regards to choosing a college or a new job. Perhaps in regards to a relationship or missionary calling. There are many times we are uncertain of what God really wants us to do, but Jonah didn’t have this problem. The book of Jonah begins with theses words.”The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1-2)
Nineveh was a great city, but they were also the enemies of Jonah’s people. The news that “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4) would have been the best news Jonah had heard in a long time. It would have been like a village in WW2 oppressed by Nazi rule, receiving the news that in forty days they would be no more. Imagine the rejoicing, there would finally be freedom from the enemy, and they would receive the punishment they deserved.
This was great news for Jonah, except he understood God is “gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:2). God is full of compassion but Jonah was not. He wanted the people to suffer and be destroyed. He cared nothing for the “hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:11). He cared nothing for the babies and children of this sinful city. In Jonah’s eyes, they deserved all the punishment they got.
Jonah hated them so much he would rather run from God and suffer himself than give them a chance to repent. Jonah’s disobedience was not gradual or by mistake, but it was cold, calculated willful disobedience. He knew what God wanted, but it was not what He wanted.
Jonah ran in the opposite direction, and we know the account well. There is a storm, he is thrown overboard and eaten by a big fish. He remains there for three days but cries out in repentance, and then God gives him a second chance and Jonah travels to Nineveh, preaches and revival breaks out, and the whole city turns to God in repentance.
I don’t know a single preacher who wouldn’t be overjoyed if an entire city of 120,000 repented when they preached, but not Jonah. Jonah sits on the hilltop and says to God. In Jonah 4:9 “I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” Jonah didn’t mind that God gave him a second chance, but he hated the fact that God gave his enemies a second chance.
The last words in the book of Jonah are a rebuke to Jonah from God. “But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:10-11)
The book of Jonah ends right there. We don’t know what happens to Jonah. Does he repent, or does he stay angry at God? Does he learn his lesson? It seems a bad place to stop, but it’s a reminder that the book of Jonah was never about Jonah. It is about God and his compassion. God was showing how much He loves people and how much compassion he has towards us.
God can use us even if we are reluctant. Jonah missed out on the blessing of being used by God and the joy of seeing people turn from the sins and turn to God in repentance because of his reluctance, prejudice and hatred. Is there something that is causing you to lose out on the joy of being used by God. Surrender it to God today and ask him to change your heart.