The book of Jonah only contains 48 verses. Yet, they are packed with lessons for 21st century readers, including the foreshadowing of the life, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
Second Kings 14:25-26 refers to the prophet Jonah, but we know very little of him except what we read in the four chapters of the book named after him. And although he was a prophet, when God called him to go to Nineveh, his pride and stubbornness got the better of him. But why wouldn't he want to warn the people of the consequences of their sin and call them to repentance?
Why do we make excuses when we're called to serve the Lord and take the message of salvation to our family, friends, and neighbors?
In Jonah's case, God called him to go to the violent, cruel, idol-worshipping people of Nineveh. Nineveh, of all places!
Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire. Assyria was an idolatrous, proud, and ruthless nation known for their reign of terror. The king mandated many atrocities be committed in the name of maintaining peace in the region.
Were these the reasons Jonah resisted God's call? Was he afraid of being tortured and put to death?
No, instead of being fearful of failure, it's seems he was fearful of success.
Jonah 4:2 says, "… gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity."
How would it look if the despicable people of Nineveh repented when the Jewish people repeatedly refused to do so?
Jonah wanted Nineveh to be destroyed. He felt God's people deserved His mercy and love, not the enemies of His people. But Jonah knew God was rich in mercy, and he knew God provided salvation to all who repent. So, he ran in the opposite direction.
Jonah went to the port of Joppa and paid for passage on a ship headed for Tarshish. And what was God's response?
Jonah 1:4 say, "But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up."
People may rebel against God—and we do. But everything else in creation, including the wind, immediately does what their Creator instructs them to do.
Did Jonah's disobedience affect only him? No! Even the seasoned sailors were terrified. They called out to their various gods and tossed the cargo overboard, fearful they were all going to die. Our disobedience affects others as well.
The unceasing storms in our life don't necessarily mean we're walking in disobedience to the Lord, but if we've refused to heed His call on our life, He may use storms to get our attention. If we're living in disobedience, we must repent and depend on Him to give us the desire and the ability to obey His call.
Where was Jonah while his shipmates fought for their lives? He was sound asleep in the hold.
How could Jonah sleep at a time like that? Wouldn't his guilty conscience have kept him awake? And what about the mayhem going on all around him: the crashing of the waves, the creaking of the hull, the frantic cries of the men?
Jonah was well aware that the Lord killed those who disobeyed Him. I believe he would rather have faced God's wrath than share the message God had given him to share with the inhabitants of Nineveh.
In verse 6, we read the captain's plea to Jonah: "What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish." And they said to one another, "Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us." So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, "Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?"
Even these pagans believed in Providence. They believed, when trouble came, the gods controlled all things. Even though they were misguided, these pagans realized what was happening wasn't natural. So, they cast lots to see who was guilty of provoking the wrath of the gods—and the lot fell to Jonah.
When Jonah responded to their inquiry about his identity he said, in verse 9, "I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land."
And how did these sailors respond?
Verse 10 says, "Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, 'What is this that you have done!' For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them."
In verse 11, they asked Jonah, "What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?"
Verse 12 says, "Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you."
Was Jonah being noble? I don't think so. I believe Jonah preferred death over repenting and taking the message he'd been given to those God had sent him to. He would rather have died than see the people of Nineveh forgiven.
You would think the sailors would be relieved that throwing Jonah overboard would solve their problem. Instead, they were afraid of further angering Jonah's God.
In verse 13, we read, "Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them."
Instead of heeding Jonah's instruction, they tried to get themselves out of their predicament. It didn't work for them nor will it work for us. We can't fix a situation brought on by sin in our own strength.
When they realized their efforts were futile, they cried out to Jonah's God, "'O Lord, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.' So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging" (Jonah 1:14-15).
And the men's response?
"Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows" (v. 15).
They recognized the One True God and worshiped Him.
We must be honest with ourselves. Are we obeying the call God has placed on our life? Could the storms we're experiencing be the result of disobedience? Do we seek to run from Him? Or do we humbly repent and obey Him—even if we don't really want to do so?
We must ask ourselves some hard questions:
Do we believe there are those who don't deserve to hear the gospel and have the opportunity to repent and be saved?
Do we believe we are in some way better than they are?
Are there particular groups of people we stay away from because we consider them "less than"?
Do we really believe we are justified in shunning others?
Psalm 51:5 says, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me."
Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
Romans 3:11 says, "No one understands; no one seeks for God."
The truth is none of us deserve God's mercy and grace. Unless He draws us to Himself, there isn't a single person on the planet who will turn to Him.
But God is merciful and gracious. He is also longsuffering.
He had a plan for Jonah, and He has a plan for each of His children—a plan which will be accomplished.