The Book Of Jonah: The Reluctant Prophet

The Book of Jonah shows us how we can’t run from the will of God any more than we can run from God Himself.

Jonah’s Calling

Jonah, whose very name means called, was called by God to witness to the great city-state of Nineveh, but that’s the last thing Jonah wanted to do because Nineveh was a longtime enemy of the Jews, so it’s not surprising that when God called Jonah to witness to Nineveh, he tried to escape on a ship headed for Tarshish, which was the opposite direction of where God wanted him to go. That’s when God sent or literally, “hurled” a great storm at the ship so that it appeared the ship would be destroyed (Jonah 1:4). The men were desperate and began throwing their goods overboard to prevent the ship from sinking, but the storm only grew worse, so Jonah’s disobedience caused the men to lose much of their merchandize (Jonah 1:5), and in similar fashion, Christians can hurt others, including non-believers, by their disobedience to God. When the crew cast lots to find out who was responsible, the lot fell on Jonah, but the men already knew that Jonah had “fled from the presence of the Lord”, because he told them, so “the men were exceedingly afraid” (Jonah 1:10) of Jonah’s God.

Jonah and the Great Fish

Jonah told the men on the ship that he was the reason for the storm and that if they tossed him overboard, they would be saved, but ending Jonah’s life was the last thing the ship’s crew wanted to do, perhaps because they knew about his God and feared throwing him into the sea, so the men started rowing harder to save the ship, but it was to no avail (Jonah 1:13). Finally, they took Jonah up and “cast him forth into the sea, and the sea ceased from her raging” (Jonah 1:15), so then the men on the ship understood Who the One, True God was and so it’s not surprising that “the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD, and made vows” (Jonah 1:16). Even through Jonah’s terrible witness for God, this still caused the unbelievers to know Who the real God was. Jonah basically wanted to die since they if they had thrown him into the sea, he knew he wouldn’t survive, but the point is, Jonah would rather die than obey God’s will and witness to Nineveh, but “the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah” (John 1:17), so that not only would he not drown, he would be delivered to a place where he could go to directly to Nineveh.

Should-I-not-have (3)

Jonah’s Second Calling

Jesus spoke about His being in the grave for three days and nights, saying “just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Mat 12:4), so Jonah was “cut off” from the land of the living (Jonah 2:6), just as Jesus was, but then Jonah “remembered the Lord; and [his] prayer came to [God]” (Jonah 2:7) and “the LORD spoke to the fish and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land” (Jonah 2:10), and at a place where he go to Nineveh. That’s when “the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time” in commanding him to preach to Nineveh. Jonah did as he was told and warned, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4), and to Jonah’s consternation, “the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them” (Jonah 3:5). When even the king humbled himself before others (John 3:7), “God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way” (John 3:10) and spared that great city and all their occupants.

Jonah’s Unjust Anger

After Jonah had seen the great city-state of Nineveh repent, he was greatly angered, and told God, that he knew God was “a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (Jonah 4:2), so Jonah, instead of celebrating that Nineveh had repented and was saved, told God to take my “life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:3). Jonah would rather die than to see his enemies saved. Then Jonah sat and waited to see if the city would be destroyed (Jonah 4:5) and God caused a great gourd to grow over him for shade from the hot sun, and Jonah rejoiced over this gourd, but the next morning, the gourd died and Jonah was angry about the gourd, meaning he lost his comforting shade. Jonah was angrier that one gourd died than the thousands of souls in Nineveh that would have perished. In other words, Jonah thought more of himself and his own comfort than he did the thousands of people in Nineveh, so God asked Jonah, “should I not spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than 120,000 persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left” (John 4:11), meaning there were that many infants and young children who couldn’t possibly have known how to repent (“cannot discern between their right hand and their left”), so God’s great mercy on a great city which didn’t deserve it, is symbolic of God’s great mercy for us, who similarly didn’t deserve it. The Apostle Paul makes this clear in writing, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:6-8), and even “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom5:10).

Conclusion

Instead of thinking, “How could Jonah be like that?” let’s ask ourselves, how are we like Jonah and reluctant to witness to those we might think could never be saved or those who have persecuted us? Who in their right mind would have witnessed to Saul, who before he became Paul, was obsessed with destroying the church? I doubt anyone thought that Saul would have ever been saved, but God can change the human heart (Prov 21:1; 2nd Cor 5:17) and made a Saul into a Paul. The point is, God’s desire that Nineveh repented shows that He doesn’t desire anyone to perish apart from faith in God. The Apostle Peter shows that God doesn’t just want to save the Jews but all people from all nations, writing, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2nd Pet 3:9), and “all” can only mean one thing in this context; whoever believes in Him, Jew, Greek, male, female, slave or free, will be saved.

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is host of Spiritual Fitness and also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.

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  • pud

    “The Book of Jonah shows us how we can’t run from the will of God any more than we can run from God Himself.”

    There is no god and you can demonstrate nothing to substantiate any of the 10,000 gawds superstitious delusional ignorant men have created through the ages.

    You have to be absolutely out of your freekin mind to “believe” this story of a man living inside of a fish!. That STORY!! as in STORYBOOK! as in fantasy!!

    Why don’t you “believe” in the golden plates of Joseph Smith or the winged horse that took Muhammad up to the heavens? If you can “believe” this stupid absurdity why not all the other stupid absurdities?

    Is there anything you’re incapable of being duped into “believing”

    • JRene

      I would like to hear from Christians as to why they would believe a story about a man living in a fish. Please tell me that they see it as a myth with a purpose. Please.

      • pud

        I doubt that will happen but if it does…be sure to ask the lunatics how they know what in their buybull is myth, allegory or metaphor and exactly how they tell the difference between what is literal and what isn’t….That will set their heads spinning. lol

      • Sam Andrew

        Most Progressive Churches do see it as a myth/morality tale, as well as most Jews, it takes a pretty hefty swig of the Kool-aid to believe it actually occurred given the anachronisms and obvious, probably borrowed, mythological motifs.

      • You’re not going to get most evangelicals thinking it is a myth, but the story is a bit fishy. How can anyone be 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of a great fish? To believe it is a literal story seems to be the height of absurdity.

        • JRene

          It’s so absurd I can’t believe it even has to be discussed!

    • Sam Andrew

      “If you can “believe” this stupid absurdity why not all the other stupid absurdities?”

      Probably because his parents and society of his youth didn’t have those absurdities as viable options…In the words of Richard Dawkins –

      “I had a brief period of doubt at about the age of nine, or about three years before my confirmation. This doubt was caused by the realization that there are lots of different religions in the world, and I recognized that it was an accident of my birth that I happened to have been born to the Christian faith. I recognised instantly that say had I been born in Afghanistan or born in India I would have believed very different things.”

      Without the ability to spoon feed children religious beliefs, most would be gone in two generations (although associated ethnic traditions may survive e.g. non-religious Jews retain identity in the same way one is still Indian even if not Hindu), all that would remain would be the real fanatics, closed off cult groups, and the mentally unstable.

  • Oliver

    Why do you think Jack the book of Jonah ended abruptly?
    It seems incomplete with no end of the story of what happened to Jonah.

    It reminds me of what the “Christian” countries (that aren’t any more) begrudging the Moslem Background Believers and the Messianic Jews being saved in large numbers as well as the Chinese and other countries home church movement.

    These new believers and the believers from ancient times – modern today (like in Egypt) such as the Coptic Christians almost exclusively make up the Bride Church.

    The American “church” is getting more and more “post modern” and have strayed from The Truth which is in Jesous Iesous Y’shua alone.

    • pud

      Does any other human being take you seriously?

    • Sam Andrew

      Probably ends abruptly because it is in essence a morality tale (a midrash), it is not about Jonah so much as the intended reader which were post exile Jews, who were wondering why despite the return etc. Gods Kingdom on earth hadn’t come etc. It seems to try to explain the reason nothing miraculous is happening to overturn the empires at the time is that God is simply giving the non-Jewish kingdoms extra time to repent.

    • Salvatore Anthony Luiso

      None of the books of the Prophets tell what ultimately happened to their authors. We can learn a little about the lives certain of them–e.g. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and Amos– from their books, but not how their lives ended.

      Consider the beginning and the ending of the Book of Jonah and how they are connected. It begins with a commandment from God, and Jonah’s unexplained disobedience to that commandment. It ends with Jonah’s fulfillment of the commandment, his explanation as to why he had been disobedient, and God teaching Jonah a lesson about his motive for disobedience.

      I myself like how the book ends, which is with a question posed to Jonah by God. We do not know whether Jonah answered it. This prompts us to think about how he *should* have answered it. Thus, in effect, the question is not just for Jonah: it is for us. How would we answer it? Are we will to heed and accept the lesson that God taught Jonah?

  • pud

    It’s a STORY jack..a made up make believe STORY!!! Hello?

    • Claudie Shelton

      It’s not a make believe STORY. It’s a MIRACLE of the Old Testament. My question is why is an atheist wasting his/her time on a Christian website? If you want to argue, may I suggest some reading material first – in addition to the Book of Jonah – Ray Comfort books – in particular “You Can Lead An Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think, Answers to Questions From Angry Skeptics.” Quoting him, “Atheists who keep asking for evidence of God’s existence are like a fish in the ocean wanting evidence of water.” There are atheist websites where you might be happier sharing your thoughts with other atheists but, then again, maybe you just want to pick a fight. Sorry if you don’t have anything better to do.

      • pud

        No it’s a made up narrative story that reads as such. Demonstrate that anything is actually a “miracle”….waiting…show it…I don’t care about testimony from stupid people…prove that any actual “miracle” ever happened.

        Ray Comfort is the “BANNANA MAN” hahahhahah! Youtube it and you’ll see what a buffoon he is! What a fraud and liar he is!

        I post where I want so piss off

        My mission is to rid the world of all stupid superstitious religious death cults that destroy the minds of children