Summary: A look at how Jonah got it wrong and how we can get it right, by understanding and acting on the grace of God.
A long time ago in a country far, far away, there lived a prophet, God sent him a message of destruction. The country was corrupt, responsible for murder and cruelty. The prophet said, “Wait a minute God, if I go preaching against them they’ll kill me I don’t want to go.”
There was another prophet. Again God sent him a message of destruction. The country was an abomination to God. The prophet said, “Please don’t send me with that message, give them another chance, I’m sure they will do better in the future.”
Acceptable answers, nice answers, Biblical answers but Jonah didn’t use either of them. He said “No way, they’ll repent and you’ll forgive them. I want them to burn.”
It’s all too easy to sit back, look at Jonah, and condemn him. Of course, God wants to save all and we want that as well. Yet, it’s all too easy for us to fall into Jonah’s trap.
Jonah 1:1 tells us that Jonah was a man under the call of God.
Illustration: My Call
Just into NYI – district rally – God called me to be a pastor.
Didn’t always remember this many times I wanted to go my own way. Wanted to go into science.
While I could have done this and God would have used me their. He had called me to be a pastor and I needed to be reminded of that.
Yet, he resisted. We don’t know what form Jonah’s call took, whether it was an audible voice like Samuel heard or a dream or a vision. What we do know is that God spoke to Jonah and told him to go and preach against Nineveh, and Jonah refused.
The city of Nineveh was an evil city. The people who lived there were called the Assyrians, Big Empire of the Day. To give you an idea here is a map of the Middle East. This is Assyria at its largest extent which was maybe around 50 years or so after this story takes place . The Assyrians were known for the torture of captured people and a cruelty that was unsurpassed in the surrounding nations. Israel which was small and insignificant as you can see, had received some of this treatment so it was no surprise that Jonah, an Israelite didn’t like the Assyrians. If there was one people who seemed to be opposed to whatever God wanted it was the Assyrians. If there was one people who against the people of God it was the Assyrians. To quote the Muppet’s Christmas Carol, The ‘worst of the worst, the most hated and cursed’. Yet, God called Jonah to the Assyrians.
It might not seem to bad when we consider that God sent Jonah with a message of destruction. We might think yes, I get to preach who they are all going to die. But Jonah knew God, in fact Bullock says that “he knew God too well for his own comfort”. God didn’t need to send Jonah to preach a warning unless he hoped that the people would repent. Jonah saw that God wanted to forgive his enemies, and Jonah didn’t want that to happen. So he refused.
In fact Jonah didn’t just turn God down, he ran away . Jonah came from Gath-hepher a town in Israel, near the site where Nazareth would be. God sent him to Nineveh which was a prominent city of the Assyrian Empire to the north-east on the River Tigris. Jonah ran away to Joppa to the south west to catch a boat to Tarshish in Spain.
Jonah had a call from God and he deliberately chose to disobey it. It always amazes me what excuses we can bring up for ignoring God’s call on our lives. Jonah might have said, well the sailors got converted through me running away. However, it is absolutely obvious that he was still disobeying God and he should not have run away. Yet, we often try to use the same excuse ourselves sometimes. But God is using me here, why do I have to elsewhere. God may still use us in our present location but if he has called us to go somewhere else then staying is wrong whether God is able to use us here or not. What I’m trying to say is that just because God is using us doesn’t mean we are in the situation that he wants. In the case of Jonah he was in direct opposition to God yet God was able to do some work in that situation. A few sailors were introduced to God, when Jonah travelled away from God, while a whole city turned to God when he obeyed.
Maybe you use other excuses that some people God called have used. Gideon was scared. Moses wasn’t sure he could handle it. We can come up with any number of excuses. But when God calls we can’t be happy while we run away.