Summary: When God calls us to do an extraordinary task, we need to trust His help and lean not our own understanding, but His.
Jonah… poor Jonah. If you have ever read this short little book in the old testament, you feel sorry for the guy and not in a way that you wish he had better luck, but in a way that you wish he would have just trusted and followed God. I mean, God would have protected him and cared for him on his journey. He wouldn’t have allowed the Ninevites to hurt Jonah. So why did he run? Why didn’t Jonah get it?
Jonah, by the way, is literally translated as “silly dove”. A dove is symbolic of a bringer of peace. So I guess that means that Jonah brought God’s peace to the Ninevites in a silly manner. His name is very fitting for the story of a prophet who, after running away, was swallowed by a big fish before relenting to God’s will and call on his life.
But before we make too many judgments and condemnations towards Jonah, let’s look at the life and times of Israel during this period of history and maybe gain a little insight into why Jonah failed in God’s call on his life.
The Bible does not give us a whole lot of information on Jonah. The introduction to his book leaves us wondering a little bit. Verse one only states that he was the son of Amittai and verse nine gives us a little more by saying that he is a Hebrew who fears the Lord. So who is this Jonah? Let’s look at the book of 2 Kings chapter 14 verse 23 – 26. 2 Kings is right after 1 Kings in the old testament, right before 1 Chronicles. If you take your bible and divide it into thirds, it is right around the end of the first third of the Bible. Verse 23 states “In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah, Jeroboam, the son of Joash king of Israel became king in Samaria, and reigned forty-one years. He did evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel sin. He restored the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which He spoke through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was of Gath-hepher. For the Lord saw the affliction of Israel, which was very bitter; for there was neither bond nor free, nor was there any helper for Israel.”
We see here in 2 Kings that Jonah was a prophet, called by God to minister and prophesy to Jereboam who was king of Israel. Jonah ministered to a king who did not follow the ways of the Lord, but yet God blessed Israel with more land and territory, and God entrusted Jonah to give Jeroboam the message that He would give Israel more land. If God could trust Jonah with this mission, then Jonah must have been a Godly servant, a Hebrew who “worships the Lord the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
Matthew and Luke, in their gospels, record Jesus’ words on Jonah. Jesus, while teaching to the crowds gathering around Him, compared His preaching to that of Jonah’s to the Ninevites exclaiming that if the Ninevites repented at Jonah’s preaching, then shouldn’t this generation repent at the Son of Man’s words, which are greater than Jonah’s? Jonah must have been a great prophet who could speak in powerful ways for Jesus to have mentioned him by name.
Jonah was no weak prophet. He had the guts to stand up in his time to speak and minister to an evil king and be a true prophet of God. This sounds like a prophet who would never balk at God’s calling… a person of noble character and boldness who would stand out on the line even when everyone else around him deserted him. What happened to this tough guy? Why did Jonah fail and not only just fail, but failed miserably?
The time period is around the 790s BC, about 150 years after Israel split into two separate nations – Judah (the southern kingdom) and Israel (the northern kingdom). As we read earlier, Jeroboam is the king of Israel, living in the capital city of Samaria. Jonah is a prophet in this northern kingdom of Israel. Now all around to the north, east and some places to the south of Israel, Assyria is conquering nation after nation enlarging the Assyrian empire into one of the largest empires in ancient history. The Assyrians were making a circle around Israel and the Israelites felt the constant threat of the Assyrian empire on their heels.