Summary: The background and commission of the prophet Jonah.
The Call Jonah 1:1-3
1. I have read several commentaries and over the years and I’ve also heard many people speak about Jonah. He’s been described as everything from a reluctant prophet to a rebellious one. One writer went so far as to suggest Jonah was one of the first foreign missionaries to be sent on a cross-cultural campaign. My opinion is that he was simply a man like the rest of us who was willing to serve God but he would only go so far. He would do the will of God as long as God’s will fit in with his plans, his goals and even his cultural agenda. There was a lot of things Jonah was willing to do for God but leaving Israel to preach to Assyrians wasn’t one of them.
And to a degree there is a level on which we can all relate to Jonah, even though most of us wouldn’t like to admit it, even to ourselves. The trouble Jonah faced can be summed up like this. He was more committed to his own comfort than he was to the will of God. And God wanted to stretch him in the area of his obedience.
2. I want to give you a bit of background on him. He was mentioned just one other time in the Old Testament. In 2 Kings 14:25 we are told that he prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II. If you know anything about jewish history you will remember that it was said of Jeroboam II that he was considered to be as evil as his grandfather Jeroboam the son of Nabat who was the standard as far as evil kings were concerned.
In 2 Kings 14:23-25 we read this, "In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, began to reign in Samaria, for forty one years. And he did evil in the sight of Jehovah: he departed not from any of the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. He restored the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath as far as the sea of the plain, according to the word of Jehovah the God of Israel, which he had spoken through his servant Jonah the prophet, the son of Amittai, who was of Gath Hepher." This Jeroboam was the grandson of Jeroboam the son of Nabat and the Jonah who prophesied in his court is the same Jonah who is the subject of this book.
This passage tells us two things about Jonah. The first is that he had a history of prophesying. In other words, his mission to Nineveh wasn’t the first time that God had spoken to him or the first time that He had spoken through him. He had been preaching in Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II and these were very difficult times in which to be a prophet.
The passage in 2 Kings tells us that Jeroboam II continued in the sins of his grandfather Jeroboam the son of Nabat. There were three things Jeroboam the son of Nabat had done which his grandson continued to do. All three of these things resulted in the people of Israel turning away from God. First, he changed the place of worship. He took the sacrifices from Jerusalem to Dan even though God had specifically told them to worship in Jerusalem. Then second, he changed the priesthood. The priesthood was no longer in the hands of the levites as God had commanded. The king actually turned the priesthood into a franchise system. Anyone who was willing to pay a price could be a priest. And then third, he even changed the times of the feasts in order to stop the people from worshipping they way they had been taught. The idea behind all these changes was to get the people to stop thinking about God and the past they way they had been taught. He was consolidating political and social power by changing all the structures they were familiar with. Intentionally or not he was drawing the people away from God. This is what the king was doing who was on the throne when Jonah was prophesying to the nation. And the one thing we always have to consider when we think of the times in which prophets such as Jonah preached is that the kings had absolute power. If they didn’t like the message they would just kill the messenger. So don’t think of Jonah as being cowardly. I don’t think fear was his problem. He preached in the court of a despotic king.
The second thing I see from the passage in the book of Kings is that he was from Gath-Hepher. This was about three miles north of Nazareth in lower Galilee. In other words Jonah was a Galilean. This tells us that the Pharisees were wrong in John 7:52 when they said, "Search and look for no prophet has come out of Galilee." A prophet had come out of Galilee because the Bible says Jonah came from there.