Summary: During the reign of Jeroboam II God sent Jonah to Nineveh to call its people to repent of their sins; Nineveh surprisingly repented but Jonah was unexcited about God’s grace.
Jonah was a prophet sent by God to proclaim a message in a foreign land of Assyria, unlike other prophets who voiced their message to their home lands of Israel and Judah. Assyria was a constant threat to the people of Israel. To the Israelites, Nineveh was a byword for evil. Famous for their ruthless cruelty in war. The prophets Amos and Hosea, declared that God would use Assyria as an instrument of punishment against the Israelites. Jonah saw the assignment to Nineveh as sheer madness. One man against this godless metropolis warning the pagan leaders of judgment, was certain suicide.
As a preacher, he was probably as good as the average run of preachers today; for who of us never rejoiced when in war the enemy lost their choicest soldiers?
Chapter one of Jonah reveals the prophet’s commission, disobedience and punishment in his service to God. Jonah responded to the call by running from the chosen city to the opposite direction which was to Tarshish, a Phoenician colony on the southwest coast of Spain. Picture yourself today in Kansas and called to preach to the people of California, but you decide to go travel to North Carolina. This change of direction is what Jonah does to postpone his service to God. What direction we are going says alot about the way we listen to the voice of our Savior.
After a period of three days in a belly of a great fish and a short prayer this prophet goes to work. Jonah would do as God said but his heart was not in the task. This was a bloodthirstiness, or a cruel and callous heart, that made Jonah wish for the destruction of Nineveh; it was the conviction that, if the heathen city was spared, his own people would be crused. Jonah’s prayer to God would later become his shouts of anger aganist God. The amazing events of chapter two would cause any prophet to pray. What will it take to cause many of us to pray and seek the face of God. Many of us have felt like we were in the belly of a fish, but how do we act once we get out of our fish’s belly. Shall we do the work of God without thinking about ourselves and begin to think about others.
In Chapter three of Jonah presents a prophet that like all of us has been given a second chance. Jonah reaches Ninevah and takes the time to preach a clear message of the coming downfall of a great city. The prophet warned and to his suprise, King Ashur-dan III and all the people reformed to God’s mercy. Jonah’s message was like a thunderbolt in the guilty city. It was a short, most impressive, and successful sermon. It produced results which the preaching of Noah for 120 years did not produce, and which have never been equaled since. He had no long address to give, nor many persuasions to offer. Jonah found a sense of pleasure in preaching a sermon of doom to the people of Nineveh. When we proclaim the gospel we should find pleasure in a saving Christ not the doom caused by sin. It is God’s love for this sinful world that we preach to friend and foe alike. God saw what the city had done and changed His mind on their punishment. Just as God had saved Jonah He was now saving these sinful people who were the enemy of Israel.
In the fourth chapter of Jonah, we see a prophet that does not understand the grace of God. Jonah was the typical Israelite of his day, jealous of his spiritual prerogatives, and eager for the annihilation of the heathen nation rather than their reception into the Kingdom. In the heat of the day God gave this prophet the shade of a plant only in a day to have a worm to destroy it. Jonah now wishes he were dead because the shade was gone. He saw the value of a plant, but not that of the saving grace of God. The story of Jonah, involuntary pioneer internationalist, is still a rebuke against narrow nationalism, racial contempt, and religious smugness. It is the Old Testament version of the great commission of Jesus. In looking at Jonah’s life we should avoid the trap this prophet fell into and to encourage even our most brutal enemies to accept the adoption of God love.
We are to go out and give the message of God not only for the future, but for the present. Jonah was hardly the perfect prophet, but the power of God did triumph. Jonah transforms many times through the four chapters, but his God and his message stays the same. The message of an unforgiving Jonah is that of forgiveness, because we have also been forgiven. The purpose of the book of Jonah is to show God’s love to all mankind. Who has God called you to preach the gospel to. The answer is the entire world.