Summary: God gives Jonah very few details and Jonah has to step out in faith to get the job done.
Jonah’s to do list: “Things to do today: Take a walk to the city of Nineveh – check; Give God’s message to the hated Ninevites – check; Have dinner in a nice Assyrian café – check; Go to bed and get some sleep – check.”
When we read our Scripture today, it appears that Jonah treats the people of the city of Nineveh as something to check off on a to do list. But what Jonah is doing is not about getting a task done, it is about relationship with those who are not following God. His work in Nineveh is not simply making a statement and leaving, it is about establishing relationships. We commonly take a look at these first few verses of chapter 3 and see Jonah finally being obedient to God, doing what he is told, and being effective because he is obedient. Now that is all true to some degree, but again it is a bit more complicated.
In our story, Jonah who got on a boat going the other way when God told him to go preach to his enemies, has just been vomited up by a large fish on a beach on the Mediterranean sea, and now he has to walk over 500 miles to Nineveh. I think we need to note that had Jonah listened to God the first time – he would already be there in Nineveh by now, and so here he is, back to square one. God wants his will to be done, and in spite of Jonah’s lack of having it all together, God is determined to make his will happen.
A question I have is this: What if Jonah decided to not go to Nineveh again? What if he just walked the other way, perhaps to Egypt? My guess would be that God would let him walk so far and then somehow bring him back to where he started – square one. For us, sometimes we feel like we are starting over again, and maybe we are, maybe like Jonah, we have not listened to God, and he is bringing us back to square one – giving us another try – but sometimes with that second try, there is still 500 miles to walk to our Nineveh.
So as Jonah walks this 500 miles or so, he certainly has time to think. Is he thinking about what he is going to say to the people of Nineveh? Absolutely not. We see in verse one that “Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time:” but God just gives him the basics doesn’t he, verse 2: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” The command from God is the same, but without reason. See Jonah, was told before why he needed to go in chapter one: Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” And apparently God’s reason wasn’t good enough for him, so he didn’t go. So this time, God withholds a reason, and basically says: Start walking and at some point, I’ll tell you what to say.
I think that in our lives…and we see this over and over again, circumstances and events come into our lives and we ask God, “Why is this happening to me?” – And God is silent. We repeatedly ask, and there is no answer. Perhaps, he is not telling you because if you knew what was at the end of the road, or what we even next, you wouldn’t go. You just wouldn’t go.