Ask someone about the book of Jonah and the first thing they think of is a whale.
This little book (four short chapters) is about more than a "great fish." In it
we see the sovereignty of God and how His purposes are accomplished, sometimes
by unusual or unexpected ways. Jonah's story is also our story in many respects.
The book begins with God and His command to Jonah to "arise, go and cry against Nineveh."
How does this compare with the command "go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:19)? Does that include
the neighbor who throws wild parties? And the inmates in Sheriff Joe's Tent City?
Chap. 1:3 we read that Jonah's reaction was to flee in the opposite direction. Although we may not physically
flee from Jesus' command, we flee in other ways - let someone else witness to that neighbor,
ignore those inmates, after all they did commit crimes. Just as Jonah, we often
forget "Where can I go from Thy Spirit, or where can I flee from Thy presence?" (Ps.
At this point we don't know what Jonah's motive was for disobeying God. Was it
because the mission was too difficult? Was it because he was afraid? If so,
we may agree with Jonah. We often find that going into the world outside our
comfort zone is difficult and it could be dangerous.
Jonah was not successful in his attempt to flee. Although he had paid the fare,
he didn't get to his destination. This comment by Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse
is interesting. "When you run away from the Lord you never get to where you
are going, and you always pay your own fare. On the other hand, when you go
the Lord's way you always get to where you are going, and He pays the fare."
Verse 1:4 God demonstrates His sovereignty by sending a great wind and
a violent storm. Chap. 1:17 and Chap. 2:10 also show us that God is not
thwarted by man's disobedience and will accomplish His purpose by means that
are not always according to our understanding (or comfort!). Jonah's prayer
inside the fish's belly is a wonderful pattern for us when we are in difficult
circumstances. (Chap. 2:1-9)
Chap. 3:1,2 God repeated his command to Jonah and this time Jonah obeyed. All of
Nineveh repented and God withheld their destruction. But in Chap. 4 we read
that Jonah was angry and confessed why he had disobeyed the first time.
In response God again demonstrated His sovereignty by providing a vine to
shade Jonah in his discomfort. But then God provided a worm to eat the vine,
and a scorching wind and blazing sun so that Jonah wanted to die.
Just as the book opened with God, it closes with God reminding Jonah, and us, of
His infinite mercy. He displays His lovingkindness even to those who do not deserve it.
"I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from
their ways and live." (Eze. 33:11)