“The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because their evil has come up before me.’ Jonah got up to flee to Tarshish from the Lord’s presence. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. He paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the Lord’s presence.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever not wanted to do something God asked you to do, reluctantly did it, and then got mad when God followed through on what He said? If so, Jonah is the book for you. We are now on to book number five on our journey through the Minor Prophets, and of all the books we have or will yet look at together, Jonah is the one that stands out from all the rest. Strange as it is, though, it wrestles with some really big issues. Stay tuned for the next few days as we work through this one. There will be something for just about everyone along the way.
As far as distinctives go, the first thing that makes Jonah stand out from all the other Minor Prophets is that it is almost entirely narrative and not prophecy in its literary form. Jonah is mostly just the story of his being called by God to do something he didn’t want to do, being…encouraged…by God to do it anyway, and then getting mad when God didn’t do what he wanted Him to do.
As far as major themes, it touches on God’s sovereignty, His justice, pagan faithfulness, evangelism, whether or not God can change His mind and what exactly that means, God’s concern to reach unreached people groups, and more. As I said: a little something for everyone.
It all starts with the Lord calling Jonah to go and preach to a people who weren’t His. Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian empire. Those were the folks that Joel and Amos both had indicated would be coming to conquer Israel one day. And they ultimately did just that. They were the terrorists of the ancient world. When they came to town, you knew things were going to be bad. If anyone was deserving of judgment, they were. Yet God is a just God. He doesn’t judge without notice and this was no exception.
Of all the people He could have chosen for this gig, though, He made what seemed to be the worst possible choice. Jonah receives God’s call to go and proclaim judgment against Nineveh and makes to run to the other side of the known world. He was aiming to do everything he possibly could to get as far away from the call God gave him as he possibly could. Nineveh was several hundreds of miles east of Israel and Tarshish was on the western coast of Spain.
At this point, it seems like we have an unrighteous prophet on our hands. God wants to show mercy to this wicked people—and we really don’t have a reason for Him to do this except that He is a God of mercy who doesn’t want for anyone, even the very worst of the worst, to be subject to judgment if He can help it—and Jonah seems set on actively working against His plans. His hope was that by not telling the people of Nineveh what was coming, God would just blindside them with judgment. As we later learn, he knew that if they responded with repentance to his preaching, the Lord might have mercy on them and Jonah didn’t want that to happen.
Again: Why was this guy a prophet?
The only way we can answer that question is like this: God often chooses and uses the most unlikely of people because that way there is no chance of our giving credit for something He has done to anyone but Him. And as this story bears out well, Jonah was the unlikeliest of people to be set on this particular task.
Here’s the point of connection for us: The task God has set before you may seem way beyond what you could possibly handle to the point that you simply want to quit and go home—or perhaps even run to the other side of the world to avoid it—but if He’s called you to it, He’ll empower you to do it. You can’t fail when you’ve got Him behind you. So don’t do like Jonah did. When He calls, get moving in the direction of His call.