Have you ever said no to God? You ask Him a question, only to turn the other way and hide because you don't like His answer. At some point or another we've all disagreed with God, thinking we know best.
Today, I'm doing a deep dive into the world of Jonah and sharing a new perspective on this well-known tale. It's a perfect example of what happens when we try to run from God. Spoiler alert—we can't! Regardless of our rebellion, God will have His way and in this we can rejoice. After all, He know's what's best, anyways.
God's Call & Jonah's Rebellion
The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. ~ Jonah 1:1-3
Unlike other books in the prophetic genre, this book focuses on the prophet, not necessarily his message. While this well-known tale of a man being swallowed by a fish is often circulated in church nurseries and Sunday schools, there's a poignant message here for us, too.
God will have His way, whether we like it or not.
To start things off, we see God coming to Jonah and telling Him to travel to Nineveh and warn them of their impending judgment. In order to get the most out of this message, we have to first fully grasp the gravity of God's call to Jonah.
Who were the Ninevites? Why was Jonah so averse to sharing God's truth with them? Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire—not a city of Israel. They were known far and wide for their disobedience, their sinful ways, and their violence. In short, this was not the place you wanted to be called to! Jonah likely reacted as any person would, with fear and defiance.
Nevertheless, God has issued His call to Jonah, only for him to take it and run. He fled to Tarshish, the complete opposite direction of Nineveh, trying to hide from God's presence. In a panic, he did everything he could to change his fate.
A Reluctant Prophet
"Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship." ~ Jonah 1:4-5
Isn't it interesting how God knew exactly how Jonah would respond and decided to choose him anyway? This is one reason why I love this book, because we have a very imperfect, very human instrument being used by God to do incredible things, albeit, against his will.
God uses the most stubborn and reluctant of us to further His kingdom.
This isn't your typical story with a valiant hero always doing the right, noble thing. No, this is a very relatable anti-hero fleeing from God and thinking he knows better. In this way, this story is a bit comforting. You don't have to be perfect in order to do good things for God's kingdom. In fact, God tends to use those we least expect.
While Jonah did fear for his safety, a huge part of his reluctance actually stemmed from his hatred for the Ninevites. A large part of him didn't want them to repent and change their ways. He wanted them to face God's wrath. Imagine God telling you to have grace for your greatest enemy. It's a big ask.
A Course Corrected
Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said: In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. ~ Jonah 1:17-2:2
While Jonah was on his ship to Tarshish, God sent a huge storm to stop him in his tracks. In fear, his fellow shipmates tossed Jonah over, sensing he was the reason for the storm: God had unfinished business with this one, and they would not be punished for the sins of this stranger.
Enter in the most fantastical part of this story—a giant fish swallowing up our main character. Talk about punishment! Yet another way God would exercise his true authority over this stubborn, resistant human. In this stunning moment of repentance, Jonah cries out to God for help. Chapter 2 is an outline of his prayer to God, affirming his faith in Him.
As a result, God commands the fish to spit up Jonah and deliver him safely on dry land. After a roundabout journey, Jonah is finally back on track, ready to face the city of Nineveh.
Nineveh Repents & Jonah Rebels (Again)
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” ~ Jonah 4:1-3
Just as Jonah obediently shares God's message with the Ninevites, he quickly pivots back into being selfish and bitter. Again, how very human of him.
The Ninevites have repented and God will not exercise His judgment over them. Hoorah! This should be the end of the story, but of course, Jonah acts out as many of us would when we discover grace has been extended to our greatest enemy.
God replies to him, "Is it right for you to be angry?" As only God does, He asks penetrating questions that get to the core of Jonah's heart, revealing his innermost biases and fears. We have every right to question God, even in our moments of weakness and frailty, but be prepared for God to speak powerfully and truthfully.
Yet again, God reaffirms His authority and puts Jonah in his place, reminding him that he is a gracious, loving God and that salvation belongs to Him. It is God's decision to extend grace to whoever He pleases, even if they're considered to be Israel's enemy.
- God doesn't ask for perfection, and He certainly doesn't expect it. God has a track record of using the most stubborn, reluctant people to accomplish His will and fulfill His kingdom work. If you're downcast about your previous sins and acts disobedience, ask for repentance, and trust God will use you in a far greater way than you ever expected.
- God will have His way, whether we like it or not. Face it—we're not omnipotent. We're extremely limited in our abilities. At some point, we must accept these limitations and accept God's unrivaled abilities. What He says goes, and the question becomes: will we join Him in His endeavors or will we resist?
- The kingdom of God is for everyone. Just as God extended salvation outside of the Israelites to the people of Assyria, so too is the kingdom of heaven here, available to anyone who will accept it. As Christians, we must have God's heart for His people and seek to share the news of the Gospel. This amazing news is not just for us, LiF sister. We must earnestly seek to bring others into this beautiful reality, too.