1Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2″Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” 3So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
6The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” 10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
1But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
What can one say about Jonah? His honesty with God is commendable at one level but it is a very disturbing thing to hear his heart expressed the way he expresses it. He confesses that the reason he did not want to go to Nineveh to preach was because he knew that God had every intention of saving the people of Nineveh from their sins. Jonah knew that the Word of God shall not return void. He knew that God was not sending him on a fool’s errand. He knew that God is no respecter of persons. And he did not want people he hated to be favoured by God. Now that they have been, he is upset that God did save them and that he was the instrument used to accomplish it.
Why did God choose Jonah? Were there no prophets whose attitude would have been better than his? Most likely there were.
God does not surrender his people up to sinful hearts. He prunes us and shapes us into the image of Christ. Jonah needed much pruning and we can believe that he learned his lesson since he is probably the author of this Book. He would want others to learn the lesson that he learned, without the misadventures involved in being swallowed by a whale.
Jonah was better than many Christians in that he was honest with God regarding his rebellion against God’s purposes for his life. Would we dare admit that one of the reasons we do not evangelize more than we do is that we really do not care about the souls of lost people?
Are we numbered among those who say that God is unfair to condemn those who have never heard the Gospel while doing nothing to make sure they get to hear it? Do we think that those who march in support of abortion and gay rights and Hindu gods deserve to perish more than we do? And should God say “Arise go to [that group of people] and call out against them and call them to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ” would we say “I do not want to go to THOSE people”?
We may need to read the Book of Jonah with more than a vested interest in the fact that He saves Gentiles. The message is not just that God save Gentiles as well as Jews, although that message is certainly there. But there is also a message that God saves people we don’t think should be saved or can be saved. He saves people who commit vile sins. He saves people we do not want to be bothered with.
And we should remember that there may be people who think that we should not be bothered with as well. Let’s be very glad that God did not listen to them.