Of all twelve Minor Prophets, I think Jonah is the most interesting - maybe even amusing. I also think he is the one we can most easily relate to - not because he got swallowed by a whale, but because he tried to run away from God. God called Jonah to preach a message of judgment to the wicked people of Nineveh who were fearsome enemies of the Jews. Jonah refused and ran in the opposite direction. You’ve probably heard the story. Jonah got on a boat that could take him as far away from Nineveh as he could get. But God sent a storm that was eventually the cause of Jonah being thrown overboard, swallowed by a whale, and carried back to land so he could obey God and go to Nineveh to proclaim his message.
Now maybe you think it’s preposterous that a man could be swallowed by whale, let alone survive for three day in the belly of a giant fish. But there is actual historical documentation of fishermen being swallowed by big fish and living to tell about it! If you look online, one of many stories you can find is an early 1900’s account of a Falkland Islands fisherman who was swallowed by a sperm whale and rescued a few days later. When the ship's crew caught and killed the giant fish and were working to procure the fat, they found the missing sailor in the belly. He was alive, and though it took him many days to recover from the trauma, he lived to tell about his experience.
But even if no one else had ever been swallowed by a fish and survived, the story Jonah relates is in the Bible, which is God’s Word, and if we are going to believe any of it, we need to believe all of it.
In his prophecy, Jonah recounts his terrors in the stormy sea. He tells how he called out to God who rescued him from the breakers and billows and entangling weeds of the great deep (2:5). Jonah knew the giant fish had been sent by God to rescue him, and Jonah gave thanks. At that point, God directed the whale to dry land where he vomited up the grateful Jonah.
Jonah was still not excited about delivering God’s message of judgment to the people of Nineveh, but he did: “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” And after he preached, an amazing thing happened - the most wicked and violent people in the ancient world - the people of Nineveh - from the king to the lowliest peasant, repented. They covered themselves and their farm animals with sackcloth (a material worn in mourning) and turned away from their violence. And when the forty days was up and God’s day of judgment was at hand, God relented. The people of Nineveh had turned around and turned to God so He had mercy on them and they were not destroyed.
You would think Jonah would have rejoiced. His message had been successful and the people of Nineveh were changed and they were saved. But Jonah was angry. Four times in Jonah Chapter 4, we’re told that he was angry. He even said it himself, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death” (Jonah 4:9). He was angry because God had been gracious and compassionate to the city of Nineveh. In fact, Jonah admits that the reason he ran away in the first place is because he knew God is gracious, compassionate, abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity (4:2). So Jonah marched out into the desert and sat down where he could look down on the city and complain to God. Here was a man who supposedly was a godly man, a prophet, but had defied God and run away. God had shown him great mercy in saving his life and giving him a second chance, but Jonah could not stand the fact that God had dared to show mercy to his enemies.
Are you ever like Jonah? Do you expect God to show you compassion when you sin but become upset when you see others seemingly “get away with” sinful behavior. Deep inside, in your heart, do you long to see your enemies judged and get what they “deserve”? Is your idea of justice compassion for yourself and judgment for those you dislike? If so, then you’re like Jonah. And if you’re like Jonah, then you are very unlike God who is full of compassion and mercy for all, even the worst of us, who humbly turn to Him.
Jonah’s story is one we can all take to heart -- not just the part about God saving those who repent and turn to Him, but also the part about Jonah and his disobedience. Even when he obeyed God and went to proclaim judgment to Nineveh, his heart and mind were proud, defiant, self-indulgent, and unkind. Poor Jonah. His message was powerful and effective, but his attitude was hostile and hateful. Even though he finally obeyed God, his life is a negative example for us. God has not made us judges of who will receive His mercy and who will not. As he said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Romans 9:15).
In the New Testament, the apostle James tells us the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful (James 5:11). So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:12).
With love because of Jesus,
I have been involved in Disciplers since 1987, as a discussion leader, teacher, writer, and now as director. I am profoundly committed to the stewardship of this ministry which God has entrusted to me for a time. God’s word is the chief joy of my life. I cherish my personal time in the word, and I am filled with gratitude to be able to share His word with you, my fellow disciples in Christ.