Jonah – What do I do?

Too often I think, we read a Bible story and jump right into the application of it. We’ve heard the story of Jonah; now go and be a missionary!

I really don’t think this story is in our Bibles to inspire us to be like Jonah. Jonah is prideful (1:9), rebellious (1:3), stubborn (4:5), hard-hearted (4:9), and disobedient. In contrast to Jonah, we see the sailors who truly fear God, the king of Nineveh who humbles himself in sackcloth and ashes, the people of Nineveh who repent and throw themselves on God’s mercy, and even the fish and plant which obey exactly what God created them to do. In the end, God questions Jonah’s heart, “You pity the plant … should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 children and much cattle?”

The thing about the Word of God is that it shows people – us – as we are. The people in the city of Nineveh were doing great evil and God saw it. He said they must repent, turn to God, or judgment would come. The Israelites, God’s own people did not heed the warnings given to them. Hosea prophesies a warning that makes Israel like a prostitute married to God! Jonah heard the word of the Lord … and … ran the opposite direction. Jonah was made to go and do as God commanded but … was greatly displeased when God forgave Nineveh’s sin.

We are all unworthy of God’s grace; of His mercy and great gifts. The story in Jonah – the story of the Bible – is this: We cannot save ourselves; Salvation comes from God. Jonah did not recognize this. He found it offensive that God would be merciful to Nineveh. Jonah was a Hebrew! He thought he was better than the Ninevites. Let us humbly recognize that God has granted us mercy. We live today with another chance to know Him and serve Him. Let us encourage one another to give thanks and honor to God for His gifts.

Jonah, Israel, and the people of Nineveh were rebellious towards God. We have been rebellious towards the word of God. When we pray, when we talk about God’s word, let us encourage one another to walk true to the light of God’s word. Psalm 119:11 can be our prayer: “Your word I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against You.” 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that the word of God is profitable – it is valuable – for teaching, correction and reproof, for training in righteousness. Let us examine our rebellious ways. Repent. Seek God’s correction, and submit to His will.

The only time Jonah is happy is when he is comfortable beneath the shade plant waiting for judgment to rain down on Nineveh. Jonah’s comment in his displeasure is strange, “for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah knows words about God but he does not have God’s heart. The goal of God’s grace, loving kindness, mercy, and even judgment is to bring glory to Himself and not for us to find our own happiness and pleasure. Jonah thought his purpose was to bring God’s judgment to Nineveh, instead he saw mercy. We will find purpose in life when we trust God’s grace and His gifts to us.

Jesus taught, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matt. 5:8) Jonah knew the words about God but he did not seem to know God’s heart. God’s heart was full of pity for the many ignorant, sinful people in Nineveh. God’s heart is full of love for people like the king of Nineveh, like Jonah, like children, like you! He calls us to Himself, to see our sin, to believe the hard stories about repenting and His forgiveness.

Jesus said that the sign of Jonah – three days and nights in the belly of the whale – is a sign to this generation. Jesus was sent to sinners, God’s enemies. He obeyed to the point of death on the cross where God showed His judgment on sin. This is what Jonah had hoped to see, but it was not the sinner there on the cross, it was the Son of God. This sacrifice satisfied God. The proof is that the tomb gave up its ‘Jonah’ on the third day. The debt for sin is paid and new life has begun.

When we believe this – then – we have a message to tell!


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