The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.” But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.
But the Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship. But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold.
Jonah is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25. He prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II, the king of Israel from 793–753 b.c. He may have been a member of the company of prophets mentioned in connection with Elisha’s ministry (2 Kings 2:3).
Nineveh was the most important city in Assyria, the rising world power of Jonah’s day. Within fifty years, Nineveh would become the capital of the vast Assyrian empire. While the book of Jonah doesn’t describe the extent of Nineveh’s wickedness, the prophet Nahum provides more insight. Nineveh was guilty of (1) evil plots against God (Nahum 1:9), (2) exploitation of the helpless (Nahum 2:12), (3) cruelty in war (Nahum 2:12-13), (4) idolatry, prostitution, and witchcraft (Nahum 3:4).
Jonah had grown up hating the Assyrians and fearing their atrocities. His hatred was so strong that he didn’t want them to receive God’s mercy. His attitude is representative of Israel’s reluctance to share God’s love and mercy with others, even though this was their God-given mission. They, like Jonah, did not want Gentiles to obtain God’s favor.
Is there someone you know who needs to experience God’s love and mercy? Perhaps this person is someone very different from you—someone whose language you might not know or someone you have misunderstood in the past. If you’ve been reluctant to talk to this person about God, yet sense God’s gentle nudging, pray for the courage and the love to share God’s message.