Men of the Bible
His name means: "A Dove"
His work: He was a northern kingdom prophet. His character: Jonah must have been a gifted communicator. Why else would God choose him to preach repentance and grace to the pagan city of Nineveh? But Jonah was a proud man, a rebellious prophet, and a sulker. His sorrow: Jonah was sad that the Ninevites had repented and that God had granted them mercy. Jonah would have preferred seeing these pagans punished for their sinfulness. His triumph: That God had spared his life from the belly of the fish. Key Scriptures: The book of Jonah; Matthew 12:38-41
A Look at the Man
Prophets often scandalized God's people, ill-prepared as they were to hear the unvarnished truth about their spiritual condition. But in Jonah's case it was the prophet who was scandalized, not by another prophet, but by God himself. For one day he heard God issue an incredible command: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me."
Could God possibly mean it? It was one thing to endure mockery and ridicule from your own people whenever you preached repentance, but going to the capital city of Assyria was dangerous, perhaps deadly. The Ninevites, after all, were a violent and ruthless people who had already brutalized many Israelites. What's more, Jonah despised them. So, like a rebellious teenager, he ran away, except that he wasn't fleeing his parents, he was running from the Creator of the universe.
But, as Jonah soon discovered, you can't outrun God. Instead, he found himself surrounded by the entrails of a great fish. There in the darkness, Jonah was ready to pray.
"In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help and you listened to my cry…. You brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God…. Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good."
From inside the fish, Jonah was calling his fear, his defiance, his pride, and his willful disobedience by a new name: "idols." And he was identifying the ship, the storm, and the fish as something they had never been called before: "grace." And once Jonah acknowledged these truths, God gave him another chance to obey, and the great fish vomited Jonah onto dry land. Even though Nineveh was probably more than five hundred miles away, Jonah headed for the city.
In the same way he had prepared the fish to swallow the prophet, God prepared the people for Jonah's message. "The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth to show their sorrow for their sin."
But now, instead of rejoicing at the way God had used him, Jonah acted like a spoiled child. Although he had taken God's message to the Assyrian capital city, he had no mercy for the people himself. He would have much rather watched Nineveh burn than have seen its people repent and avert God's judgment. He believed God's gift of grace belonged exclusively to his own countrymen.
How little did Jonah perceive the nature and intentions of the living God for whom he spoke. His running and his sulking demonstrate how little he understood about God's great compassion and his desire to forgive anyone who repents of his or her sins.Reflect On: Jonah 2 Praise God: For his grace—in its many forms. Offer Thanks: For God’s call on your life and his willingness to make certain that you hear his voice. Confess: Your own foolishness and rebellion, remembering that nothing escapes his watchful eye. Ask God: To fill you with a renewed gratitude for his presence and love for the lost.