The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord…
Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights…
And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land…
Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. 4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
Oh Jonah. He certainly doesn’t seem like the godly sort of person we expect God to use. First, he ran away from God. Then, he tried to sleep through the storm that was caused by him. It took him three days in the belly of a fish to repent. And even after he survived to tell the tale and his preaching led to the people of Nineveh repenting, he got angry because he hated the Assyrians and didn’t want them saved. (This was before the Assyrians decimated the Israelites.) Then he got mad at God for killing a plant that God grew. He was so angry he wished he were dead. He really had an attitude problem!
And yet God used him to save a city. His story is even used as a sign of Jesus and the three days he would spend in the grave.
“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.” (Matthew 12:38-41)
Where Jonah failed, Jesus succeeded. Jesus did not run away from his calling. In the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was betrayed he prayed, “yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Jesus too slept in a boat during a storm (Mark 4:35-40). But, upon being awakened, he did not need to be thrown in to calm it down, he simply commanded, “Quiet! Be still!“
Jesus did not land in the grave by his own doing, nor was he in need of repentance. He landed in the grave on our behalf- to calm the storm of our making because we need to repent.
And when he was raised from the dead, he did more than just save a city- he saved the world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
The story of Jonah showcases God’s justice, love, and grace. Though God was judging Nineveh for their wicked ways, he relented when they repented. Indeed, God desires that none should perish. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) He gave Jonah a fish to preserve his life in the ocean until he repented. He gave Jonah a second chance to do the right thing. God loves us. He wants the best for us, which is whey he gave – and gives – us the best thing – himself.
Let us pray.
Gracious and merciful God, thank you for your lovingkindness towards us – even when we don’t always understand what is happening. You loved Jonah too much to let him die or to leave him in a state of unrepentance. You had a plan and a purpose for him. Help us to not run away from you but be open to the call on our lives that others may be blessed through us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Have you ever run away from God? Did it work? How did he draw you back?
How has God taken care of you when you faced the storms of life?
Jonah did not want God to forgive the Assyrians because he hated them so much. Is there anyone in your life that you need to forgive? Can you pray a prayer of blessing upon them?