Jonah: A Man Like Me?

Read: Jonah 1-4

Jonah is a short story that has captured the imaginations of countless people of all ages, but especially children in Sunday Schools and Vacation Bible Schools around the globe. It’s ironic that children enjoy the story while adults, if they would answer honestly, will most likely say it’s a fictional or allegorical work based on legend or folklore.

The NIV Study Bible provides this insight:

Although their specific suggestions range from fictional short story to allegory to parable, they share the common assumption that the account sprang essentially from the author’s imagination, despite its serious and gracious message. On the other hand, it must be acknowledged that Biblical narrators were more than historians.
They [Old Testament prophets] interpretatively recounted the past with the unswerving purpose of bringing it to bear on the present and the future. In the portrayal of past events, they used their materials to achieve this purpose effectively. Nonetheless, the integrity with which they treated the past ought not to be questioned. The book of Jonah recounts real events in the life and ministry of the prophet himself.

Why is it that we choose to believe one miracle and not another? We are so well educated that we think we can explain the universe, but in reality, through many apologetic arguments, at some point, we have to step out on faith. I’m not suggesting we put on blinders or act ignorant, but if we believe in a God that created the universe out of nothing, at some level it is possible that the same God could create a divine appointment between prophet and fish.

Then there’s the red-letter evidence in Matthew, the words of Jesus himself:

38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” 39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 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. 41 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

I have much to learn and I don’t claim to have any knowledge at all except that I believe in the incarnational life of Jesus Christ, his death by crucifixion and subsequent miraculous resurrection. These beliefs already put me in the crazy pen, why not add the story of Jonah?

The Story

God tells Jonah to preach redemption to the evil city of Nineveh, a city so large that it would take three days to walk around it. That’s huge! Jonah decides to run away rather than be subjected to the humiliation of preaching in such a place as Nineveh. He pays for passage on a boat in the opposite direction and the trouble begins.

The superstitious sailors see the storm as a sign, something from the sea-gods must be happening. They cast lots and determine Jonah is the culprit. After Jonah begs them, they toss him overboard and the sea calms down.

At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. Jonah 1:16

Jonah’s first converts are on the boat after they are saved by removing him.

Chapter 2 contains Jonah’s short prayer in the belly of the fish, his repentance is recounted briefly here. Three days and nights is a long time to be trapped inside, plenty of time to think about mistakes and misgivings!

Chapter 3 describes Jonah’s renewed mission — he preaches to the Ninevites and they repent!

The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. Jonah 3:5

Chapter 4 provides Jonah’s pathetic response, this is where I draw the title for this post, is this my response to God when his voice clearly tells me to do one thing and I choose to do another?

He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Jonah 4:2

Jonah’s mission was so successful that he wanted to die. These corrupt people, those who lived in great extravagance and self-absorbed living, actually repented and would reap the rewards for turning to God. Historically, we know this doesn’t last long, but for some, it seems, eternity was changed–they turned to God. Jonah is comforted by a plant, then God takes the plant away. God is in control the entire time, but Jonah has a part to play, he has a story to tell and many lives hang in the balance.

Jonah’s main flaw: he didn’t love the Ninevites as God loves all people. I continue to pray for God’s help in learning how to love as He loves, to see people as He sees them. When I get a taste for that kind of love, I know it’s real, but it’s hard to express in words.

Lord, help me to love as you do, at least one bit more today than yesterday. Help me to put aside the lessons this world has taught me and let me focus on your words, your actions, your ways.

Thoughts about serving others

This link includes a list of posts about Serving the Least, the Lost, and the Lonely.

My prayer is for you to join me on this journey. Subscribe to this blog below to get an email when a new post is available.

Let the Word evoke words. May your life encourage lives.

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