The book of Jonah in the Old Testament tells a story of a prophet named Jonah who was asked by God to carry a message of repentance to the city of Nineveh. Jonah, for some unknown reason, did not want to go. He probably reasoned in his mind that if he left that geographical area God would have no chance of getting him to go on the mission. With that in mind, he travelled to the port city of Joppa and took a ship bound for Tarshish.
During the voyage, a storm arose. The ship was tossed around. The frightened sailors tried to keep the ship afloat by jettisoning their cargo and supplies. Finding Jonah asleep while all the drama was unfolding, the ship’s captain probably had his suspicions concerning him. The sailors cast lots to determine who the cause of their troubles was. The lots pointed to Jonah as the culprit. He readily admitted his disobedience to God and advised the sailors to eject him from the ship. Once Jonah was thrown out of the ship, the sea became calm again. A large fish was waiting near the ship to transport Jonah to Nineveh.
In Nineveh, God again told Jonah to warn the city. Jonah begrudgingly decided to do what God had asked him. The people of Nineveh took the message seriously and repented. God spared the city.
Jonah was upset because God spared Nineveh. He went outside of the city and found a shady spot and waited to see what God would become of the city. God allowed a plant to spring up to offer Jonah more shade than what he previously had. Jonah was very happy with the plant and the shade it offered him. During the night a worm disabled the plant and it withered. When the sun came up the next day, Jonah became despondent and wished he was dead. Then God spoke to Jonah about his anger because the plant was no longer there to give him shade. God exposed and rebuked the resentful, uncaring attitude of this prophet. Jonah had pity on the plant but he could not find a modicum of compassion for the thousands of people in Nineveh. How sad!
Here are seven lessons that can be gleaned from this story.
- We cannot run from God’s call
Jonah tried his best to run from fulfilling the task that God had given him. God, who is sovereign, manipulate circumstances to put Jonah exactly where he wanted him to be. Similarly, God will allow situations in our lives to lead us to fulfil his purpose. God’s will be done in earth as it is in heaven.
- We sometimes disobey God for our own selfish reasons
Jonah had the audacity to tell God in Jonah 4:2 that he knew that God would spare Nineveh if the people repented. Jonah wanted God’s compassion for himself and for his country but not for another nation. Do we as Christians harbour the same obnoxious attitude towards persons who are of a different race, a different culture, a different religion, a different social or economic background? Just as God resisted that attitude in Jonah, he resists it in us.
- God will not punish unless he warns.
God will judge our actions but not before he gives us a chance to change. God is sovereign and he could have destroyed Nineveh since they were wicked in his estimation. God does not have to answer to anyone yet he is fair. He gave Nineveh a fair chance to change their ways. He consciously manoeuvred situations to ensure that the warning was delivered. We can be sure that like Nineveh, judgement will not come before a warning. God is the God of righteousness and fairness. We like Nineveh would do well to heed that warning when it comes.
- God cares about sinners
Nineveh was a city in the country of Assyria. It was not a part of the Jewish nation. God extended his favour to other people beside those who are called the “chosen”. God loves his creation and he wants what is best for all regardless of race, colour or creed. God is not interested in harming us; instead, he wants enjoy the best of all he has for us. The church has to show care for the world. The gospel must spread to the whole world so that people can accept it and be saved. The church is not an exclusive group that pampers itself while the rest of the world dies. The church has to show concern, love and compassion for the lost.
- God will correct us when we go wrong
Jonah thought he was justified in being angry when the shady plant died and he was left in the scorching sun. God let him know that he should be more concerned about people than about a plant. God took away Jonah’s comfort in an effort to help Jonah to see that his comfort was secondary to the future of Nineveh. Christians must awake to the fact that some of us are more concerned about material things than about doing the will of God. We need to take a lesson from God’s answer to Jonah. The church stands corrected by what God said to this ancient prophet.
6. God’s will be done with or without us
Jonah did not hide his motive for not wanting to deliver God’s message to Ninevah. He made it clear he knew that God would back away from his pronuncement of dire consequences for Ninevah as long as the people repented (Jonah 4:2). Somehow, Jonah wanted them destroyed, so he set out to have his will fulfilled instead of fulfilling the will of God. God made sure that Jonah delivered the message and that the Ninevites had the chance to repent. It is always God’s will for people to repent rather than die in their sins. Jonah thought that he could thwart God’s will but he was wrong. God will bring his will to fuition with or without our participation and despite what we think or wish.
As Christians, we must always keep in mind that God is the potter and we are the clay; God has chosen us and not the other way around. Jesus is Lord and we are his servants; we follow Jesus and do his will. We do not order around God and make him do our wills. Sometimes we behave like Jonah, wanting our way and throwing tantrums when God confronts us. True children of God will diligently seek to follow and advance the will of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ.