Originally published in Disciple Magazine, April 2014. Part 5 of 5
At last we come to the great “showdown” of this story—when Jonah finally speaks honestly with God and, in spite of his rage and despair, the Lord teaches him graciously yet again who is sovereign and just.
Jonah (after taking a rather, shall we say, circuitous route) obeyed God, delivering a fiery warning of coming judgment to the people of Nineveh. To his surprise, they listened and repented, and, “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it” (3:10).
Far from the reaction you might expect after what looks like a “successful” delivery of his prophetic message, Jonah reflected bitterly on Nineveh’s repentance: “But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry” (4:1). In his grief and anger, Jonah cried out to the Lord: “He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life’” (4:2-3). Continue reading
Originally published in Disciple Magazine, March 2014. Part 4 of 5
Once Jonah had come to repentance, through one of the most sensational means recorded, “the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land” (2:10). The story doesn’t pause for Jonah to catch his breath, so we do not know how much time elapsed between his piscine journey and God’s renewed call. Whatever the timeframe, though, chapter three opens with a replay of chapter one, but with a chastened Jonah responding in the right direction this time.
“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you’” (3:1-2). Even through Jonah’s odyssey of flight from the Lord’s presence, God’s purpose had not changed at all. His plan remained to bring His Word to the pinnacle of pagan civilization—both to foreshadow His compassion for the Gentiles, and to condemn those Jews centuries in the future who refused to repent in the presence of one greater than Jonah (Matt. 12).
As we said, Jonah went this time; obedient in action if not attitude: “So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days’ walk. Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, ‘Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown’” (3:3-4). As Jonah wended his way through the streets of this ancient metropolis, he must have cut a strange figure—an unknown foreigner loudly shouting a threatening message. Ominous though the Lord’s proclamation was (not exactly words of love and compassion), these words would have been laughable to the hearers. Recall that Nineveh was the seat of world power at the time, with no known enemies that could hope to defeat her empire in 40 days (or years, for that matter). Continue reading
Originally published in Disciple Magazine, February 2014. Part 3 of 5
When we left Jonah, he was sinking down into the sea, having convinced the crew of his ship to throw him overboard to calm the storm God had brought upon them because of his disobedience. He likely thought that this would be the end of the matter, but “the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah” (1:17a). Instead of meeting death, “Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights” (1:17b).
The first we hear from Jonah in this unique (and probably uniquely unpleasant) place, is the last thing we expect, given his attitude and actions in chapter 1—a prayer: “Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish” (2:1). In Jonah’s telling of these events, he doesn’t mention if he pouted, wept, slept, or anything else after finding himself alive and well inside the fish. We don’t know if his prayer was at the beginning or the end of his three days and nights “at sea”—what the Lord compelled him to record for us was that he prayed. He did not yet know the rest of the story, whether he would be rescued or whether he would yet die in the fish, but he prayed anyway.
It takes varying degrees of shock for most of us to recognize our helplessness and cry out to God, and for Jonah, the Lord used extraordinary measures indeed to get his attention. From this low point, however, we have an incredible prayer ascribing power and glory to God and foreshadowing the salvation He would bring to all men through Christ. Continue reading
Originally published in Disciple Magazine, January 2014. Part 2 of 5
In the last post, we began looking at the book of Jonah in the larger context of the Old and New Testaments and the grand sweep of God’s plan to purchase by Christ’s blood “men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). We examined the prophetic symbolism in Jonah’s heritage, call, and actions that Christ claimed as the “sign of Jonah” (Matt. 12; 16; Luke 11). Even in the midst of Jonah’s great disobedience, God’s hand of redemption was at work, as evidenced in Jonah’s eventual repentance and writing of his story as a testimony to God’s love, faithfulness, and sovereignty. Now, we zoom in to examine the text itself, reviewing a well-known story with an eye toward the details.
After “the word of the Lord came to Jonah” (1:1) to prophesy against “Nineveh the great city,” Jonah ran the opposite direction from God and His plan. As we are told later (4:2), this was not out of fear, but hatred of Nineveh and all it stood for, and hard-hearted refusal to be the instrument of God’s grace to them. Almost immediately, however, Jonah’s planned flight from the will of the Lord goes awry (from his perspective, at least). “The Lord hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up” (1:4). God blocked the way of Jonah’s escape, sending a violent, impossible-to-ignore storm that caused the ship’s crew (most of whom were not Jews) to cry out to their various false gods and frantically dump the ship’s cargo in order to weather the gale (1:5a). Continue reading