Jonah 1 depicts the Jonah as a rebellious, reluctant prophet. Jonah 3-4 depict the prophet as obedient yet rebellious in heart. As my former colleague Dr. Jerry Windsor said, “Jonah graduated from Whale Belly University, but he was still the same man.” After his experience in the belly of the huge fish, Jonah preached in Nineveh. The prophet, however, did not want any converts. The recipient of God’s mercy did not want God to be merciful to the Ninevehites; rather, he wanted the wrath of God’s judgment to fall upon the wicked populace. Jonah obeyed his commission but he remained rebellious in heart.
What lessons can we learn from Jonah after his graduation from Whale Belly University?
First, Jonah learned God is often a God of the second chance (3:1). Jonah 1 records God’s original commission of the prophet. “Get up! Go! Preach!” God reissued the commission in 3:2 in the same words. God often graciously gives His servants a second opportunity. We should not presume He always gives a second opportunity.
Second, Jonah learned challenges often accompany God’s commission of His servants (3:2-3). Three times the text of Jonah described Nineveh as a great city (1:2; 3:2; 4:11). The city because of its location on two major trade routes functioned as an important commercial and administrative center. The Bible consistently noted the city’s fame for wickedness. The importance, size, and reputation of the city provided a daunting task for the Hebrew prophet. Even today, do we not experience a challenge when we envision taking the Gospel to a city like New York? The most important biblical description of the city occurs in Jonah 3:2—“an extremely large city” (HCSB). A literal translation of the Hebrew states the city was important to God. God has a heart for the metropolitan areas because of the people and the potential influence of the gospel radiating outward from the cities. Paul focused his mission strategy upon the urban metropolitan cities.
Third, Jonah obeyed with a bare minimum commitment (3:4). In the Hebrew Bible, Jonah preached a five-word sermon of destruction. While the Bible may summarize Jonah’s message, I find what is absent from Jonah’s sermon interesting. He did not give a rationale for the impending destruction. He failed to provide instructions for a proper response. One commentator characterized the message as “a graceless message delivered by one living in the shadow of grace.”
Fourth, Jonah learned the extent of God’s grace (3:10). While Jonah 4 reveals Jonah’s lack of grace, the power of the Word of God produced perhaps the greatest miracle in the Bible. The whole town repented. Jeremiah 18:7-8 sets fort the divine principle operating regarding Nineveh. If God announces judgment against a nation, if the nation repents then their heart response averts God’s judgment.
Fourth, Jonah received a challenge to unite his heart with God’s compassion (Jonah 4). Jonah became “exceedingly hot” at God’s failure to destroy the city. The prophet chided the character of God. He claimed he fled from the commission because of the compassionate character of God, even quoting Exodus 34:6-7 as his rationale (v. 2). The prophet would rather die than see God’s passion exhibited to the
Ninevehites. Jonah departed from an uncomfortable encounter with God to watch over the city in case God decided to bring judgment. The prophet was “exceedingly hot” without reason. God attacked Jonah’s comfort zone (shade) and made him hot by means of a scorching wind. The prophet was more concerned about the plant than the people of Nineveh.
The book of Jonah ends with an unanswered question. The question invites our response. Will we unite our hearts with God’s compassion for all people?
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