Jonah’s Story and the Character of God
The book of Jonah is unusual even by biblical standards. The Lord “appoints” a ‘big fish’ (I wished it said a whale but it’s just one big fish story); He “appoints” a big storm, a tree, a worm and finally a scorching wind. The whole drama seems to remind us that God as the creator of the sea, air and land is quite capable of creating a creature to swallow and spit out a human being, a little worm, a plant, and cause a couple of wicked strong storms. Paul reminds us in Colossians 1:16 that it is by Jesus that “all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…”.
Jonah is also unusual because this is one mighty prophet of Yahweh (see 2 Kings 14). Jonah, as a good prophet of the Lord, was well versed in who Yahweh is and His character (see Jonah 4:2). He even got ‘published’ (a fate reserved to precious few in ancient Israel). He well understood the mercy of God for His own people the Hebrews. We know from 2 Kings 14 that Yahweh protected Israel by expanding its territory. In fact, it was by the “word of the Lord” through Jonah that this territorial expansion came about. The real surprise in the account is that Jeroboam king of Israel had done “evil in the eyes of the Lord,” which makes this blessing of protection all the more surprising in 2 Kings 14. In His mercy, Yahweh “saw the affliction” of the people and decided to overlook Jeroboam’s own foolishness to bless and protect His people. So Jonah got a front row seat of Yahweh’s mercy for his own people.
However, just a VeggieTales tells us, “Jonah was a prophet, but he never really got it.” He was quite willing to receive the mercy of God for his own, but he was not willing to expand the territory of his heart toward the Assyrian population of Nineveh.
This is why he runs away in the first place and gets to spend a “free 3 night/day stay in the Blue Whale Inn on Nantucket.” On the second attempt (3:1), while he does end up going to Nineveh, he gives the shortest possible sermon with zero option for repentance (“yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”). This is why he gets fuming mad when “the people of Nineveh believed God.” Yahweh doesn’t wipe out Nineveh because the entire city (it would take 3 days to cover its territory) repented from evil. The text says it was both a grass root revival (from least to great) and one that changed the hearts of those in power. The ‘unrepentables’ have repented! In fact, the king of Nineveh makes a decree: “Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.”
Because the Lord is merciful, He responded to the cry of repentance and didn’t judge Nineveh. Now, why would Jonah not be happy with this outcome? In his defense, he had good reasons to dislike them. They were true barbarians in their treatment of prisoners, including Israel’s. Yet the mercy of God extends to all because God does not wish “anyone to perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
If a great servant of the Lord like Jonah could miss the boat so badly, what makes us so sure we wouldn’t either? Who are the Ninevites today? In what way does the territory of our heart needs to be expanded? Maybe it’s not a people group, maybe it’s a neighbor, a spouse, a child, a parent, a friend, someone at work or (oh no!) at church?
Spend time this week and let the Lord show you His heart of mercy for those we have subconsciously or actively labeled the unrepentables in our midst. God wants to expand the territorial reach of TCC, a territory of mercy here in metrowest and wherever the Lord takes us.