Jonah …. Aaahhhh Jonah. I am not certain I like the fact that I can so easily and quickly relate to this man.
Jonah was given direction by God– he was told to go to Nineveh and “preach against it”. Nineveh was a very large and important city in that day. It would soon become the head of the great Assyrian empire. It was also a city of great sin.
In the book of Jonah, we are not given very much information about the town or the people of this place. Because I love the history of the Bible, I’m almost tempted to seek out what was going on in Nineveh during this time. However, when God was speaking to me about Jonah, it wasn’t the “other people or the other place” He was talking to me about. It was all about me. And this book in the Bible is about Jonah.
We are not told specifically in God’s Word what it was that offended Jonah so much about his assignment. Was it the people he disliked? They were not “his people”. The Assyrians were a very fierce and wicked people at this time in history. They were about to become a world power and the prophet Nahum does tell us they conquered viciously and took over lands everywhere they went.
Maybe I can understand … am I supposed to admit this? Maybe they looked different on the outside… Heaven forbid they had a different skin color. Perhaps they had a different “culture” and just weren’t raised the same as Jonah was. We don’t know why Jonah had such a distaste for these Assyrians. Maybe it went back generations and he was just raised to dislike them…
The book of Jonah in the bible begins with God giving Jonah this order, and before anything else is said, we see Jonah running. …from God. Oh yes, the familiar sound of shoe rubber meeting the road! How I have grown to hate this sound. Jonah heads down to Joppa to board a ship for Tarshish.
I wonder if he felt a sense of relief, thinking he had narrowly escaped that one. I lean more in the direction that Jonah felt great guilt. I imagine that he had a hundred reasons why he was right. I wonder if he spent time second-guessing, “Did God really tell me that? Would He really send me to a people so full of sin? Surely not… They don’t even want anything to do with the Lord. Look at all the horrible things they’ve done!” It is here where I also think Jonah knew the absolute power of God… that if he was obedient and told these people what God directed him to, God would forgive and restore them.
Running this hard and this fast causes great exertion on the body and the soul. It’s a heavy load to carry– disobedience. It weighs on your mind every minute. It destroys your concentration. Before you know it, everything around you begins to crumble. Your mind is tired from the constant conversation in your head and your body is tired from the unnecessary running down every path except the one you should be traveling. I think Jonah might’ve felt this way; for once he boarded the ship, the Bible tells us he went below deck and fell into a deep sleep.
However, a lot was going on all around Jonah and he wasn’t even aware. The Bible tells us directly that the LORD “sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up”.
Disobedience = disaster.
The toughest realization for me in this story is here: many others were put in grave danger because of one man’s decision to disobey God’s direction! THAT causes me to pause and think. And pray. And repent. And praise God for His loving-kindness and grace and mercy. …and love my Savior, Jesus Christ, even more.
We are perhaps familiar with the next part of the story – Jonah is thrown overboard. The men didn’t want to do this; it was Jonah’s idea. They tried to get back to shore. But the reality is this: the storm was all about Jonah’s disobedience. They were innocent bystanders and it wasn’t up to them to save him from his poor choices. As soon as Jonah was thrown overboard, “the raging sea grew calm”.
Oh Lord, how many people have gotten caught up in a raging sea because of my disobedience? Throw me overboard… Lighten their load. This isn’t about them. Calm their raging seas.
I wonder how many people have been caught in a storm due to our disobedience. I wonder how many times we’ve been caught in a storm because of someone else’s disobedience to God. So often when I am struggling with something God has asked me to do, I view it as a problem of mine. I haven’t, until recently, considered that others may be affected by my choices in this realm. I’m sure Jonah didn’t imagine that his choices would lead to endangering the lives of all who were on that ship the day he decided he would not go to Nineveh.
Jonah quickly finds himself in the belly of a great fish. It is there he reflects on the goodness of God and is thankful. How deep must we sink? How many storms must go on around us, affecting our life and the lives of those around us before we slow down to see exactly what we are doing?
Jonah’s story has an unexpected end for me. Yes, he was finally obedient. Once the fish vomited him up onto dry land, he went to Nineveh and did as the Lord asked. As the people heard God’s message spoken through the prophet, they repented. God was compassionate and did not bring upon the Assyrians the destruction He had planned. It is what happened next that I did not expect: Jonah became angry at the Lord’s compassion.
He had so much hatred in his heart that he couldn’t see the goodness of God. Is this where disobedience leads us… leaves us? …or maybe this hatred is the beginning that leads to disobedience? What is it that causes us to not listen when God tells us directly to do something?