A Whale of a Tale

Jonah 1-4 
By: Christina Jones, Upper School Principal

When you think of a prophet of God, they are usually the big hitters. They are the first string; the best of the best. The kind of people we want our children to grow up to be. And, then you have Jonah. Jonah was described in the text as a prophet. You would expect a prophet of God to act or make decisions a certain way. I would expect a prophet to have a long beard, to have a close relationship with God, and to have a passion for lost people. I would also operate under the assumption that if God sends me, He’s going to take care of me.

Jonah, apart from the beard, was not that guy. I find it somewhat humorous that in the book of Jonah, EVERYBODY (pagan sailors, Ninevites) and EVERYTHING (ocean, fish, bush, worm, wind) obeyed God except for the actual “prophet of God”. Let that sink in for a minute.

It is like watching a football game when it is tied. Your team gets to the fourth down and decides to kick a field goal. They only have one job; kick the ball through the uprights. Jonah had only one job and that was to take the message of God to the people of Nineveh. From Jonah’s perspective, those poor people were lost and were searching for the meaning of life.

Assyrians began the process of conquering Israel and Jonah saw them as an extreme threat. The Assyrians weren’t known for making snarky remarks on the internet. He was most likely afraid of them because they were known for skinning their captives alive. The fear was legitimate and warranted - they threatened the existence of God’s people and he was “standing up for God’s team.”

We are pretty quick to criticize Jonah, but don’t we do the same thing? As I ponder this, I think that I am more like Jonah than I’d like to admit. It’s very easy, in the flesh, to classify people as unworthy of God’s salvation. I know I get pretty defensive when I hear people criticizing the way Christians believe (like on social media). I tried to think back through my years of teaching and I actually came up with a few kids that “resisted” me, (thankfully none of them threatened to skin my alive) so I gave up on them. It’s regrettable and I pray that God was able to use someone else to minister to them, but I did not. Don’t ever look at a student as unlovable, unteachable, unreachable, unpopular, unsuccessful, unmovable or unworthy.

We must crazy-love all people! The root of Jonah’s resistance ultimately came down to the fact that he didn’t love the Ninevites. He didn’t care if they came to a saving knowledge of God. But, God’s plan of salvation extends to all people on the earth. As the apostle Paul states, God “desire all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

God tells us to simply obey. Jonah, the prophet of God, was the only character in the book that disobeyed, when he should have been the first one to obey. Here are some illustrations from the text:

The severe winds and boisterous sea that God sent, then miraculously calmed (Jonah 1:4, 15)

The sailors cast lots and by a miracle the lot identified Jonah (1:7)

The “great fish” was “prepared” to swallow Jonah (1:17)

Jonah was alive after three days and nights in the fish (1:17)

The fish was guided (“so the LORD spoke to the fish”) to a place where Jonah was spewed out on dry land (2:10)

The people of Nineveh astonishingly “believe” (Hebrew aman, to trust, to support, to turn to the right

A miraculously fast-growing plant was “prepared” as a shade for Jonah (4:6)

A worm was “prepared” to wither the plant (4:7)

A “vehement east wind” was “prepared” by God (4:8)

God will call you someday to handle a situation that is going to take you out of your comfort zone. But, trust that God is going to take care of you and work hard to do your part to make God famous in everything He calls you to do.

As God’s servants, we must obey Him even when the circumstances are contrary to our expectations and hopes. In those times when even when we don’t want to, when we are tired, when we feel broken and hopeless, when we feel we don’t NEED to or when we think of a better way. We always need to obey God.

Despite the human weaknesses in those God selects, He is still able to use them in His service. In this story, God used an ineffective prophet. I can’t imagine that Jonah delivered God’s message with passion and zeal. The narrative presents a noticeable contrast between God’s mercy and forgiveness and the shortcomings of His servant. The Bible also mentions imperfections in other renowned individuals like Noah, Abraham, Jacob, David or the apostle Peter. The lesson here is don’t dwell on your weaknesses. We all have them. Instead, rely on God’s strength to enable you to do those things that would otherwise hold you back.

Lastly, God deals with each of us in separate ways. Hopefully, not to the extent of ending up in the juices and bile of a big fish. But, God will accomplish what he wants through us because He is God and He can! Here comes the hard application part:

1. In every interaction, we have to “act like the prophet” (be it face-to-face, email, casual, formal, on the phone); we are ambassadors for Christ. Don’t run from those opportunities! God will use these moments for you to be His hands and feet and He will use these moments for you to rely on Him

2. Let God be God. Jonah was literally mad at God for saving the Ninevites. This is an extreme example of the human desire to get revenge and retribution. This is not our job. God is the judge. Our job is to share Christ and love people. When we read the Great Commission, it is not a suggestion but rather a command. Stay on mission and let God do his thing!

3. People can change. This record reveals the power inherent within the Word of God when such comes into contact with honest and good hearts (Luke 8:15). Though Jonah’s message was very brief, it produced the desired effect. Some critics have faulted the divine account at this point, claiming that so trifling a sermon could hardly have produced the results described. But the objection, which stems strictly from subjective bias, ignores the biblical evidence. The testimony of Christ states that “the men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah”. (Matthew 12:41)

Besides this evidence, historical records reveal that the notable city suffered severe plagues in 765 and 759 B.C. The soil was conditioned for Jonah’s “revival.” Somehow, possibly through the Nineveh Inquirer, the citizens of Nineveh learned of the prophet’s “resurrection” from the belly of the “fish”. Jesus noted, Jonah was a “sign” to the Ninevite generation, as the raised Lord would be to His generation (Luke 11:30).

We live in a world that desperately needs change. The type of change that only points toward Jesus Christ.