Jonah by the prophet Jonah
The story of Jonah is recognizable to most people. It is very simple: God calls Jonah, Jonah runs to Tarshish, Jonah gets thrown overboard and swallowed by a fish or whale, Jonah gets spit up, delivers God’s message to Nineveh and they repent. There it is – the basic story everyone knows of Jonah. Most people are content with that summary, but Jonah is a much deeper and more meaningful book if you read what it says and not rely on what little you think you know about it.
Jonah is not some silly folk tale or comic relief in the middle of the doom and gloom prophets. The book of Jonah gives us a theology primer in a compact style. We learn of the nature and power of God. We learn of the result of being opposed to God. We also learn of man’s responsibility to God and to others.
First, we learn much of the nature and power of God. God controls what we would consider “luck” in the casting of the lots. The lots point to Jonah and in fact they are right due the power of God. God’s control over nature is evident in many ways. The storm, the fish swallowing Jonah, the plant and worm are all evidences of God controlling nature to bring about His end. Although Jonah would have done anything but preach to Nineveh, God’s will that the message was preached by Jonah is still accomplished. His relenting of the promised destruction when the Ninevites turn to genuine repentance and seek Him also shows God’s unbounding mercy.
In the story there are two instances of men being opposed to God. The Ninevites were known throughout history for their exceptional cruelty. They did not worship God or attempt to follow His commands. His justice demanded their annihilation, but His mercy demanded they be warned and given an opportunity to repent. Jonah is also opposed to God and he learns that no plans of a mere human can outwit the plans of the creator of the universe.
We see in the task that God gave Jonah that our duty is not to judge our call from God in human standards but to trust God and do what He commands. Jonah preaching to the people of Nineveh would be analogous to George W Bush being called to preach to the Al-Qaeda in Sadr City, Iraq. It just did not make sense. It doesn’t have to make sense because it is our duty to other people to tell them the words of God so they will turn in sackcloth and ashes to their one and true God.
Jonah may be the most over-used, under-studied story in the Old Testament and deserves much deeper thought and analysis. When you read the four chapters for yourself, try to forget all that you think you know about the story and read what is the book. You will be surprised.