- Religion and Philosophy
JONAH : The Reluctant Missionary
JONAH : The Reluctant Missionary
But God said to Jonah, Do you have a right to be angry about the vine ?”
“I do,” he said. “ I am angry enough to die.”
But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right from their left , and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city ?”
Jonah 4 : 9 - 11
The book is named after its principal character, whose name means “dove.” The book does not identify its author, however it is safe to ascribe the authorship to the prophet himself. Jonah is named the son of Amittai from Gath Hepher in Zebulun. Some feel that Jonah came from the same prophetic school as Elijah and Elisha.
Jonah was a contemporary of Amos. The same problems Amos had to face Jonah also had to wrestle and deal with. Capitalizing Assyria’s defeat of Damascus, King Jeroboam II (793 – 753 BC ) restored Israel’s traditional borders, ending almost a century of sporadic seesaw conflict between Israel and Damascus. After Israel was relieved of foreign pressures she felt jealously complacent about her favored status with God. She focused her religion on expectations of the “day of the Lord “ when God’s darkness would engulf the other nations leaving them and them alone to bask in the light of the Lord. It was in such a time a message from the Lord through Amos and Hosea was sent to Israel to announce that Israel would be spared no longer by bringing destruction and captivity from the Assyrians. During this time the Lord also sent Jonah to Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian Empire, to warn them of the imminent danger of divine. judgement.. Nineveh’s repentance may have been aided by two plagues (765 BC and 759 BC ) and a solar eclipse (763 BC ) preparing them for Jonah’s message.
Jonah was called by Jehovah to go and preach in the great city of Nineveh. Assyria represented the pride and power and brutality of the kingdoms of the world. Assyria was the bitterest enemy of the people of God. God’s call to Jonah showed clearly that he had not given up on Assyria. The prophet was to call Nineveh to repentance, warning the nation of its approaching doom unless it turned to God.
The task was so didgusting to Jonah that he fled from the presence of the Lord. Jonah must have asked himself of a number of questions. How could an Israelite prophet be commissioned to preach to the Ninevites? What language would he speak? What authority would he have ? Why should there be a mission to the hated Assyrians, the oppressors of Israel ? The behavior of Jonah was clearly disobedient, he departed in the opposite direction from Nineveh, boarding a ship at Joppa bound for Tarshish. Tarshish in Hebrew means “the end of the earth.” It was located in Southwestern Spain. At Jonah’s time this city was literally at the end of the earth.
While on board the ship, Jonah slept. His conscience also slept for he deceived himself that he would be soon far away from God. Soon, a storm came directly as God’s intervention for his life. The storm was too great for the sailors, who were trained in the ways of the sea that they turned to their gods in prayer. The storm had to come because of some sin and the casting of lots singled out Jonah as the guilty party. Jonah volunteered to be cast into the sea like the ship’s cargo. The pagan sailors were reluctant to kill Jonah. They exerted themselves to save the very man who wouild not exert himself to save pagan Nineveh ! Despite their hard efforts Jonah was finally cast overboard – with a prayer to be forgiven for Jonah’s life. As soon as Jonah hit the water the storm ceased. Now the sailor’s feared Jonah’s God and so they offered a sacrifice to him.
God appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. The fish had Jonah as his guest for three days and three nights. In the belly of the fish, in the depths of the sea, Jonah again learned to pray. In this prayer Jonah uttered not one syllable concerning his unfulfilled commission, his thoughts were all of Jerusalem and the temple, not one thought was on Nineveh. Again at God’s command the fish spewed Jonah out on the dry land. This time he obeyed God’s command and traveled to Nineveh to carry out his preaching assignment.
Sackloth Worn in Nineveh.
Even though Jonah delivered the message so reluctantly, there was a sense of urgency : judgement and destruction within forty days. The attitude of Jonah was 100% negative. His delivery of message was hardly satisfactory. But the impact of the message was tremendous! The people, from the richest and most powerful to the poorest and least powerful believed, repented and fasted.And God did not destroy the city. In spite of the immaturity and the inadequacy displayed by the man Jonah God’s grace was manifested magnificently. In spite of himself Jonah appears to be the most successful missionary of all time.
Harsh Reaction of Jonah.
The reluctant prophet was not prepared for the results of his message – the entire city repented. Though no prophet experienced such a success as Jonah, he was displeased and and even angry with God. Jonah knew that God was merciful that He would forgive Ninevites should they repent. To teach the prophet a lesson, God raised up a plant to shade Jonah from the sun, then allowed a worm to cut it down . A hot wind from the East added to Jonah’s misery that he whined and complained about the missing plant.. Then God reminded Jonah that He was a God of compassion who had the right to love and forgive the pagan Assyrians or any other people who turned to Him in obedience and faith. Jonah had been bothered about a plant while God had turned His attention to a much more important matter - the worth and salvation of people.
The Significance of the Book of Jonah.
On the Message.
The central theme in the story of Jonah is the universality of divine grace. It is the old testament counterpart of John 3:16. God is not just a tribal deity. Jonah tells us that God’s grace is extended to all nations. The inclusion of the Gentiles in the grace of God is a teaching found elsewhere in the old testament. However, the Book of Jonah is focused only with this topic that God’s grace is for all even the Gentiles.
God desires to show mercy and grace to all peoples of the world. No one nation or group can claim exclusive rights to His love. The task of the nation Israel was to preach this message about God’s universal love to all the world. But they forgot this missionary purpose and eventually claimed God and His blessings as theirs alone. The Book of Jonah cries out against this narrow minded interpretation of God and His purpose.
On the Messenger.
Jonah’s response to Jehovah’s mandate reveals the ethnocentric and rebellious nature that characterized God’s servant Jonah and the nation Israel. If we read the account carefully, it may reveal some hidden attitudes of the church today. God will fulfill His purpose of reaching all people regardless of our attitude whether we are willing or unwilling. If we are reluctant, disobedient, narrow-minded and self-centered like Jonah, God will use sufferings, persecutions even “sea creatures” to bring us to the path of obedience and to reach the lost.
This hub is an excerpt from cell group meeting of Grace Bible Chuch Professionals Ministry (Manila, Philippine) and prepared by Brother Ramil Dizon, the cell group leader