Lessons From Jonah
The Story of Jonah
One of my favorite Bible stories is the story of Jonah. It's pretty fantastic. God asks Jonah to do something. Jonah doesn't want to do what God asks of him, so he runs away. As a result, he ends up being swallowed by in a giant fish. While in the belly of the fish, he prays for forgiveness. God hears Jonah's prayer and forgives him. The fish spits out Jonah, he goes and preaches to the people of Nineveh, and they repent of their evil ways and are shown mercy by God. That's the Reader's Digest Condensed version anyway. It's a nice little story that teaches us about God's patience and forgiveness. However, it also teaches much more...
Why did God send Jonah to Nineveh?
This is an easy question - it is explained in chapter 1, verse 2:
"Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me."
If God was mad about their wickedness though, why send Jonah? Was He trying to test Jonah? Did He want to taunt the Ninevites before sending down some old fashioned fire and brimstone? What was His purpose?
Why did Jonah run away?
In Sunday School, we were left to assume that Jonah was afraid to go. Nineveh was the capitol of the Assyrian Empire, a brutal nation that had committed horrible atrocities against the Jewish people. It is likely that Jonah's life would be in great danger if he went to Nineveh, especially if he started telling the people there how evil they were, and under God's judgment. It would very understandable for Jonah to be afraid.
However, take a look at Chapter 1, verses 4-12. Jonah clearly isn't bothered by dangerous situations, nor is he afraid of dieing. If not fear, then why did he run?
Jonah's Repentance, God's Forgiveness
When it became clear that God was not pleased, Jonah took responsibility. Not only did he own up to his disobedience, he asked the sailors to throw him into the sea in order to save their lives.
What happens next?
Jonah went to Nineveh as the Lord commanded, and proclaimed God's judgment on the city. Instead of harming Jonah, they believed the Lord. The king himself issued a proclamation that all citizens should fast and repent. Notice his attitude, too: "...so that we may not perish. He knew they deserved to be destroyed because of their sin, and this knowledge led him and his people to repentance. How did God respond? As He always does - with mercy.