Jonah 1-4: But Jonah
December 13, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
The Book of Jonah is a small book with a massive message. The prophet Jonah flees from God, refusing to obey his call to go to Nineveh because he knew that God was a “gracious God and merciful” (4:2) and therefore feared that God would forgive the people of Nineveh. It seems as if Jonah had a faith that especially reserved favor for the Israelites and somewhat resented—was even angry—when that favor and salvation was extended beyond that particular racial group. His confession (and some view it as less sincere than others do) has at its pinnacle the acknowledgment, perhaps begrudging, that “salvation belongs to the Lord” (2:9)—that is, that it is God’s job whom he saves (and whom he does not).
The story itself is very familiar. It is worth pointing out that Jonah is viewed as an historical figure by both the Book of Kings (2 Kings 14:25), and by Jesus himself (Matthew 12:39-41). It is also worth underlining the sovereign power of God throughout the story.
The word of the Lord comes to Jonah, “but Jonah” (1:3) runs in the opposite direction. And then, “But the Lord” produced a storm (1:4). You can run from God, but you can’t hide, and even your running from him is no more than a wriggling around in his sovereign arms and underneath his sovereign power. “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah” (1:17).
Jonah repents, or at least confesses to some extent, and at any rate enough for God to speak to the fish so it vomits Jonah on dry land (2:10). It is a confession, even though it is punctuated by fish vomit as an exclamation point!
Jonah goes and preaches to Nineveh. His message is simply one of judgment: “Nineveh shall be overthrown” (3:4). Nonetheless, the king and the people decide that if they genuinely repent, God might relent from his announced judgment, and so indeed he does (3:10).
But Jonah (4:1) this time is exceedingly angry, for what he feared would take place has taken place. God has forgiven those rascally and horrible Nineveh people. God gives him an object lesson to draw home the lesson of his prejudice. If Jonah is angry that a plant dies (4:9), then how much more should God have pity on the great city of Nineveh? Jonah’s reply is not listed, but no one else but the prophet Jonah could have known all the details of the story, and so we perhaps can assume that Jonah had the story written as a dramatic cliffhanger at the end to call the readers to ask themselves a similar question.
It is all too easy to be angry about a stubbed toe, a fender bender, a broken phone, a lost job, air conditioning that does not work, or heating that goes wrong. But how much should we be moved to pity, and therefore action, at the need for the gospel to be heard in the great cities of our world today? God grant us a heart to care for the lost and to speak the gospel with winsomeness and conviction.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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