First of all, is the book of Jonah a true story? Though the book of Jonah seems pretty crazy, Jesus referred to it as history: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40) If Jesus indicated it happened, I think it did, too.
God wanted Jonah to go preach in the city of Nineveh. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire. The Assyrians were the evil, hated enemies of Israel and her people.
Chapter One – Jonah’s rebellion
Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh so he disobeyed the Lord & tried to flee from His presence. Why? We know from chapter four that mainly Jonah did not want the Assyrians to be forgiven. Also, Jonah may have felt God was asking too much from him since Nineveh was over 500 miles away by foot.
Jonah’s rebellion and disobedience were costly to himself and others. Disobedience against God may start out fine, but will eventually send you on a costly path.
Chapter Two – Jonah’s repentance & God’s forgiveness
God loved Jonah too much to let him go to Tarshish and ruin his life. God could have gotten someone else for the job, but He was concerned about Jonah & wanted to see Jonah learn & grow.
After being tossed overboard in the boat, Jonah finally reached a low point and called out to God, acknowledging where his salvation comes from: Jonah 2:9: But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD."
Chapter Three – Jonah’s Obedience & God’s loving grace
God has always been a God of the second chance. Jonah got the opportunity to go back to Ninevah to call them to repentance. The people mourned over their sin and turned to God. So, God had mercy and relented from calamity.
Chapter Four – Jonah’s Bitterness & God’s loving lesson
Jonah was mad! Why? Jonah hated the Assyrians and didn’t want them to be saved. He knew that God was “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.” Just as Jonah predicted, God saw the lost souls in Nineveh as a great loss, and since they had repented, God relented. Jonah hated this.
God cared about Jonah by continuing to teach him through the lesson of the plant that gave him shade and then died:
10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
That is the final verse of the chapter. What a profound punchline to end the book! It speaks to me today. Am I more concerned about cold temperatures or a favorite T.V. show than thousands of Georgetown students who, spiritually speaking, cannot tell “their right hand from their left?”
Dear God, give us your heart for people and the strength to obey you when you ask us to take a risk for you. May we have Your compassionate, forgiving heart to share the message of the gospel to others, even when it is uncomfortable.
Ideas adapted from “Jonah Study Notes,” Calvary Chapel Edinburgh, 2008.