The Significance of JONAH
Jonah, called by God to preach to the Ninevites; gentiles – considered unclean, unsaved and ignorant. He didn’t want to. Travel was inconvenient; he would have to leave his home, family, job and friends. All this for people he disrespected, disliked, even hated. He went elsewhere and made himself unavailable.
You know the story. There was a storm at sea. Others on board approached to ask who he was, where he was from, what God he served. They didn’t know why this calamity had overtaken them and hoped he could help figure it out. Was he responsible? Could his God help? Jonah admitted to his sin and told them to throw him overboard to save themselves. Appalled, they tried to row ashore, lightening the load by dumping cargo and provisions; but nothing worked. In despair, they threw Jonah overboard and the sea did indeed calm. He was swallowed by a “big fish”. (Modern news reports have recorded men being swallowed whole by certain types of whales and later rescued, acid burnt but alive.) He spent three days and three nights in it’s belly; God providing him with some quiet time to think things through. Jonah called out to God in repentance, resolving to do what he was told. The whale spit him out, vomiting him into shallow water – onto firm ground.
Having learned his lesson, albeit the hard way, Jonah made good his vow to do God’s will; which hadn’t changed. God again instructed him to go and preach to the Ninevites. He did, proclaiming a message of destruction because of their wickedness; being surprised by their response. They heard his message throughout the city and listened to what he had to say. They not only listened but repented of their evil and proved that repentance by their subsequent deeds. “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.” Jonah 3:10
This should not have surprised Jonah. God’s intent has always been for, “…all people everywhere to repent.” Acts 17:30 For “God does not want anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 He has provided throughout all time for people to acknowledge him as God and Savior. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13 However, many yet today face the same problem the Ninevites did. “How…can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Romans 10:14
That’s where Jonah – and we – come in. “…how can they preach unless they are sent?” Romans 10:15 Our message may be somewhat different, but the opportunity for salvation is the same though more complete. “…faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17 Jonah went outside the city – disappointed. He had preached his message of “gloom and doom” and then watched to see the wicked punished; they were saved instead. So he built a shelter and sat down to wait; wait to see if they would hold fast to their new found salvation. Maybe God would yet punish them as Jonah felt they so richly deserved. To his credit, he was following the criteria voiced years later by Paul. “…I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” Acts 26:20 Even though he secretly hoped they wouldn’t. Evidently they did – further disappointing Jonah.
As a result, God began to further address the issue of Jonah’s sin. He caused a vine to grow over his hut for shade. Jonah, confused and depressed, found joy in such a little thing; but it died, further angering him. Even the little things he might take pleasure in were denied him! His attitude, expectations, and comfort level were all out of focus. Because his priorities were being questioned and his beliefs challenged, he no longer knew who he was, what he believed, what he should do; having reached a point of distracted despair he cried out, “It would be better for me to die…” Jonah 4:8 But God demands, ‘How can you be upset over the loss of personal pleasure and questioned attitudes – but not over the possible loss, the death of 120,000 men, women and children?’ You don’t care enough to do all you can to save them but would fuss and work to save a plant–a garden –a house –a car– a pet– a job; or anything else that might please or fulfill us.
It’s all about priorities!!! As Christians, we aren’t called to be fishermen, but fishers of men; or CEO’s, psychiatrists, factory workers, doctors, sales reps, farmers, nurses, etc.! We are called to see men and women brought to Christ. That is what we are truly responsible for. Whatever else we do vocationally is important and there is nothing wrong with expending effort to live our lives well. In fact, that’s part of our witness; and if we allow him to, God often times will lead us to a particular vocation that will ultimately further our calling in him. The problem is that most of us spend untold hours, effort and money establishing ourselves in a lifestyle and then – if we have time, money or energy left – we try to witness a little as well. Our first calling is Matthew 28 – to lead others to Christ! The rich young ruler, who claimed perfect obedience of the law was told by Jesus to sell all he had and to follow him; not because he couldn’t follow Christ as a rich young man, but because Jesus knew the distractions money caused this individual. It meant everything to him. Christ challenged him to aspire to a higher calling, to be willing to sacrifice all he thought he had to gain what he really craved – eternal life. Priorities – being willing to live with less – or something different – to fulfill the mission of Christ.
In virtually every situation we are called to be more interested in giving rather than getting; what a social revolution that would be. Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen; Paul, Priscilla and Aquila were tentmakers. People have to support themselves, but our overriding concern and mission must be obedience to God and service to mankind. That is the only way the world is going to be effectively reached for Christ and it’s present condition changed!
Are you ready – willing – to accept the call of Jonah?
Copyright 2002-2004 © Fred Price.