Fun Fact: Other than the incident with the whale (or “big fish”), I don’t know anything about Jonah. I can’t really explain why but I’ve never felt compelled to learn more about him or his story. That being said, there are probably many words I could use to describe this blog series about Jonah, but I’m going to choose the words “interesting” and “exciting.” I look forward to learning about Jonah and exploring this book along with you.
Jonah was a minor prophet, meaning he’s one of those little books crammed in the back of the Old Testament. His four chapters are sandwiched between Obadiah and Micah, and the four chapters themselves take up a little more than the space of a page in my pocket-size Bible.
So what separates Jonah from his peers? Why have we heard of Jonah but not Amos or Habakkuk? For starters, they didn’t survive being eaten by a large fish. That’s pretty special, but their stories, while wonderful in their own ways, aren’t the same as Jonah’s.
“The Lord gave this message to Jonah, son of Amittai: ‘Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.’ But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord” (Jonah 1:1-3, NLT).
So Jonah’s not off to a very good start. God gave him a pretty short To Do list: get up and go to Nineveh. Jonah completes half of that. He gets up, alright, but he darts to Joppa, where he books passage on a boat for Tarshish, which is (as you could guess) nowhere near Nineveh.
Let’s step back for a second and look at all the components here. There’s God, who despite all of this is on mutually good terms with Jonah for the time being. There’s Jonah, who loves God but would evidently rather go literally anywhere but Nineveh. And there’s Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, about which the introduction to the book of Jonah in my NLT Bible says this: “Not only was Assyria the most powerful empire in that day, it was also ruthlessly violent with its conquered enemies. Israel was soon to enter Assyria’s path of destruction, and so it is unlikely that many Israelites would have accepted Jonah’s task.”
Jonah’s aversion to Nineveh wasn’t a personal quirk of his but more of a general desire to live. That’s one of the parts of this story that people leave out to make this story kid-friendly. Jonah ran, but he ran for his life. Imagine God telling you to go to ISIS headquarters and tell them God’s judgment is upon them. That’s a similar scenario to Jonah’s.
A huge storm came while Jonah was afloat to Tarshish, and the other sailors yelled for their gods to help and threw what they could overboard. They found Jonah asleep below deck and yelled at him to wake up and pray to his god. They figured out that the one who was the cause of the storm was Jonah and questioned him. When he said he worshiped the God who made both land and sea, the sailors were scared and started to freak out. Jonah knew if they threw him in the sea that the storm would stop so he suggested it. At first, the group didn’t want to but soon realized it was the only thing they could do. When they threw Jonah into the sea, the storm stopped immediately. Stunned by God’s power, the sailors offered a sacrifice to God and vowed to be His servants.
I’ll let you in on a secret. One of two things usually happens when you run from something. You either run right to it or run to something worse. Sometimes you run into something worse on your way to whatever you’re running from.
Let me give you an example. I’m currently reading The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut. (Allow us to pause here a moment out of pure respect for Vonnegut. Not many, if any, people know that I just adore Vonnegut and his writing. Slaughterhouse-Five impacted my life immensely and is easily in my top ten, maybe even top five books.) In this book I’m reading, a man by the name of Winston Niles Rumfoord basically traveled through a rip or portal between Earth and Mars. He’s sort of part of the universe now. He doesn’t really have a body but can materialize. He can go anywhere (like other planets and galaxies), can read minds, knows the future. He meets a man called Malachi Constant and tells him his future. Scared, Malachi does everything he can to avoid his fate or change it, alters his life and relationships. But after it all, his destiny is the same, and he meets it in even worse shape than he would have had he gone with it instead of fighting it. He gets there, but now his social life is gone, his money is depleted, and his company went under.
Jonah was in a boat similar to Malachi’s fictional one. Jonah’s situation involved a literal, tangible boat, one that took on water in an inescapable storm.
I don’t believe that Jonah’s sprint from his calling surprised God one bit. I believe He knew it, foresaw it, and crafted the entire sea scenario to get more people saved and to prove to Jonah that He cannot be out-ran.
God doesn’t give up on us. He knows the life we could have, the ways we could grow, the impact we could have in His name, and He refuses to shortchange us. His love and pursuit of us never end.
God didn’t give up on Jonah. Nineveh held more than power-hungry killers. It held experiences and lessons for Jonah in particular. God wasn’t just going to let Jonah sail away from that. He probably understood Jonah’s fear, but He knew that what awaited was so much greater if Jonah could just get there.
Are you fleeing like Jonah? Jonah’s fear was justified, and yours probably is too, if to no one else but you. Change and callings, duties and destinies can be terrifying. Someone else could probably have done Jonah’s job, but they couldn’t have done it the way Jonah did. The same goes for you. There’s only one you, only one person on the whole planet who can do what you do like you do. Keep that in mind the next time you find yourself running from your calling. And remember that we serve a relentless, powerful, and loving God.
By Carrie Prevette