Jonah received divine instruction to go to the city of Nineveh. Nineveh was a principle city of Assyria the greatest enemy of Israel. Jonah’s divine design was actually reflected in the meaning of his name: “Dove”. God created and designed him to be a messenger of grace. The question arises: “Why did Jonah run away from his assignment?” I would like to propose three reasons why Jonah chose to disobey God’s instructions and ran away to Tarshis:
- Because of His Theology: Jonah knew that God is compassionate; therefore He would spare the Assyrians if they repented. Cf. Jonah 4: 2. This is so true to us as well: we can, unfortunately, have the right kind of theology but apply it wrongly to suit our own selfish desires.
- Because of His Misguided Nationalism: Jonah knew that if the Assyrians repented, God would forgive them and they perhaps would attack and destroy the nation of Israel again. We don’t pray that God should prosper out enemies [especially those who mistreat us because of our faith], right?
- Because of Personal Reasons: Jonah knew that he risked loss of face in case his words about God’s punishment did not come to pass. What would people make of his prophesies. How many times have we disobeyed God’s voice just because attempting certain tasks would be too risky for our profession, family or status?
But core of Jonah’s problem was self-centeredness. He wasn’t looking at things from God’s perspective. Whenever we approach life from our own perspective other than God’s we are bound to being frustrated. There is always a fear that we encounter whenever we are faced with obeying God’s will. It could be fear of leaving our comfort zones: friends, family, job security, routines; the list is endless.
Having seen Jonah’s perspective–which is pretty much a reflection of our human and sinful our attitudes–let’s now look at God’s point of view.
Nineveh was a pagan city but under God’s control. Nothing that God has created is outside the realm of his authority and compassion. Yahweh is not a territorial or even a national God. He is the God of the whole universe. Our human problem is that we tend to domesticate God and his activities to our needs and concerns. We don’t tell God what to do; it is him who tells us what to do. The truth is God is at work in the places we least expect to find him. He owns the whole universe!
Purpose of the storm: It was a learning aid—kind of a visual aid that God used to teach Jonah. Just as God had concern for the sailors, he was also compassionate for the people of Nineveh. Isn’t amazing how we have no compassion for the people loves so much?
God speaks: – sometimes in quiet whispers, at other times through storms. Either way he wants us to obey. Listen to his voice. What has God been speaking to you lately?
God is gracious: He provided a fish. He is a God of second chance. The fish was not only a “sign” to Jonah but also to the nation of Israel and Nineveh as well. God always provides us ways to reflect on our failures and come back to him.
Yes, God had compassion for the residents of Nineveh. Yes, the people of Nineveh were wretched sinners and desperately needed God’s salvation. But I think this story is more about Jonah. He needed God’s help. He needed to have a new perspective of God and ministry. And even more, this story is about you and me. Is there something God wants you to change, or learn in the way you relate with him and his people?