Finding the Gospel in the book of Jonah

This past week I have been studying the Old Testament book of Jonah and it is a fascinating book to say the least.  In it, God calls the prophet Jonah to go to the ancient city of Nineveh and to call the people to repent or perish.  But instead of obeying God, Jonah heads in the opposite direction of Nineveh to the distant city of Tarshish.  Jonah paid his fare and boarded the ship, hoping to escape the call of God upon his life.  It was not very long, however, before God caused a mighty storm to engulf the ship.  It was so bad that these veteran mariners feared for their lives, each crying out to his own god.  To everyone’s surprise, Jonah went down to the lower part of the ship and fell asleep.  The captain came down to him and said, “What do you mean, you sleeper?  Arise, call out to your god!  Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” (Jonah 1:6)

After casting lots, it was determined that Jonah was the one to blame for these circumstances and he would have to provide an explanation.  Jonah said, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”  At that moment the men became fearful because they knew he was running from the Lord.  Jonah instructed them to throw him overboard and so save themselves.  The mariners did not like this idea, but soon realized it was their only option as the intensity of the storm continued to increase.  As soon as they threw Jonah overboard, the storm ceased and the sea calmed.  These men could were left in amazement and praised the Lord.

This was not the end of the road for Jonah, however, as the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah.  Being in the belly of a fish for three days and nights would prompt anyone to do some serious soul searching and Jonah was no different.  He cried out to God and God heard his prayer (his prayer is recorded in chapter 2).  Then at the end of the chapter, we read, “And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.” (Jonah 2:10)  God was not finished with Jonah and the word of the Lord came to him a second time.  “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” (Jonah 3:2)  This time, Jonah did as he was told.  He preached an 8-word sermon that proved to be incredibly effective: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4)  The people of the city believed God and repented.  The Ninevites cried out to God for mercy, and God chose not to bring disaster upon them.

The interesting footnote to this story is that Jonah was angry with God for having mercy upon Nineveh.  “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country?  That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” (Jonah 4:2)  Instead of being thrilled that God had powerfully used his message, he was angry because of God’s mercy and compassion.

It is impossible to read this story and not be struck by the love and mercy of God.  Even though he was disobedient, God gave Jonah a second chance and even though the people of Nineveh were evil, God used this prophet’s message to lead them into repentance, thus relenting of His wrath.  Reading this Old Testament story has a way of reminding the Christian of the mercy of God in sending Jesus to die in our place.  Though we are completely undeserving of God’s mercy and grace, God sent His Son that we might be forgiven of our sins and reconciled to Him.  My Christian brothers and sisters, never stop being amazed at the compassion and mercy of almighty God.  As the apostle Paul explains, “Christ shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)  It was certainly not because we were deserving or worthy of such love.  Rather, it was God’s mercy and compassion and grace that compelled such love.  Friend, never stop being amazed.

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