Jonah, Jonah, Jonah. What are we going to do with you? The audacity of this guy is amazing. First, God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach against it because of their wickedness. Jonah hates and despises the people in Nineveh, so he runs away from God. He doesn’t want to help their city.
He finds a ship in Joppa and heads for Tarshish. What makes him think God won’t find him there? I don’t know.
When the ship sets sail, the LORD sends a violent storm that almost breaks up the ship. The huge waves are rolling, the winds are howling and blowing and the water is sweeping across the deck.
These weathered, experienced sailors are terrified and call out to their gods, but it doesn’t help. Where is Jonah this whole time? He’s below deck, sound asleep! He’s running away from God and the storm is tossing this ship about and he’s sleeping like a baby.
The men wake him up and tell him to call on his God. In the meantime, they decide to cast lots to see who is responsible for this mess and it fell on Jonah. They start to question him and this is what he says.
Jonah 1:9 “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.
This terrifies them even more, especially since Jonah had already told them he was running away from the LORD.
That’s another thing about Jonah. He has no shame. When he got on the ship, he told them he was running away from God. Doesn’t he think that’s going to make him sound like a lunatic? Nope. He has no problem with that.
The sea keeps getting rougher so they ask Jonah what they should do. He tells them to throw him overboard, but the men are afraid to do that. They try rowing back to shore but the sea gets even wilder. They finally realize they have no choice so they cry out to the LORD to forgive them and they throw Jonah over.
Now, this is another thing about Jonah. If he knew that his going overboard would calm the sea, why didn’t he just jump over? No, he couldn’t do that. He wanted the men to throw him over which would make them accomplices in his murder if he dies. How considerate, Jonah!
Jonah is sinking down into the water. It says the deep surrounded him and seaweed was wrapped around his head. He descends to the roots of the mountains.
Then, the LORD provided a big fish to swallow Jonah up. He was in there three days and nights.
This part of the story is an example of my mind going to things that really aren’t important, but I can’t help myself. I started wondering what it was like in there. Was there the stench of rotted fish? Did he have stomach bile caked on him? It had to be loud with the sound and echo of the fish’s digestive system and lungs, etc. Then there’s the darkness. There wouldn’t be any light at all. It’s a good thing he got a lot of sleep in the storm, because I’m sure he wasn’t getting much in there. It may not have been as bad as I imagined because God prepared the fish so that Jonah could live in it for three days. Under normal circumstances, I don’t think a person could survive in there for that long, but I’m sure God didn’t make it overly comfy either.
Back to the story. The LORD commands the fish to vomit Jonah out on dry land. Jonah gets a message from the LORD a second time to go to Nineveh and preach. Surprise. Surprise. Jonah does it this time.
He goes walking through the violent, evil city of Nineveh proclaiming “Forty more days and Nineveh will be over-turned.”
The people of Nineveh believed and repented. God sees that they turned from their evil ways and has compassion on them. He doesn’t destroy the city.
How does Jonah respond? He gets angry. This is what he says to God!
Jonah 4: 2-3 He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, A God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
(And they say women are dramatic!)
Jonah is actually explaining to God why he was right in fleeing from him. It’s because God is compassionate and forgiving. Who wouldn’t want to flee from him? (Geesh!) Jonah, Jonah…. I don’t know what to say about you.
Jonah then goes out and sits under a shelter to watch. He’s hoping God might send some fireworks on the city anyways. It’s hot and God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give him shade. In the morning God provided a worm to chew the vine up and it withered away. The scorching sun blazed down on him. Again, he says, “it would be better for me to die than to live.”
This is another shocker about Jonah. God asked him if he had any right to be angry about the vine. Jonah responds with “I do. I am angry enough to die.”
The LORD points out to Jonah that he’s more concerned about the vine than a city with more than 120,000 people and cattle also. (God loves the animals too.)
That’s where the story ends. We don’t get to hear Jonah’s response. I can only imagine what he said! Why is it that Jonah reminds me of George Castanza? Could it be his temper tantrums?
Well, what does this story show us? It shows us that God cares about us. Even if we’re being difficult and don’t deserve it, he’ll work with us and get our attitudes straightened out. If God can use and care about an ornery, old cuss like Jonah; then maybe he can care about someone like me too. God could have used someone more pliable and easier to work with. It would have been a lot less trouble, but that’s not what God did. He didn’t give up on Jonah.
He also didn’t give up on Nineveh. He gave them a chance to repent. We are blessed to have such a compassionate, loving and forgiving God.