…through an angry prophet. “The word of the Lord came to Jonah, son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me’” (1:1,2). The stench of their vile deeds had risen to heaven.
Jonah headed for Tarshish. Wrong direction. It’s been said, “If you want to run from God, you won’t have a transportation problem.” Jonah hated the Assyrian superpower, known for their brutality. Think Nazi or ISIS. He probably knew relatives victimized by unspeakable atrocities with monuments to prove it. You don’t want to know them.
“But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a violent storm…” (1:4). In a storm, you might want to ask who sent it. This had God’s signature. Disobedience brings discipline, but discipline shows love. God could have used someone else. “Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep” (5). Sounds like he’s escaping.
First a really bad storm. “Man overboard.” Then a really big fish. “Man swallowed.” Yuck! He cried out from inside: “In my distress I…” (finish the sentence)…”got angry at everybody,” “…sunk deeper in depression.” It reads, “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave (Sheol) I called for help…” (2:2).
Imagine it: first being thrown into raging waters, sinking deep and almost drowning, then being swallowed alive. Hard to imagine anything more terrifying. Read his brilliant prayer, answered when the fish upchucks.
“Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time” (3:1). There it is—God of the 2nd chance, and the 30th. Where would we be if He stopped after the first flop? Simon became Peter because God gave him another chance.
Round two: “Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh…On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.’” Astounding: “The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth…’Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.’”
“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.” Call it the greatest single revival—ever. A whole metropolitan city repented at the preaching of judgment from a reluctant prophet.
God hated the brutality of the Assyrians like Jonah, but He wanted to give them another chance. “Justice is better served by reformed characters than corpses” (Leslie Allen). Jesus said, “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it”(Matt. 12:41). They repented—the religious leaders didn’t! We’ll meet them in heaven. No one is beyond grace.
Jonah’s experience gave him sufficient motivation to preach, not enough to forgive the Middle East bullies. The book of Jonah closes with God speaking a powerful question to Jonah “Should I not be concerned about that great city?” Listen to the compassionate heart of God. If Nineveh, then Tokyo, Moscow, the Twin Cities. Should I not be concerned about Minneapolis/St. Paul?” Watch it happen—this summer!