The book of Jonah is an Old Testament story which tells about how the prophet Jonah refused to follow the Lord. Through some supernatural events, God convinced him to obey and carry out the Lord’s plan. While Jonah eventually did what he was asked to do, the book closes with showing Jonah as a bitter man.
God Calls — Jonah Disobeys
Jonah received a calling from the Lord to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh. Instead of obeying and going straight to Nineveh, he went to Joppa to board a ship to the city of Tarshish. Nineveh was inland from where Jonah lived and Tarshish was across the sea.
Disobedience hurts others too
His disobedience brought punishment upon himself and others around him. After he boarded the ship to Tarshish there was a great storm. During the storm the men working on the ship began calling upon their gods and idols to deliver them from whatever punishment was being given. The workers found Jonah in the bottom of the ship asleep. They awakened him and asked him to pray to his God to protect them.
The men cast lots to see who had brought this punishment upon them (even though Jonah knew it was his fault). The lot fell upon Jonah. He confessed that he was a Hebrew and was running away from the Creator God. Jonah asked the men to throw him overboard. Instead they tried harder to bring the ship to land. Jonah finally convinced them that he was the one who had brought judgment from God. Perhaps Jonah thought that if he were dead then God would stop punishing the ones around him. The sailors agreed to throw him into the sea.
As soon as Jonah was tossed into the water the storm broke and everything was calm. The sailors probably had no idea what happened next.
Jonah’s trial from God
Jonah went into the water, but not to be killed by drowning. Instead he was swallowed by a great fish (Jesus called it a whale in Matthew 12:40). He was in the whale’s belly for 3 days and 3 nights.
Jonah awoke in the belly of the fish and cried out to God. He confessed his disobedience and told God that he would accomplish the task that the Lord had called him to. God then instructed the whale to vomit Jonah out onto dry ground.
Jonah lacks appreciation for God’s mercy
After finding himself alive and on dry land, Jonah ran to the city of Nineveh. To his amazement, and apparent disappointment, the people of Nineveh did repent and asked for the Lord’s salvation. God knew that they needed a preacher to show them the error of their wickedness, but Jonah knew that God was merciful and would forgive them if they asked.
Even though Jonah preached to the people, he was not happy. He climbed to the top of a mountain to watch the Lord destroy the city. Because of their repentance God did not destroy them. Jonah complained again. To help teach Jonah a lesson, God caused a gourd to grow and to protect Jonah from the sun. A short time later God killed the gourd and Jonah became angry. Finally, God had Jonah’s attention. God showed Jonah the foolishness of the fact that he was more concerned for the gourd than he was for the people. The gourd, which had no soul, received more attention from the prophet Jonah than thousands of people who were destined to eternal punishment.
The book closes without a real conclusion. God did not reveal to us what happened to Jonah though he is believed to be the author of the book. We don’t know if he wrote the book while sitting on the mountain and died shortly thereafter, or if this was a reflection back on a certain period of time in his life. The book was written sometime during the reign of Jehoahaz between 820 and 804 BC. Even though the book is placed towards the end of the English Bible, Jonah and Elisha were contemporary prophets.
YouTube video “In the Belly of the Whale” by Newsboys
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