In Old Testament Bible days…
The capital of the Assyrian Empire was Nineveh, and the Assyrians showed no mercy to those they overtook in any conquest.
God told His prophet, Jonah, that he should go to them, telling them to repent for their sins and idolatry, at the Lord’s request.
Jonah didn’t want to do this. They were Israel’s enemies; and, in his own way of thinking, they deserved to be punished without being warned.
So he set off for the seaport of Joppa and boarded a ship due to sail to distant Tarshish–the mission for God being thereby scorned.
Jonah went below and soon fell fast asleep, while the crew, above on deck, began to grapple with a storm that had begun to grow.
They tried very hard to keep things on course, but eventually decided the way to survive was that much of the cargo they’d have to forgo.
They perceived that such a fierce storm had something to do with God and began to pray to “gods” which they’d known by hearsay.
That didn’t prove to help and they thought of the passenger who’d come aboard, all the while they were dealing with wind, waves, and spray.
The captain went below and found, despite the storm, the new passenger asleep; and he woke him to pray to his “god,” or they’d all be lost.
A decision was made to cast lots to see who was to blame for the trouble, and they came up with Jonah as the cause of their being storm-tossed.
Jonah admitted to being a Hebrew from Israel–one who worshiped the true God who’d made heaven and earth, but whom he’d disobeyed.
He said he’d run away from a God-ordained task. The storm was surely because of that–and, therefore, a decision had to be made.
The only way to stop the storm’s fury, he said, was to throw him overboard; but the sailors ignored that, not wanting to do such a cruel act.
They tried taking to the oars, which ultimately didn’t work; so they finally took Jonah at his word, so their ship could remain intact.
They prayed that Jonah’s God wouldn’t harm them for taking the measure, but went ahead and tossed him over the threatened boat’s side.
Then the winds began to die and the waves to calm…. They gave thanks and honored his God on the deck in awe, that the storm did, in fact, subside.
As Jonah began to tumble down into the depths of the water, he knew he needed to call on God to rescue him from the harrowing situation.
So God appointed a great fish, of His design, to come and scoop him up in its mouth, providing an unusual underwater way station.
“I called out of my distress to the Lord, and He answered me. I cried for help…from the depth of Sheol, Thou didst hear my voice,” Jonah said.
“Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me.” But his salvation was from the Lord, whom he thanked for life instead.
After three days and nights, God commanded the fish to release Jonah out onto the dry land; and he heard the Lord say that Nineveh was still on His mind.
The message to repent before forty days’ time or God would punish them and their city was to be presented to all. This time Jonah went, but never whined.
Well, the people’s hearts were receptive to the message that Jonah brought; and from the King down to the least, they fasted from water and bread.
They were repentant and called on God that He might relent and not harm them after all–and God, in His mercy, didn’t do what Jonah had relayed that He had said.
This displeased Jonah, who hadn’t had a heart for the people from the beginning of the assignment. He told God that He was too gracious as far as he could tell–
“a compassionate God, slow to anger, abundant in loving kindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.” (It was Jonah’s anger that began to swell.)
The Lord asked Jonah if he had good reason to be angry; but Jonah simply exited the city to watch if their repentance would last, or if God might yet send destruction.
After all, he felt the Ninevites didn’t deserve any mercy since they’d not shown any themselves. He kept fuming since he’d followed God’s every instruction.
While he was outside the city waiting to see if God would send, at least, some punishment to it, God provided a plant there to shade him from the sun.
This pleased Jonah very much. But God had a lesson in mind and sent a worm to destroy the plant the next morning, and its leaves withered to none.
Again, Jonah became upset and complained that his life wasn’t even worth living. Then, the Lord said that if he was sad about a mere plant’s death,
which he hadn’t even created, wasn’t He, as the Lord of creation, justified in caring about 120,000 persons to whom He’d given breath?
So we see that God uses messengers to cause men to repent and turn away from wrong–that there loom consequences to ignoring the true God and His ways.
But He does this out of the love He has for those whom He’s designed and created, simply wanting them to come under His kindness and blessing all of their days.
Thank God, there are many “Jonahs” today, sharing the message that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. More eager to do so than Jonah, they hope to reflect…
the love and mercy of the Lord themselves–and that God’s words through the Bible reveal that Jesus Christ is faithful, and so worthy of every person’s respect.
P. A. Oltrogge
Just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights, Jesus said that would be the “sign” to “this generation.” He said this, knowing and meaning He would be put to death on a cross for the sins of mankind and would be in the grave for three days and three nights, but would be resurrected then, with the accomplished, triumphant message that salvation is of Him, Jesus Christ. He told the crowds, “Something greater than Jonah is here!” And so, He is here today. May this present generation fully embrace the message of His life, death, and resurrection and offer of forgiveness and abundant life now and for eternity.
“And as the crowds were increasing, He began to say, ‘This generation is a wicked generation; it seeks for a sign, and yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so shall the Son of Man be to this generation. The Queen of the South shall rise up with the men of this generation at the judgment and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh shall stand up with this generation at the judgment, and condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.’” (words of Jesus, from Luke 11:29-32 and Matthew 12:38-41)
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
“He isn’t really being slow about His promised return, even though it sometimes seems that way. But He is waiting, for the good reason that He is not willing that any should perish, and He is giving more time for sinners to repent.” 2 Peter 3:9 The Living Bible
“He is merciful and tender toward those who don’t deserve it; He is slow to get angry and full of kindness and love.” Psalm 103:8 The Living Bible
“For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” Romans 11:32-33