It should go without saying that the Old Testament account of the prophet Jonah is one with which most of us are familiar to one extent or another.
Since our earliest childhood our parents, Sunday School teachers, and pastors have regaled us with their interpretations – often exaggerated in an effort to keep us interested – of how Jonah survived being swallowed up by a really big fish.
Unfortunately, it is the “fishy” part of the story that is usually focused on.
What type of sea creature (fish, whale, or other) it was in whose stomach Jonah resided, or for how long, is not my primary concern.
It isn’t that I don’t care about the significance of that particular element of the story, only that it is not my intent in this commentary to engage in a discourse about how such an event should be understood hermeneutically.
That said, suffice it to say I believe there are any number of other principles that can be gleaned from the life of Jonah that go well beyond those to which we have become so comfortable today.
- Once God has determined to use you, for whatever His sovereign purpose(s) might be, like it or not, you are going to be used by Him (Jonah 1:1-3).
Jonah seemed to not immediately comprehend who it was that was commanding him to go to Nineveh. Not that he was not cognizant that it was God who was speaking to him, but that he did not acknowledge the authority of God in what he had been commanded to to do. Consequently, Jonah failed to realize that his plan to flee from God was not only nonsensical in its conception, but that it was destined to fail from the outset. In other words, Jonah never came to the understanding that resistance to God and His divine purposes for his life is utterly futile.
- If it were possible for you to run from God, not only would He not be God, but He could never have chosen to use you to begin with (Jonah 1:4).
God knew exactly where Jonah was so that His word could be imparted to him concerning the people of Nineveh. How Jonah could ever think it possible to flee from the presence of an omniscient God, who Himself is the creator of every inch of the city of Tarshish to which he was attempting to escape, is puzzling to say the least. Perhaps it never occurred to Jonah that if such a thing were at all possible, that the God from whom he was attempting to flee would have proven Himself to be no God at all (Psalm 33:13-14).
- God is sovereign even over the means and methods by which you attempt to avoid obeying Him (Jonah 1:4-16).
In his unwitting naiveté, Jonah apparently convinced himself that the domain over which God ruled was exclusive to heaven and not earth; that a “separation of powers”, if you will, existed between God and His creation that limited God’s access to Jonah once he was aboard ship and on his way to Tarshish. It is a sad contradiction in that Jonah believed in the God who created the earth (Genesis 1:1), yet also believed that that same God would somehow be unable to locate him anywhere he chose to go on the earth which He created (Psalm 24:1).
- That God would discipline you is evidence of His persevering love toward you, even in the midst of your willful disobedience (Jonah 1:17-2:10).
Like many of us when we find ourselves in the throes God’s discipline, Jonah defaulted to focusing on the what of his situation as opposed to the why. In doing so, he failed to recognize his predicament as an opportunity afforded him by a patient and loving God to repent of his disobedience and submit to His will (Romans 2:4). Though Jonah ultimately repented or, perhaps better, consented, his repentance was not genuine; for not long after God delivered him from the stomach of the fish, he began again to complain to God. Perhaps you can relate? I can.
- It is always in your best interest to obey God and leave the results of your obedience to Him (Jonah 3:1-9).
The prideful stubbornness exhibited by Jonah necessitated God reiterating His original command that he go to Nineveh. That God responded to Jonah’s disobedience with grace when He had every right not to, is a testament both to the kind of God we serve and the kind of people we innately are. It should never be presumed because we serve a God of grace, that God somehow owes it to us to always be gracious toward us. Only God is God (Isaiah 45:5-6). We are not. Consequently, we are in absolutely no position to make demands or to have any such expectations of second chances of Him (Romans 9:15).
- God’s choosing to use you is about His agenda not yours (Jonah 3:10).
From the moment God commanded Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah made it all about himself. In fact, Jonah is a lot like believers today whom I refer to as a “Solar System Christians”. Solar System Christians are people who think themselves to be the sun and everyone else planets that revolve around them. Like Jonah, they fail to appreciate the privilege of being used by God at all, regardless of whether they themselves reap any tangible benefit from it (Luke 6:35). As a result of his preaching, Jonah played an integral role in bringing salvation to a city of 120,000 people. But he couldn’t care less about that. As far as Jonah was concerned, the problem was simply that the “planets” that composed his personal solar system were misaligned.
- We must accept that regardless how God chooses to use us, the outcome has already been predetermined (Jonah 4:1-4).
How sad it is that Jonah believed he could somehow influence what a sovereign, omniscient, and omnipotent God had already determined to bring to fruition. One could deem it admirable, I suppose, that Jonah was so forthright in confessing to God that his fleeing to Tarshish was an attempt to “forestall” what God intended to bring about for the people of Nineveh. On the other hand, however, it was naive at best that Jonah would ever think that such a thing were even possible (Jeremiah 1:12). But, then, are you or I any different in how we oftentimes view God (Job 42:2; Psalm 33:11; Proverbs 19:21; Isaiah 14:24, 46:8-11; Acts 1:7, 4:27-28)?
- Obeying God protects us from untold self-inflicted suffering (Jonah 4:5-8).
What Jonah experienced during his rather circuitous route to Nineveh, is but one of many examples in Scripture in which servants of God brought the discipline of God upon themselves. People like Adam and Eve, Moses, Saul, David, and Sampson, among others, come to mind. That the suffering Jonah endured was self-inflicted makes his an even sadder story. Is there any worse discipline one can experience, than that which we bring upon ourselves as a result of our willful disobedience to a God whose will is always best for us (Ezekiel 18:31-32; 1 Peter 5:7)? I doubt it.
- Do not let your disobedience force God to remind you who is God and who is not (Jonah 4:9-11).
I doubt there is another example in all of Scripture where obeying God made someone feel so badly, but that was Jonah. In fact, Jonah was so disheartened that he threw himself a one-man pity party, hoping in vain that God would “understand” and deliver him from is woe-is-me existence. Instead, God rebuked his antics, sternly setting him in his proper place. If the story of Jonah teaches us anything, it is that when God commands us to do something, He expects us to obey immediately, fully, and without excuse. It is far better for us to remind ourselves who is God and who is not, than for God to have to do it for us (John 3:36; Acts 3:19).
Soli Deo Gloria!