The prophet Jonah is well known for being swallowed by a big fish and vomited out on the third day all at the instruction of God the “And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (v.17). Because of this verse, some scholars have questioned the veracity of the narration. They will rather call it a myth—just a moral story. They claim it is not a historical event for no fish can swallow a human being. But the context of this text and the whole body of biblical revelation, doesn’t permit us to look at Jonah in any other way apart from a historical narrative. Because there are historical characters and places involved.
Jesus mentioned Jonah and compared himself to Jonah as greater. And he didn’t reference any other thing in the narrative but the incident of the swallowing of Jonah by a big fish (Matthew 12:38-40). Again, Jonah was an actual person who lived and prophesied during the reign of one of the kings of Israel, Jeroboam (2 Kings 14:25). Finally, in proving the historicity of the text, Nineveh was an actual city that existed. It was first mentioned in Genesis 10:8-12. And was established by a man named “mighty”, one of the descendants of Noah.
In 1992, nine young Ghanaian men, seeking greener pastures in the United States, stowed away in a ship heading to the US. They were discovered by the crew of the ship and 8 of them were gruesomely murdered with one surviving to tell the story. They were murdered because the ship involved was going to face a huge fine for an earlier infraction of the law. In 1996, a movie was produced from this true story titled deadly voyage. Jonah like the stoaways in the deadly voyage, was undertaking an impossible task: fleeing the presence of God. Two times in the narrative, in just one verse, this is strongly emphasised:
“But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD…So he paid the fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.” (v.2)
How could Jonah, a prophet, even conceive this thought of fleeing the presence of God? As a prophet, he should have known better. At least he would have read Psalm 139 which speaks of the Omnipresence of God. Where was he running to? One of the clearest doctrines we see in these passages is the Omnipresence of God; that is, God is everywhere. He sees everything. Nothing escapes his attention. And like the writer of Hebrew wrote “all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13) And this attribute of God has implications for how we live our lives.
In this narrative also, we see clearly the love and compassion of God displayed all over the passages even in the disobedience of Jonah
The Disobedience of Jonah
The only explanation, for Jonah to flee, is disobedience to the call of God. As a prophet, he received a call and a mandate. But he chose to do otherwise. In verses 1 and 2, there is a call. Then in verse 3, we see his disobedience. And this is characterised by the first word in verse 3: But. Jonah, clearly heard the call of God, and but went the opposite direction. This is disobedience. Doing what we want to do rather than what God wants to do.
This was a Prophet. One who has been called by God himself. Jonah, therefore, was not an unbeliever, but a believer, yet he disobeyed God. Does that say anything to us? How many times in our own lives have we not walked contrary to our beliefs and commands of God? I believe if we are to do introspection, we will indeed be able to identify many times in which we have disobeyed God’s command either by ommission or commission.
As believers, we don’t always obey God. We don’t always live by his commands. The residue of sin in our lives is always at odds with the Spirit of God. There is an ongoing struggle between our fallen nature and the Spirit of God. In Galatians, Pauls speaks about this in Galatians 5:17. There is a tug of war going on in our lives. Our natural desire is not to obey God. And the Spirit of God indwelling in believers will not allow us to have our way.
God’s Love and Mercy
Despite Jonah’s disobedience, there is a clear manifestation of the love and mercies of God in the account. And this is manifested by
God’s Discipline of Jonah
Note how the narrative moves. “But Jonah”…. “But God”.
Here is two opposing wills. Jonah disobeyed God and God stepped in to enforce obedience so to speak. And every action from verse 4 to the end of the chapter was to bring Jonah in line with God’s purpose. God is not a weak father who will watch his children disobey his commands and look on unconcerned. Even our earthly fathers will not do that. Imagine a child walking out on their parents or refusing to obey the instructions given to them. Then the parents will be looking on helplessly. What will you think of those parents and what will be the outcome of the life of those children?
God will not tolerate disobedience in his children. He will employ every means to bring correction. This is biblical It is called discipline and chastisement
Pronouncement of Judgement (v.2)
Firstly, the call of God sending Jonah to Nineveh was a clear display of God’s love. It was a pronouncement of judgement and a call to repentance (Jonah 3:1-5). Throughout Scriptures, God seeks out sinners and calls them to repentance. In Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve sinned, it was God who came looking for them so to speak in their hiding place. If left on our own, none of us will come to God in repentance. But God out of love issues calls of repentance to sinners.
It is remarkable that Nineveh was a pagan city yet God sent out for them to be called to repentance. No nation, no city, no people on this earth are autonomous. Every nation, every city, every people on earth are accountable to God. God calls out everyone to repentance. God has manifested his love in the person of Christ by seeking out by himself sinners. As has been noted in previous sermons, we are lawbreakers. We have broken the laws of God and God’s verdict over us is judgement and condemnation. But then this same judge has provided a way of escape through Christ.
Now the main reason Jonah disobeyed God is this attribute of God’s love and mercy. When the people of Nineveh repented at Jonah’s second mission, his motive for not answering the call was laid out. Jonah was angry that the people of Nineveh repented and God spared them (Jonah 4:1-2). Shouldn’t we desire for others to come to the knowledge of Salvation? Here is a clear revelation of Jonah’s disobedience. He doesn’t want others to be saved.
Here is another moment of introspection, do we desire that others will come to a knowledge of the truth? Or like spoilt children, we want to only be the point of attention of our parents. How can a prophet have such evil motive. This is not only true of Jonah. We can all become victims. Do you desire others to come to salvation?
The implication for the call of Nineveh to repentance is that we are all accountable to God. Our lives are open before him. He knows our every sin and calls us to repentance. Also, just as Jonah was disciplined, God disciplines every one of his children when they go astray. What is the position of your life now?