In this post, let us take a deeper look at the Book of Jonah and it’s many lessons it can teach us about God’s mercy and forgiveness and the role we need to play in doing his work.
What does a man swallowed by a big fish thousands of years ago have to do with the Day of Atonement? What does his familiar and most often considered a children’s story could teach us, adults?
The reluctant prophet
Let us go to Jonah 1:1 brethren. We read:
Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”
Yahweh has given Jonah a job that he needs to accomplish. Just like us, brethren, we have also been given a task by God to preach the Gospel to this morally decaying and dying world.
But what happened, did Jonah obey God with zeal and passion?
Nope. Instead, we see the exact opposite.
But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish.
Notice, Nineveh is northeast of Israel and Tarshish is in the west. You could really see the clear intent of Jonah here that he really didn’t want to do the job he was called to do.
God will not quit on us
… from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.
Alright. So, Jonah refused.
God can simply choose to find another Prophet to do the job. But did He? Obviously, He did not.
Because more than anything else, He also wanted to help Jonah see his faults, repent of his selfishness, and change his ways.
In the same way, God is not quitting on us. YAHWEH has called us to do a job of preparing ourselves to meet Him and at the same time, preach the Gospel to all humanity.
How well are we doing our job? Instead of doing our part in preaching the Gospel, are we running away by simply ignoring this command, wasting our time on unproductive things, or focusing too much on the things of this world rather than the things of God?
You see, the Day of Atonement is a reminder that part of humbling ourselves and repenting of our sins is to do the work God has called us to do.
Why would Jonah refuse to do God’s command?
We need to realize who the Ninevites were. They are the archenemy of the nation of Israel. If you look into history, Nineveh became the capital of the Assyrian Empire and has eventually conquered Israel and drove them into slavery.
Now, here was Jonah, a man who perfectly knew who the Ninevites were. He could have detested and hated these people. They are the same people who have killed a lot of Israelites. Jonah could have known friends, family members, and relatives who have been killed by the Ninevites.
In his mind, they deserve nothing but death.
They are the enemies of Israel. But here was God wanting them to repent and change their ways. And now, God is sending Him to them. For, Jonah, this is unthinkable and so, HE FLED!
Of course, we know that you and I can’t flee from God. So, when Jonah was on a ship, there was a storm and the sailors threw Jonah into the sea. Jonah was then swallowed by a great fish and was brought to Nineveh.
Did that solve Jonah’s attitude? I think not. Though He is now in Nineveh, he was just dragging his feet to preach to the people.
Notice, out of the four chapters of Jonah, the words of his preaching was only one sentence. We read in Jonah 3:4:
“Yet, forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”
That’s it. That’s all that was recorded in the preaching of Jonah. There might be more, but that’s just what is said here.
Jonah was doing the bare minimum. He is just doing it just for the sake of preaching. He could be preaching, but his heart wasn’t into it.
Could the same thing be said about us?
We could be in the church, but our heart is not in the church.
We could be preaching, but our hearts may not be in preaching.
We could be studying the word of God, but our hearts are not into it.
We might be giving our tithes and offering, we could be serving the brethren, we could be helping one another, but if our hearts are not into it, they are just for a show.
They are just nothing but mere pretension.
Fasting, repentance, and your attitude
Let’s continue reading verse 5-10:
So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.
Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,
Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?
Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
Did this make Jonah happy? Did he leap for joy and shouted hooray?
No. Instead, we read in Jonah 4:1:
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.
Could we be like that brethren? When someone repents, are we happy for the person? Or, are we angry, too?
In Jonah 4:2, we read the reason why he doesn’t want to go to Nineveh in the first place:
So he prayed to the LORD, and said, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”
Jonah believes that the Ninevites don’t deserve God’s mercy and forgiveness. He knew, because of God’s incredible and unfathomable deep level of mercy, He would forgive them if they repent!
Now, what about his people, Israel?
Did they repent when a prophet preached to them?
Yes, they do, but most of the time, Israel won’t repent.
So, it shows that the Ninevites are even better than the Israelites at some point! For, Jonah, it’s an insult to Israel.
Jonah couldn’t make himself go to Nineveh. In his heart of hearts, he knew that they deserve nothing but punishment and death.
Could we be like Jonah at times?
When we see people sinning are we quick to say, “Wait until you get what you truly deserve?”
“Oh I can’t wait for the time when you fall down!”
“Oh, this group has cast me out. I hope they will fail.”
“Oh why can’t my angry boss just be gone.”
“I hope that person dies.”
What a wicked mindset that would be!
God’s immense mercy
At times, we are so busy in saying that, “I hope he gets what he deserves.”
But have you thought of what you also deserve?
We are all sinners who are worthy of death.
We are no better than other sinners.
Jonah couldn’t see that and sometimes, we couldn’t see that as well.
We don’t deserve mercy and compassion. But thankfully brethren, God is not like that. As Jonah said, God is “a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.”
Because of God’s unending love, He sent His Son to die for us on our behalf. Instead of us being beaten, insulted, and crucified, Yahshua did it for us.
Without God’s mercy, love, and compassion, we wouldn’t be here. Because God has shown us mercy, wouldn’t He also show mercy to those people outside our Christian faith?
The book of Jonah exactly shows us the unlimited Mercy of God. His mercy isn’t just limited to His people, but He also extends it to those outside of Israel.
John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the Israelites, no, the church, no, the apostles, saints, prophets, NO! It says, “For God so loved the world.”
God loves us as much as He loves the people outside of the church.
I hope you learned something new about the story of Jonah.
It tells us about the role we play in the Body of Christ, the forgiving and merciful attitude that we all should have, and the unimaginable magnitude of God’s mercy and grace not just to His people, but to the entire world.
If you want to learn more, read, “13 Best Lessons We can Learn from Jonah.”