SIN runs rampant in society – daily headlines and overflowing prisons bear dramatic witness to that fact. With child abuse, pornography, serial killings, terrorism, anarchy, and ruthless dictatorships, the world seems to be filled to overflowing with violence, hatred, and corruption. Reading, hearing, and perhaps even experiencing these tragedies, we begin to understand the necessity of God’s judgment. We may even find ourselves wishing for vengeance by any means upon the violent perpetrators. Surely they are beyond redemption! But suppose that in the midst of such thoughts, God told you to take a gospel to the worst of the offenders – how would you respond?
Jonah was given such a task. Assyria – a great but evil empire – was Israel’s most dreaded enemy. The Assyrians flaunted their power before God and the world through numerous acts of heartless cruelty. So when Jonah heard God tell him to go to Assyria and call the people to repentance, he ran in the opposite direction.
The book of Jonah tells the story of this prophet’s flight and how God stopped him and turned him around. But it is a profound illustration of God’s mercy and grace. No-one deserved God’s favour less than the people of Nineveh. Assyria’s capital. Jonah knew this. But he knew that God would forgive and bless them if they would turn from their sin and worship him. Jonah also knew the power of God’s message, that even through his own weak preaching, they would respond and be spared God’s judgment. But Jonah hated the Assyrians, and he wanted vengeance, not mercy. So he ran. Eventually, Jonah obeyed and preached in the streets of Nineveh, and the people repented and were delivered from judgment. Then Jonah sulked and complained to God, “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (4:2). In the end, God confronted Jonah about his self-centred values and lack of compassion, saying, “But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (4:11).
As you read Jonah, see the full picture of God’s love and compassion and realise that no-one is beyond redemption. The gospel is for all who will repent and believe. Begin to pray for those who seem to be furthest from the kingdom, and look for ways to tell them about God. Learn from the story of this reluctant prophet and determine to obey God, doing whatever he asks and going wherever he leads.
PURPOSE: To show the extent of God’s grace – the message of salvation is for all people
AUTHOR: Jonah son of Amittai
TO WHOM WRITTEN: Israel and God’s people everywhere
DATE WRITTEN: Approximately 785-760 B.C.
SETTING: Jonah preceded Amos and ministered under Jeroboam II, Israel’s most powerful king (793-753 B.C.; see 2 Kings 14:23-25). Assyria was Israel’s great enemy, and Israel was conquered by them in 722 B.C. Nineveh’s repentance must have been short-lived, for it was destroyed in 612 B.C.
KEY VERSE: “But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (4:11).
KEY PEOPLE: Jonah, the ship’s captain and crew
KEY PLACES: Joppa, Nineveh
SPECIAL FEATURES: This book is different from the other prophetic books because it tells the story of the prophet and does not centre on his prophecies. In fact, only one verse summarises his message to the people of Nineveh (3:4). Jonah is an historical narrative. It is also mentioned by Jesus as a picture of his death and resurrection (Matthew 12:38-42).
Jonah was a reluctant prophet given a mission he found distasteful. He chose to run away from God rather than obey him. Like Jonah, we may have to do things in life that we don’t want to do. Sometimes we find ourselves wanting to turn and run. But it is better to obey God than to defy him or run away. Often, in spite of our defiance, God in his mercy will give us another chance to serve him when we return to him.
- Jonah forsakes his mission (1:1-2:10)
- Jonah fulfils his mission (3:1-4:11)
Explanation: Although the prophet Jonah tried to run away from God, God was in control. By controlling the stormy seas and a great fish, God displayed his absolute, yet loving guidance.
Importance: Rather than running from God, trust him with your past, present, and future. Saying no to God quickly leads to disaster. Saying yes brings new understanding of God and his purpose in the world.
God’s Message to all the World
Explanation: God had given Jonah a purpose – to preach to the great Assyrian city of Nineveh. Jonah hated Nineveh, and so he responded with anger and indifference. Jonah had yet to learn that God loves all people. Through Jonah, God reminded Israel of their missionary purpose.
Importance: We must not limit our focus to our own people. God wants his people to proclaim his love in words and actions to the whole world. He wants us to be his missionaries wherever we are, wherever he sends us.
Explanation: When the reluctant preacher went to Nineveh, there was a great response. The people repented and turned to God. This was a powerful rebuke to Israel, who thought themselves better and yet refused to respond to God’s message. God will forgive all those who turn from their sin.
Importance: God doesn’t honour sham or pretence. He wants the sincere devotion of each person. It is not enough to share the privileges of Christianity; we must ask God to forgive us and to remove our sin. Refusing to repent is the same as loving our sin.
Explanation: God’s message of love and forgiveness was not for the Jews alone. God loves all the people of the world. The Assyrians didn’t deserve it, but God spared them when they repented. In his mercy, God did not reject Jonah for aborting his mission. God has great love, patience, and forgiveness.
Importance: God loves each of us, even when we fail him. But he also loves other people, including those not of our group, back-ground, race, or denomination. When we accept his love, we must also learn to accept all those whom he loves. We will find it much easier to love others when we love God.
©KingsWay International Church, 1973.