The first chapter of the book of Jonah simultaneously shows us how prone we are to sin and running from God. Yet, it also shows us in stark clarity how gracious and great God is.
If you look at every time Jonah is mentioned in this first chapter (this is not an exhaustive list), you get a portrait of a despondent runaway who knows how big God is yet continues to run:
The word of the Lord came to him, telling him to go to Nineveh and preach the gospel (v. 1)
He fled to Tarshish instead, which if you look at a map of this time period, was in the completely opposite direction (v. 2)
In the midst of a huge storm that was the result of his sin, Jonah slept in the hull of the ship (v. 5)
Despite all the stupidity that he exemplified, he was able to articulate to the other sailors that God was both the maker of all land and all the seas (v. 9)
Jonah knew that he was in the wrong. He knew that he was clearly disobeying the orders of God, yet he was more willing to face death than to face Nineveh (v. 12)
All of this paints a picture of a man who knew God yet wanted nothing to do with God’s salvation of a people that he himself hated (see Jonah 4:2). It’s easy for me to look at this story and say wow what an idiot, if I had a word from the Lord to go share the gospel with a specific person, I would NEVER run from that, subconsciously or otherwise. Yet, if we’re super honest with ourselves, this happens more than we’d like to admit.
You see, God has called us to our community. The one we’re in right now. The one you’re in right now. It’s easy to push aside our calling to share the love of God with our community by just saying that command is for a later date.
What I mean by that is it’s easy to say “okay, once I graduate high school, then I’ll live missionally.” That leads into ‘after college’, ‘when I’m more rooted with a family and job that I enjoy’, ‘when I’m not as busy with my family and my job’. There is always an excuse to be like Jonah and not be faithful to what God has called us to.
If we’re being honest, it’s easy to know a whole lot about God, just like Jonah, and still not live into the mission that God has called us to.
So I am encouraged that we see the story of Jonah in Scripture. Maybe one reason it’s in the Bible is to encourage us that sometimes we’re stupid and yet God is still good, great, and gracious.
Let’s look at how God shows up in this first chapter of Jonah:
He desired Nineveh (a wicked place full of wicked people) to be saved (v.1)
He’s aware of the wicked rulers and nations in our midst, so don’t lose heart (v. 2)
He controls the seas, powerful enough to bring a storm that scared seasoned sailors (v. 4)
He made all the cosmos, as testified about by Jonah (v. 9)
He is faithful to those who call on His Name. The sailors, though pagans, were saved from the storm because they put their faith in the Lord (v. 14)
He appoints everything in our lives (this may be a stretch to say from this one verse, but it was definitely intimately involved in Jonah’s life since he brought a big fish to this exact spot at this exact time (v. 17)
I am encouraged by the greatness and graciousness of God on display in this chapter.
His greatness. God heard the cries of the nations rising up to Him regarding the vile wickedness of Nineveh. This is encouraging to note given the fact that we live in a world saturated with evil leaders and governments. God hears the cries of the oppressed, and as followers of Jesus we are called to uphold those who are being oppressed as well, regardless of political leanings (I know current issues are complicated, but let us not become complicit in wickedness, our devotion is first and foremost to our God and King not whatever country you are reading this from).
God also shows His greatness via the storm that He sends to grab Jonah’s attention. Now, side-note here. I don’t believe that every storm and trial in our lives is a result of disobedience to the commands of God in our lives. Life is not black and white like that. That being said, sometimes that is the case. Let us be mindful of where we have run from God’s call, and let us be repentant (something we don’t see Jonah do in this chapter)
His graciousness. The grace-giving nature of God is all over this text. First, He doesn’t obliterate Nineveh off the face of the earth. Instead he sends a prophet to warn them of His coming wrath if they do not repent. God is slow to anger, abounding in love. What a wonderful picture of His mercy, just below the surface of this text.
Secondly, God saves the sailors. Sure, they all came into this encounter with the storm with their own gods. That being said, they respond in what I believe to be reverent, right fear of God after Jonah proclaims who he serves (again, hilarious since he’s blatantly running from Him). In verse fourteen they offer up what I believe to be a heartfelt and legitimate prayer to God, and then in verse sixteen they put their complete faith in the Lord.
Lastly, God saves Jonah. Now there’s far more to the story of Jonah then just what we see in chapter one, but it is clear to see that God was kind, patient, and gracious to Jonah by appointing (v. 17, NASB) a big fish to swallow him up.
When I look at the story of Jonah, I see myself. When I look at the story of Jonah, I see a great and gracious God.
In His Name,