Devout, righteous Jonah; fully dedicated to serving his God, the one true God of Israel. He probably thought He would do anything for his God, until one day the commandment came and Jonah was tested.
He would do anything for his God, except this one thing: preach repentance to the Ninevites, those repugnant people who practiced every vile thing a human could put his hand to. But most of all, they were Gentiles! A people separated from God’s chosen folk. God had made the dividing line between the two peoples very clear in order to protect His people from being influenced by the Gentiles’ evil practices. Yet now God was ordering one of His faithful prophets to save those Gentiles from destruction, when the prophet was thinking it was best to destroy them.
Instead of telling God no, Jonah thought it would be better if he just slipped away and out of God’s sight for a while and maybe in the interim God would pick someone else for the assignment. So Jonah decided to take a sea cruise, forgetting that the one true God of Israel is omnipresent and was following along behind him, alongside of him and in front of him all at the same time.
The Lord was smiling over His sleeping prophet while the ship they were on rocked and pitched as God waved His hand over the sea. Enormous waves engulfed the bow and no one on board thought they would survive.
When Jonah was finally awakened and informed of their dire situation, the thought dawned on him that in all likelihood, he was the cause of their misfortune. To his credit, he was willing to sacrifice his life to save the crew, so he insisted that they pitch him into the raging waters.
The crew reluctantly consented to his request and Jonah was flung over the side by the sailors who hated to see him go for their sakes, wondering if he was actually the cause of their predicament.
As Jonah’s body disappeared into the depths, the waves instantly composed themselves into a peaceful calm. The sudden change could only be considered by those on board to be a miracle. Then the entire crew knelt in thanksgiving and worship to the one true God of Israel, abandoning their false gods in favor of the True.
God is very practical and used His prophet’s disobedience to save a ship of souls.
In the meantime, as Jonah was sinking to his doom, God had prepared a great fish to swallow the prophet and carry him to his appointed destination toward Nineveh.
There are those who believe that Jonah’s three days and nights in the fish caused his demise, which may be true. He cried out to God from the belly of hell, where the rebellious are doomed to go. It was there his cries of repentance were heard.
The fish was commanded to vomit the prophet’s corpse onto the shore and Jonah was brought back to life; a new man, reformed and ready to obey God’s every command. That’s what the trials of life are for.
Jonah made his way to the dreadful city and boldly proclaimed their impending doom. To his surprise the pagans heeded the warning from God and immediately repented and changed their evil ways. Of course after three days in the fish, Jonah’s appearance must have been altered dramatically, a process that was designed by God to capture the Ninevite’s attention. Jonah must have appeared to them as a pasty white apparition, his eyes encircled by black rings and hair that must have resemble seaweed.
Instead of being elated that the Ninevites had heeded his message, the prophet retreated to a hill to wait and watch what would happen to the city.
In the heat, he was grateful when God grew a vine to give him some shade, but grieved at the loss of it when God permitted a worm to dine on its stalk.
God was watching the prophet’s reactions and was reading the meters in his heart. He saw the prophet’s disappointment when Jonah realized he was not going to be treated to a massive fireworks display incinerating the city. Jonah was mourning over the loss of his vine when God gave him the results of His survey of the map of Jonah’s heart condition.
“Jonah, you are more upset over the loss of one plant and your comfort, than the potential loss of much human and animal life. Jonah, you profess to love Me, but you have no compassion for the ones I love. Yes, I love them too, I made their souls as I have made yours. And I will save them, too.”
Centuries later, a man named Jesus spoke of Jonah’s three day and night stay in his fish hotel, and used it as a similitude of His own death and resurrection. The result of that miraculous episode in history’s calendar instigated the repentance and conversions of multitudes of Gentiles, who through faith in Jesus, were brought into the embrace of the One True God of Israel, rescuing all their precious souls that God had made from destruction.
No Jew living today can afford to harbor the same prejudice and lack of compassion toward their Gentile neighbors as Jonah felt toward Nineveh. And many of them forget that a major mission of their prophesied Messiah was to draw the Gentiles to God.
Prophecy has been abundantly fulfilled. Jesus has brought multitudes of Gentiles to God, and blessed them with the gift of eternal life. Jesus was sent to Nineveh, for that was part of His mission all along. -For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. - John 3:16.
Let’s contemplate Jesus’ reference to Jonah, and at the same time, examine our heart maps to see if the paths they chart lead to forgiveness and compassion.
Copyright 2021 by H.D. Shively
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