Jonah Was a Prophet

Read Jonah 1

“The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!” (Matthew 12:39 NRSV)

JonahVeggieTalesHave you ever read the book of Jonah? It is one of the most interesting books in the Old Testament. Let me sum it up for you. There was this well-known prophet in Israel by the name of Jonah. The Lord called upon this prophet and told him to go to Nineveh and give them the warning that God’s wrath was about to fall upon them. Nineveh was an Assyrian city and it’s inhabitants were enemies of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. As a result of their ongoing and wicked brutality toward the the northern Israelites, God told Jonah to go there and proclaim God’s judgment against them.

Presumably, but not necessarily, out of fear, Jonah disobeyed God and tried to run away from God and the call God was placing upon him. He fled to Jaffa and from there sailed to Tarshish, trying to go as far in the opposite direction from Ninevah as he could go. On his way to Tarshish, however, a great storm came over the ship he was on and, after determining that it was Jonah who brought the storm upon their ship, the sailors aboard through him overboard. It was then that he was swallowed up by a gigantic fish (note, the Bible does not say it was a whale).

For three days and three nights, Jonah was in the belly of that fish. He prayed to God during that time, begging God to spare him. In an answered prayer, Jonah is spit out of the fish and saved. God again tells him to go to Nineveh and this time he listens. He goes to that city and fiercely proclaims the judgment of God upon them, but something unforeseen happens: they repent and God forgives them. That’s right! God forgives them. Jonah is enraged! How dare God forgive them! How dare God not follow through on God’s word. How dare God make Jonah out to be a false prophet! How dare God! Jonah was so enraged that God could not comfort him. He sat out in the middle of the desert hoping to die from heat exhaustion and dehydration! That’s how angry Jonah was!

So often, this story is told from the angle of Jonah getting swallowed up by the fish. Usually the focal point is that Jonah tried to run away from God and tried to hide from God’s call. The moral, as it is typically conveyed, is that you cannot run and hide from God, that God’s will comes to pass one way or the other. Yet, if we read the story properly, we will see that this is missing the point. God’s will did not have to come to pass at all. Jonah ran, got thrown overboard, and God saved Jonah by having a big fish swallow him and spit him up on shore. God then told Jonah to go to Nineveh, a demand Jonah could have once again rejected.

The moral of the story has little to do with how Jonah get’s to Nineveh, but has everything to do with Jonah’s attitude the whole way through the story. He did run from his call, for whatever reason, but his attitude was no better when finally did decide to go to Nineveh and deliver God’s message. In fact, one could say he begrudgingly went and was defiant in his answering God’s call. What’s more, when God decided to renege on his promise to bring judgment upon Nineveh, Jonah became downright indignant and refused to have a relationship with God even if that meant denying the protection God was trying to provide in order to save him from dying in the desert.

The lesson here is this: God is calling each and every one of us to serve in ministry. Some of us are called to be prophets, others healers, others still are called to speak in different languages. Whatever you are called to, whatever your gifts are, God is calling you. But God’s call does not come with a guaranteed ending. God’s call does not come with certainty. We have a choice to answer God’s call willing, to turn and run from it, or to obstinantly and defiantly answer it for all of the wrong reasons. Only one of those paths leads to the Kingdom of God. The other two lead to the depths of sea and the scorching hot desert. The choice is ours: God’s way or our way. Let Jonah’s story be a reminder of what our way leads to.

“Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your purpose.” – Aristotle

Lord, soften my heart to answer your call  and to use my gifts willingly for the transformation of the world. Amen.

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