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God’s People, part 91: Jonah

Read Jonah 4


“As the crowd pressed in on Jesus, he said, “This evil generation keeps asking me to show them a miraculous sign. But the only sign I will give them is the sign of Jonah.” (Luke‬ ‭11:29‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 91: Jonah. Thus far, we have covered the major prophets prior in the Hebrew Scriptures; however, before we follow the people of Judah into the Babylonian exile, there are several more prophets and/or figures we should pause to look at. One of them is a prophet who is very well-known because of the grandiosity of his story; however, with that said, very little is known about this prophet as a whole.

The prophet I am referring to, of course, is Jonah. In fact, scholars debate whether Jonah was a real prophet or not. There is, of course, an obscure reference to a prophet named Jonah in 2 Kings: “Jeroboam II recovered the territories of Israel between Lebo-hamath and the Dead Sea, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had promised through Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath-hepher” (2 Kings‬ ‭14:25‬ ‭NLT‬‬).‬‬

This leads me, and others, to believe that the book of Jonah was based the historical prophet mentioned in that book. Of course, the fact that there might have been a prophet named Jonah does not mean that the accounts in the book of Jonah were word-for-word historical. Jonah lived in the 8th century BCE, while the book was written somewhere between the 5th and the early 4th centuries BCE. The book itself is written in the style of a satire or a parody, and it may have been poking fun at a faction within Jewish society who were pushing for separationism. This faction believed that the wrath of God befell people who disobeyed them, destroyed wicked cities, and that God’s mercy was not given to people outside the Abrahamic covenant.

If this viewpoint sounds familiar, it should because it was the viewpoint of a faction that was on the rise around the post-exilic time period the book of Jonah was written. That faction became known as the Pharisees and they were pushing for strict observance of Jewish Law (Torah) and separation from Gentile culture. There very name means “set apart”, or “separated”. Jesus of Nazareth, like the author of Jonah, would go on to challenge this group and so would the earliest Christians who ended up seeing Jesus’ death and resurrection as being the opening of the Abrahamic covenant to all of the people of the world.

But as for the prophet Jonah, as detailed in the book, most are familiar with his story. He was commanded by God to go to Ninevah and proclaim God’ wrath upon the city. At first he refuses and heads in the opposite direction, running away from God’s call. After being swallowed by a giant fish (not necessarily a whale), and after having stayed in its belly for three days, Jonah is spit up on land and reluctantly goes to Ninevah.

Having proclaimed the destruction of the city to its people, Jonah witnessed the Ninevites repent en masse. He then realizes that God had heard their repentance and, in an act of mercy, chose not to destroy the city. This angered Jonah, who believed that the city ought to be destroyed for he does not believe that the repentance was enough. In protest, Jonah stormed out into the wilderness and refused to eat or drink anything. He sat there and waited for God to destory Ninevah. When that failed to happen, he hoped to die in the wilderness since the LORD was showing mercy, rather than venegful wrath, toward the Ninevites. God did not allow Jonah to die, which further frustrated and angered him.

Jonah’s attitude counters the attitude Christ taught us to have toward our enemies and toward our culture as a whole. Yet, with that said, we see many “separatists” in the Christian today. These people would have Christians separate themselves from the “secular” culture in order to remain “set apart” and holy. Such people push people to buy exclusively from Christians, to listen exclusively to Christian music, to burn their secular CDs and to disengage from secular culture. Such people, sadly, are not learning from Jonah or from Jesus.

While we should not be joining in with the “wickedness” of the secular culture, we should also not be disengaging it. The challenge for us is to enter back into the model practiced by the earliest Christians. This model of evangelism engaged the culture and utilized it in a way that pointed to Christ and brought glory to God. Those who read Life-Giving Water’s devotions know that I often use secular culture as a springboard to Jesus Christ and the divine call placed upon all of us. Let us learn from Jonah and, instead of separating ourselves, let us engage the secular culture for the glory of Christ.


The sign of Jonah, prophesied by Jesus of Nazareth, was both a prophesy of Jesus death (in the belly of Sheol) and resurrection, as well as a prophesy that God was going to show great mercy through Christ to all the world, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. That was the sign God was going to give the self-righteous Pharisees and others who thought that only they were deserving of God’s grace.


Lord, help me to not only acknowledge you are merciful toward me, but help me to model your compassionate mercy to others. All who repent are forgiven. I praise you Lord! Amen.

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.