I have been ever-so-slowly working my way through reading the Bible using a chronological plan. It’s supposed to be done in a year, but I think I’m in year 6! I’ve paused several times for other studies, but I keep coming back to it. It is so fascinating to me to read the Bible from a historical perspective, but reading all of the daily assigned chapters is often too much at one time. For example, reading the book of Jonah was supposed to be one day’s reading, and I spent two weeks on it. I didn’t want to rush through it; there was so much about Jonah’s story I wanted to study!
We may think of the book of Jonah as a children’s story, reading it in a children’s Bible or teaching it in children’s ministry. But have you spent time with the actual text as an adult? “Don’t run from God” is the common application of Jonah’s story, but in my extended study on it, I realized there’s so much more than that!
The Book of Jonah takes place around 760 BC, during 2 Kings. At the time of Jonah’s prophetic ministry, Israel was enjoying peace and prosperity. God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and “Call out against it, for their evil has come up before me” (Jonah 1:2). Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, Israel’s biggest threat. Jonah had no desire to see his enemies receive God’s mercy, so he boarded a ship for Tarshish—the farthest away he could possibly go. You know the rest of the story, right? There’s a storm, Jonah is thrown overboard to calm the storm, and he is swallowed by a fish. He lives in the fish for three days, then prays to God, and he is spit back out. Jonah does eventually go to Nineveh and gives the shortest version of God’s message he possibly can (Jonah 3:4), and then sulks under a plant, angry at God for showing mercy to Nineveh, and later for killing the plant that was giving him shade.
While studying, I thought about Jonah’s story this way: Jonah had a really big temper tantrum, so God gave him a really big timeout. You see, Jonah’s temper tantrum was driven by hurt, bitterness, and self-righteousness. He was legitimately hurt and offended by how his people were treated by the Assyrians. However, he allowed his heart to become bitter, which is starkly different from God’s heart. That led him to self-righteousness, thinking his sin was so much better than theirs.
Jonah’s story should lead us to ask ourselves some honest and difficult questions: Are there things that you’re fighting God over? What is he using to remind you of who he is? Do you believe God’s plan for you is good? Are you withholding showing God’s mercy or compassion to someone?
Jonah did not believe God’s plan to save the Ninevites was good. He was angry that God showed compassion to them. Jonah did eventually obey, but he had a hard time doing so and obeyed as little as he possibly could. God showed his love to sinful Nineveh by sending them a messenger to call them to repentance; God shows his love to sinful us by sending his son Jesus. Jonah didn’t perfectly obey God, but Jesus perfectly obeyed God and did all that the Father asked him to do. Jonah’s message stirred the hearts of the Ninevites to repentance—and the Holy Spirit stirs our hearts to repentance.
Jonah was far from perfect. We are not perfect. But Jesus is. No matter how many rough seas we jump into, or plants we take shelter under, there is One who will swallow us in safety and provide shade that will not die. Where are you sitting? Are you stuck in your anger (Jonah 4:1), or are you remembering the Lord (Jonah 2:7)?