When you hear the word Jonah, most of us think of the word Fish. I am hoping after tomorrow when you hear the word Jonah anything but the word “fish” comes to mind. Redemption, Salvation, Grace, Love, Mission…
I am going to tell you the beginning and the end: It starts with Jonah being called to the mission field.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.
The contrast between Nineveh and Tarshish was vast. Nineveh was located east of the Tigris River in modern-day Iraq. It was more than 500 miles east of Jonah’s hometown. Tarshish, in contrast, was west of Gath-hepher. In fact, Tarshish stood more than 2,500 miles from Israel in the opposite direction of Nineveh. It was the most remote destination available to Jonah. Jonah was trying to put as much distance as he could between himself and the Ninevites “Assyrians”. Actually between himself and God.
You can read this story from “our” perspective or you can try to think of it from God’s perspective. There is not one person on this Earth that God would close the door of Salvation.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
Jonah was from Gath-hepher, a town right outside Nazareth (Jesus’ hometown). Nineveh is the capital of Assyria. (Modern day Iraq) The Assyrians were a huge and cruel nation. They were warriors that built their kingdom on their pillage from other countries. Their morals were horrible. The Assyrian kings kept detailed record of their conquests and made art of their brutalities to hang on their walls. They spread complete fear throughout the land in order to keep the nations inline to pay them taxes.
Archeologist have uncovered some of their documentation: here are the people of Ninevah:
- Cut off their hands and fingers. Others cut off their noses, ears and fingers.
- Put out many of their eyes. Skin them alive and put their skin on the walls of the cities they conquered.
- Cut off their heads and put them on stakes and line the roads to their city.
- Swing babies by their ankles and crack their heads against a stone wall.
- Formed pillars of their corpses.
- Impaled men on stakes against their city gate.
- Cut off their privates and had carried about as an object lesson for all lands.
- Cut off their testicles and tore out their privates like seeds
- They skinned men alive
- Cut out their tongues
- Gauged out their eyes for fun
- Dismembered their bodies
- and then made mounds of the skulls as decorations in their empire
To name a few!
Many scholars are divided over whether this book is fiction, an allegory, a parable, or a prose poem. However, here is the deal…do you believe God created the heavens and the earth in 6 days? Do you believe God consumed a sacrifice with fire that was soaked in water? Do you believe the words written in red that Jesus spoke? I do.
Jesus said in Matthew 12:40 “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”.
I have no doubt that the story is exactly as it reads. If God says it, it is true. If Jesus accepts the Jonah story, I accept the Jonah story.
So a quick summary of what you are about to read. Jonah gets “called” to Nineveh, this cruel horrible city to denounce the wickedness of the people. Jonah says, No and gets on a boat and heads in the opposite direction. Why? Does he think….
- Is he afraid of these awful people?
- Thinks what’s the point, they won’t change anyway?
- If God’s own Chosen People won’t choose God and repent, why would these people?
NO that is not why he goes the other way!!! He goes the other way because he KNOWS God and He knows that if he is sending him on a mission then He is at work! And they probably will repent and be forgiven and he does not want that. Jonah hates the Assyrians. Spoiler alert: At the end of the book Jonah admits WHY he did not want to go:
I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.
This story is not about a fish, it is about God’s Love. God’s Mercy. God’s Grace. His love extends to the whole world, even the worst people in the world.