When I was about six or seven years old I always went to church classes while my parents attended the service. I always listened to some occasional stories about Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David, but surely one that always caught my attention was that of Jonah.
After many years, already converted, I read the book of this prophet a few times to deepen. It is interesting how much of the teaching we can draw from a four-chapter book and apply it to our Christian life.
The purpose of this text is to facilitate the brothers’ understanding of history and to offer a reflection for our life from the issues involved in the text.
The summary of the book of Jonah
Jonah was a prophet, someone who knew the Lord and was already “a messenger of God” in the Old Testament. His mission was to go to Nineveh, a large city that was very corrupted by wickedness and sin.
The prophet tried to escape God’s presence and embarked on a journey to Tarshish and away from the purpose for which the Lord had called him.
Along the way a great difficulty appeared through a storm sent by the Lord. There is a great drive from the sailors present. These end up fearing God and repenting. Shortly thereafter, Jonah threw himself into the sea to appease God’s wrath and spent a few nights in the belly of a large fish praying for forgiveness for his attempt to escape.
After this, Jonah fulfilled his call and announced the destruction that God would send to that city for its wickedness. All of Nineveh believed in God, and then the Lord forgave the sins of that people.
The story, however, that could end up with a beautiful morality of repentance and salvation on all sides still offers greater learning when Jonah, after all, puts himself in a totally incoherent position and questions God when He changes his mind. in regard to the destruction it would bring to those people.
Jonah knew God
The first part of this study is devoted to breaking the image we have that Jonah was just any disobedient.
Just as Christians, who live daily with Jesus and participate in his work, was Jonah. A prophet raised by God among the people to preach repentance to a sin-defiled people. (The Lord Jesus Himself quotes Jonah as a prophet in Matthew 12:39).
Jonah’s problem was not how much he knew the Lord. But how much in his heart was the will to fulfill God’s call.
In line with the great commission (Matt. 28: 16-18), we understand that our calling is to preach the gospel, which is salvation through repentance of sins and faith in Christ.
Jonah ran away
Many people point out that Jonah fled for fear of the evil of the Ninevites. The Holy Bible does not make this clear anywhere. The text allows us to understand that Jonah fled only by refusing to do what God, the sovereign, had planned as a mission for the prophet.
The attempt to flee from the presence of God is futile, being the Lord omnipresent and omnipotent, we understand that He is everywhere and has the power to do His will in whatever way He pleases.
Many times we Christians do not know how to subject ourselves to God and place ourselves under His sovereignty. We know in the light of the Word that the misrepresentation of truth will always be present and that there are false prophets among us. Sometimes we see preaching that is much more man-centered than Christ-centered, and this feeds the idea that our will must be respected by God and not the other way around.
God sent the storm
The first thing many Christians tend to think when things get tough is that the devil is struggling to make the lives of believers hell. We have to be careful with this thought. Knowing that we are under the authority and lordship of Jesus Christ, we can see that sometimes God Himself sends a “storm” to avoid a path contrary to His perfect will.
The Hebrew word for the evil caused by the storm is “Ra’ah”. Interestingly, it is the same word quoted for the moment that Jonah chooses to go in the opposite direction that God had commanded him to go. This gives us the basis for understanding that God understands every evil, whether that of the Ninevites or of Jonah in not doing His will, as a personal offense.
Being Almighty, God used the storm to keep Jonah from escaping his purpose and even caused several pagan sailors to fear and worship him, repentant of his wickedness.
After his will is fulfilled, and through the moment Jonah is thrown into the sea, God has compassion on repentant sailors as well. This reveals his merciful character to all.
A curious thing about this is that the sailors, even though they were pagans, had mercy on Jonah and did not want to give him over to death (Jn 1: 11-13).
When Jonah is swallowed by the great fish and remains deep in the sea, he prays to God thanking him for his mercy and the deliverance bestowed on him (Jn 2). Even opposing God, He was granted the saving grace that did not allow the one to die in the depths of the abyss.
Jonah shows repentance for fleeing from the Lord after the great tribulation that came upon him and is willing to do his will and preach the destruction that would come to the city of Nineveh.
Bringing to our reality, the situation is similar when, in the midst of a great struggle and difficulty, we turn to God with a sorry heart from our failures and our attempt to flee from His presence and toward our own interests. In His mercy, the Most High forgives us and allows us to return to the right path.
After Jonah fulfilled his mission and from the mouth of God announced the destruction that would come to Nineveh in response to his evil ways before the Lord, that people repented. Different from what we sometimes understand. Repentance is not a feeling of guilt. But change in behavior and attitude. Which means that those people decided to abandon the ways that seemed good to them and submit to the sovereignty of God’s perfect will.
I quoted here that evil things are those that offend the Lord, and that both Jonah and the people to be destroyed were doing the same. Repentance works the same way. God does not take into account the size of the offense, but how much the heart of the converted is, in fact, intended to retract it.
Fulfilling the commanded purpose, Jonah preached and over one hundred and twenty thousand people turned from their evil ways.
The wrath of Jonah
As I said earlier, it could all end with a beautiful moral of repentance and salvation for all involved. Were it not for the prophet’s wrath when God gives up on destroying those people because of their repentance.
Jonah even begs for his death for not understanding and accepting the divine decision. Perhaps the prophet did not understand that what God expected was the conversion of the heart (and understanding) of all the characters mentioned.
This happens a lot in our midst these days, when we put ourselves in the position of condemnators and do not look with good eyes on the conversion of people who, in our view, were plunged into sin and could not be saved.
The same is true at all times when we question the truth of a brother’s conversion according to what we know of his past.
Both are totally out of what the Word says about how we should act.
The book ends with God giving a sermon to the prophet, who although he had previously received the mercy of the pagan sailors (who did not want to deliver him to death) and also of God himself (who allowed him to live), had no compassion for a city of population so large that according to the Lord could not distinguish between evil and good for not knowing Him.
The merciful and gracious character of God seen in the book of Jonah can be referenced in the teaching of Jesus Christ in the text of Matthew 6: 14-15 – “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”