Nestled in the minor prophets is a unique book that focuses more on the bearer of God’s message over the message itself. This story, in the book of Jonah, tells a tale of an unprecedented revival within the city of Nineveh, yet the story seems to focus more on the unyielding, unbending, rigid heart of God’s prophet, than on the revival itself. The story does not share with the reader why Jonah feels this way. Our minds naturally want to understand and fill in those blanks, as if any circumstance would legitimize Jonah’s hardness. As citizens of God’s kingdom, tasked with arising and going to all the earth to make disciples through actions completed in love and mercy, what important lessons can we take with us from this wayward prophet?
God goes to great lengths to pursue hearts. Do you wonder why God would use a prophet like Jonah? Every posture, every action, every word from Jonah seemed like begrudging lip service and selfish action, Yet, even after the Ninevites were saved, we see God patiently engage Jonah in conversation, encouraging him to turn his heart from brittle and unloving to merciful and compassionate. If I alter my perspective away from Jonah and towards God, I gain a new understanding of God’s heart through his use of such a man. Through the rigidity of Jonah, we see that none of Jonah’s actions stop God from pursuing him or using him. Not his disobedience, nor his anger, nor his selfishness, nor his dramatic desire to die. I don’t bring up Jonah’s behavior to be harsh or to label him less worthy, but rather to direct others to the overwhelming love and mercy God bestows to him. His mercy is not based on our goodness and is new every morning. God’s goodness is not defined or determined by the prophets he uses, even though the actions of the prophet reflect upon him and provide a convenient excuse to a scorning world to question and reject his goodness. God’s mercy runs so deep that he allows his name to be questioned in order to show us that it never runs out.
The master’s will prevails. Another aspect of this story that awes me is God’s absolute, unwavering orchestration of it, mankind and nature being obedient and turning to God in worship and praise all around Jonah despite his best efforts to the contrary. Though Jonah tried to prevent God from relenting from his destruction of the Ninevites, God’s message was delivered, and he spared these people. Furthermore, in the middle of Jonah’s flight away from God, God used a situation that is steeped in disobedience to change the hearts of the men on the ship. Nothing can stop him. We cannot hide or escape what God has purposed for us to do. Let go of the guilt and shame of years wasted. God wastes nothing. He is continually working and preparing hearts. He is the I AM, the God capable of anything and everything. Even in my obstinance and disobedience, God can and will use me for his purposes.
Resistance against God only succeeds in robbing ourselves of joy. Jonah partook in a massive revival of repentance. What a legendary event to be part of! Talk about something that looks great on the resume of a prophet. What do most prophets of God have in common? No one listened to their warning. Yet, these people actually listened. A great city was spared. Success, time for a celebration! But Jonah didn’t rejoice. In fact, Jonah preferred death to what he witnessed of God’s grace. When I think of my Lord and savior, how he is love, how he is mercy, I shudder to think that I would exhibit such disdain for such beauty. Yet, every unforgiving thought in my heart implies just that. This book serves as a reminder that my joy should coincide with what brings God joy, that I should love and be merciful as he loves and is merciful.