I love the book of Jonah, because all the way through the circumstances that come up; there is always the conversation between the Lord and Jonah going on.
It begins with:
Jonah 1:1 “Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “
God had a job for Jonah, his prophet, to do. He had spoken to him before, a word that was sent to help Israel; but now God was going to send him to Nineveh.
Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, Israel’s hated enemy. So when Jonah heard:
Jonah 1:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before Me.”
He did not want to go and ask them to repent, which is what “cry against it” means. Instead he wanted them to be destroyed by God.
And he thought if he would not go, they would not repent, and God would slay them for their sins (which were terrible: they were a vicious people).
And why did he think that they might repent?
Jonah 4:2 “And he prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that Thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest Thee of the evil.”
Because he knew that God was merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness.
So he ran away from God.
Jonah 1:3 “But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”
So into a ship to Tarshish—to the other part of the known world! (It was in Spain)
That would settle that, he thought. No message of repentance, and there would be no repentance. No repentance, and God would destroy Nineveh.
But God was not done with Jonah (all through this book, this back and forth is wonderful to see. So much hope that God does not give up on His wayward servants!)
Jonah 1:4 “But the Lord sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was likely to be broken.”
God sends a storm, and scares even hearty sailors. So much so, they seek for the reason of the storm—and find Jonah.
Jonah 1:7 “And they said everyone to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.”
He tells them he is running away from the Lord, the God of heaven, who made land and sea.
So they ask him, What can be done, to quite the storm?
“Throw me overboard.” Was Jonah’s answer.
But they try and bring the ship to land first, but when that failed, they threw Jonah into the sea.
God’s next move was to awaken His servant to the need of mercy. (That very mercy he wanted to deny the people of Nineveh.)
Jonah 1:17 “Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”
Three days and three nights Jonah was in the great fish. The darkness, and suffering of smell, touch, and decay around him; was as he said, “…the belly of hell…”.
But God preserved him, and led him to seek mercy. Spiritual mercy is that kindness of God for sinners, which brings comfort of soul, and the need met.
Jonah 2:7-9 “When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in unto Thee, into thine holy temple.
They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.
But I will sacrifice unto Thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.”
Jonah had wanted to forsake God, and His call. But now he asks God not to forsake him.
But instead to hear his confession: “they that follow the lies of our imaginations and wishes, forsake their own mercy.”
Jonah had “imagined” and “wished” that he could run away from God, because he did not want to do this particular thing.
But at the same time, he knew the Lord was the God of heaven who made land and sea, which could not be run away from.
(How silly we are to listen to our wishful imaginations, when we are trying to “get around” God.)
God hears Jonah’s prayer, and:
Jonah 2:10 “And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry ground.”
God again sends Jonah to Nineveh:
Jonah 3:2 “Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.”
And this time Jonah goes, and they do repent!
Jonah 3:5 “So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.”
This is so much a miracle: for the people of Nineveh would not have cared anything for a prophet from Israel, nor his message.
But God used the very means, they would have normally despised, to start an awakening.
Jonah 3:8, 10 “But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn everyone from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hearts.
And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way, and God repented of the evil, that He had said He would do unto them; and He did it not.”
And what about Jonah?
The conversation between Jonah and God continues:
Jonah had not wanted them to repent, even after seeing that he too, was a sinner in need of mercy.
But God still speaks to his (this time angry) prophet:
Jonah 4:11 “And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six score thousand persons that can not discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”
To me this is really special. God does not give up on us. He speaks, and speaks again. And shows us many mercies and many corrections; so that we may enter into more fellowship with Him. And into His joy, when one sinner repents.
“Salvation is of the Lord.” Praise the Lord for that.