Great Truths from the Book of Jonah
By Wayne Jackson
The prophet Jonah lived in the Galilean city of Gath-hepher (about four miles north of Nazareth) in the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C.), king of Israel (cf. 2 Kings 14:25). Jeroboam II was northern Israel’s most powerful king, and during his administration the borders of the nation were expanded to their greatest extent since the time of David and Solomon. Assyria, however, five hundred miles to the east, was a constant threat. The fact of the matter is, due to Israel’s progressive rebellion, the prophets Hosea and Amos, contemporaries of Jonah, had declared that Jehovah would use Assyria as an instrument of punishment against his people (cf. Hosea 11:5; Amos 5:27). Any patriotic Israelite would have longed for Assyria’s destruction! One can scarcely imagine, therefore, the consternation that must have filled Jonah’s heart when he received the Lord’s word instructing him to proceed to Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria, with a divine message. Although the prophet’s brief declaration to Nineveh was one of judgement, nonetheless, Jonah was aware of the fact that Jehovah is a “gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness” (Jonah 4:2). Hence, it was certain that if the inhabitants of that great city were responsive to his message, Heaven would certainly spare them. And Jonah did not want that. Accordingly, Jonah went to Joppa where he boarded a ship bound for Tarshish, a Phoenician colony on the southwest coast of Spain some two thousand miles to the west. The express design of his trip was to flee from the presence of Jehovah (1:3). But, as every Bible student knows, his plans were soon thwarted. Where men propose, God can dispose! When a great storm arose, and the inmates of the vessel feared for their very lives, Jonah confessed that he, as a refugee from the Lord, was the cause of the calamity. Though the prophet’s sailing companions did not like the idea, they ultimately were forced to accept Jonah’s suggestion that he be thrown overboard. Down he went into the dark depths of the Mediterranean, seaweed swirling about his head (cf. 2:5). Presently, he was devoured by a great creature of the deep. One might almost say that the Lord sent Jonah to school for three days, and the classroom was the belly of a great sea-monster. The prophet matriculated wonderfully well, graduating with a diploma in “mission responsibility”! Making his way to Nineveh, a journey that would have taken more than a month and thus provided ample time for sober reflection, Jonah entered the great city with his blunt message (consisting of only five words in the Hebrew text): “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Amazingly, there was mass repentance, from the king (Ashur-dan III, according to Assyrian records) down to the commoner. Jonah was quite distraught at this turn of events and he despaired, even to the point of wanting to die. Resolutely, he perched himself on a hilltop nearby, eagerly watching the city in hopes that the Lord would yet destroy it. His education was still incomplete! As he sat in the scorching sun, God caused a shady vine to grow up for his refreshment and the prophet was glad. On the following day, however, Jehovah sent a worm to smite Jonah’s vine, and as the blistering sun beat upon his head, the man of God again lapsed into a state of abject depression. Then came Heaven’s stinging rebuke. The Lord in effect said: “Jonah, why is it that you are so concerned with this vine—a mere plant which is temporal, and for which you did not labor; and yet, you evidence utterly no concern for the hapless inhabitants of Nineveh?” The penetrating inquiry threw a divine floodlight upon the pathetic values of the man from Gath-hepher. The book of Jonah is filled with valuable information and timeless lessons. Perhaps we could reflect upon a few of these matters. First, we should note that this marvelous narrative has suffered the brunt of...
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