The story of Jonah is one that I have taught in Sunday school. Veggie Tales made a movie based on it. If you search on Amazon or Youtube, you will find lots results for books and videos on the topic. One of the things I love about the Bible is that just when you think you know part of it really well, the Spirit reveals something new to you. The word of God is alive and multifaceted. You can read it for your whole life and still be learning new things.
When I decided to teach my little one the story of Jonah for our own home preschool, God decided to teach it to me again too. What He showed me bares repeating, so I’m bringing it to you all too.
Let’s jump right in to chapter 1. The story begins with God giving Jonah, a prophet who had often been God’s mouthpiece, directions to bring a message to the city of Nineveh. Up until that point Jonah had only prophesied to the Hebrew people. So when God told him to go to an Asyrian city, one that did not house God’s chosen people, Jonah didn’t want to go.
This is the first spot that caught my attention. It reminds me of Peter’s vision in Acts chapter 10. Before God sent Jonah to Nineveh he had never preached to any non-Hebrews. Similarly, before Peter’s vision the gospel had not been preached to the Gentiles. In both of these stories they brought a message of repentance, which when accepted brings God’s mercy. But I’m getting ahead a little bit… It just fascinates me when different parts of the Bible mirror each other like this!
Continuing, in verses 3-4 we read that instead of going to Nineveh, Jonah decided to go the opposite way and sail to Tarshish.
God impressed on me that this was no common disobedience. Disobedience would have been ignoring what God had told him to do. Instead, he deliberately did the opposite. That’s like calling your child to come to you, and not only do they not come, but they run the opposite way! It is rebellion, plain and simple.
When I think of rebellion, it seems to me like it’s usually caused by either anger or pride. Thinking again of our children, they tend to show this rebellion when they are angry about something, like not getting their way. They also rebel when pride rises up in them and they believe that they know better. That their way is the better way or what they want is more important.
Have you ever rebelled against God? In other words, have you ever chosen to do the direct opposite of what he told you to do?
I know I have. It’s hard to admit that that there have been times I have let anger or pride rule my choices.
Sometimes when we are being rebellious or disobedient, it can take a big problem in out lives to snap us out of it. We just keep on doing whatever we want to do until something makes us stop in our tracks. For Jonah, this was the typhoon and the great fish. God caused a huge storm, which in turned forced the sailors to toss Jonah into the sea, where he was then swallowed by said great fish. If that wouldn’t have gotten his attention, nothing would have!
Has God ever caused a hardship or problem in your life, in order to turn your eyes back to Him?
Though God is certainly capable of causing thins like this to happen, I think often times He just allows us to face the consequences of our own actions. Think of that child again, running from their parent. If as they ran away something happened to them, like they fell and scraped their knees, it would be the natural consequences of that child’s behavior that made them stop and seek their parent. We as God’s children do the same. We mess up and we get hurt. God allows us to get hurt, not because He wants to see us hurt, but because He knows that’s what it takes to bring us back to Him sometimes.
Has God ever allowed you to face the consequences of your actions, in order to get your attention?
Thinking of actions and consequences like this makes me think of one of the many stories of David. In 1 Samuel 30:1-20, David had been running from God and actually working for Israel’s enemies. But when David’s and his men’s homes are destroyed, and their families kidnapped, he comes to his senses. He turns back to God, who in His great mercy makes for the return of all those who were kidnapped. The poor choices David made had led to that place, but when turned back to God everything was made right.
The same happens in Jonah. Jonah turns back to God, not to ask for a second chance, but to express thankfulness for being kept alive. In chapter 2 he prays a prayer, very similar to many of David’s Psalms, recounting what he had been through and thanking God for saving him from certain death. After Jonah sets his mind back to where it should be, God graciously caused the fish to spit Jonah back out onto land. He showed mercy to Jonah and gave him another chance.
Has God ever given you a second chance in some area of your life? How has He fixed things that you have broken in a time of disobedience or rebellion?
In Chapter 3 Jonah uses his do-over to do as God had commanded him. He went to Nineveh and preached the message God had given him. When the people there heard it, they repented and turned to God! Then when God saw them fasting, praying, and turning away from evil He “relented from the disaster that He said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.” (3:10)
Isn’t that a beautiful resolution? Jonah didn’t think so. He became angry that God forgave the Ninevites. In chapter 4 Jonah tells God that he knew God would be merciful, and that is why he didn’t want to go! In Jonah’s eyes, the people deserved to be destroyed, and he held bitterness and unforgiveness for them.
He had just experienced God’s mercy for himself, yet he would have rather be dead than to see God forgive the people of Nineveh. Jonah not only holds unforgiveness in his heart, for sins were not even been against him, but he wants to watch the people all come to harm because of it!
Here I am reminded of the story of the Unmerciful Servant Jesus tells us about in Matthew 18:21-35. The servant had been forgiven so much, but just didn’t have it in him to forgive another in the same way.
Are you holding onto any unforgiveness or bitterness? Have you been unmerciful in your interactions with others?
One final point I want to make about this story is the fact that God really can use anyone. God knew all of Jonah’s flaws and spoke through him anyway. Even in the midst of his rebellion, God used Jonah and the storm to reveal Himself to the sailors.
Knowing that God can use anyone is a double edged sword. On one side it gives us hope. We see that despite our failures and problems that we can still be used by God. In all our weakness He is shown to be strong (2 Corinthians 12:9). And God likes to use what we see as foolish to shame what we consider to be wise (1 Corinthians 1:27).
The other side is that we need to stay humble when God does decide to use us. Since He can use anyone, choosing us doesn’t make us extra special. God doesn’t need any one of us in particular. We are not the only choice. He chooses us because he wants to. He delights in us and wants to bless us. But we cannot let that go to our heads!
What are some ways God has used you, despite your imperfections?
Whew! That was a lot of information out of one little book! If these lessons spoke to you, please drop a comment and share this post!