I am sure You have heard this old proverbial saying “different strokes for different folks”. There are certainly many interesting characters in the Bible that would fall under the “different strokes” category. Allow me to go further and write the Good Lord also gift wraps and individually dispatches them, whether a preacher, man or woman! No wonder St. Peter confirmed it further clarifying that “God is no respecter of persons.“ (Acts 10:34). With these lingering thoughts I considered writing on, who else, none other than Jonah.
Remember this old Sunday School Chorus?
“Come listen to my tale of Jonah and the whale Way down in the middle of the ocean Whatever did he wear, however he got there, Way down in the middle of the ocean,
Preaching he should have been. At Nineveh you see, Way down in the middle of the ocean
He disobeyed a very foolish notion, But God forgave his sin, Salvation entered in, Way down in the middle of the ocean”
Even as a youngster, many years ago, I took a liking to Jonah. He sounded “real”. I would not call him an eccentric, but might place him in the “quite different-folder”. Frankly he did come across as determined, bold, even cocky – definitely very interesting.
Here are my thoughts.
How could Jonah, a prophet, defiantly disobey God? Didn’t God specifically tell him to go to “Nineveh that great city and preach against their wickedness that has come up before God?” Jonah 1:2). Look what Jonah did. Instead of simply obeying God, the prophet took off towards Tarshish. Note the exact words used; “he went from the presence of the Lord”, (Jonah 1:4). Jonah leaned on his own will and not God’s. He went down to Joppa , and how nice, found a ship ready to sail to Tarshish, paid for his ticket and boarded the ship – a deliberate decision. One would call it “to get away from it all”.
God sent a terrible tempest which almost sank the ship. It was so ferocious that even those seasoned seamen were scared and started throwing cargo overboard to lighten the load. (By the way, don’t we all have baggage in the sea of life that should have been thrown aboard long time ago to “lighten up”, and not to wait for a catastrophe?) Just another thought!
This is interesting. Notice, while the crew were praying “every man unto his own God” at the same time toiling away to keep the ship afloat, what was the prophet of Jehovah doing? Nothing, he was sound asleep! I do not know what to make of it. Can a Believer experience that kind of a peculiar peace and rest even while running away from a call for duty? It reminded me of an old song by Blackwood Brothers called “You cannot hide from God”. Watch out Jonah!
Did you notice the behaviour of the ship’s master and his crew? They knew one thing – the need for “the last resort” – PRAY! He was pretty upset with the man of God and his dereliction of duty! It even looked like that he and the crew were more God fearing than the Prophet. Thinking of seamen reminds me of a silly, even sacrilegious old ditty, an ancient Irish song : “What shall we do with the drunken sailor”, (Repeat thrice and end with ) – “Early in the morning”. The problem here was not a drunken sailor but a run -away Preacher and that too while a great city was being prepared for a mighty Revival. What will they do with the continuing catastrophe?
Now, comes the brave and more noble side of the prophet. Jonah realized the error the “mia culpa” of his ways and faced up to it! I must give Jonah an honourable mention of his courage. He told the crew; “take me up and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you; for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.” (1:12). And the crew, though reluctant, carried out Jonah’s plea! God had prepared a new and fast mode of transportation and accommodation for three days and nights, this time, in the belly of a big fish. Indeed “God’s ways are mysterious and past finding out”.
The big fish, navigated from above, no extra cost, spit Jonah right on time on the shore line of Nineveh for the Revival Meetings! Jonah preached and I surmise he must have squeezed in his sermon his recent testimony, his new mode of transportation! The Ninevites heard the message, repented and turned from their wicked ways “. Hallelujah!
The fourth and final chapter of Jonah is extremely meaningful. Did Jonah, following his fire and brimstone preaching, “yet forty days”, expect at least some kind of a vindication following his prophecy of judgement? It seems the prophet could not get over why God purposely did not allow, at least a token of punishment on the Ninevites, a sentiment spiritual leaders may be familiar or keen to study.
Again, notice Jonah was also whining about the “gourd” grown protecting Jonah from the sun. Evidently Jonah felt that God let him down a little bit. The Ninevites got away- “scot free”. Not fair? I think this type of feeling is not uncommon! The prophet still has not learned the importance of balance (“In Search of moderation”); the need for not only powerful sermons but also a contrite spirit . True power is well mixed and balanced with the spirit of humility e.g. David’s psalm- “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18).
Finally, I kept the “best wine for the last”. Jesus himself acknowledged Jonah as the prophet. Hear what Jesus had to say about Jonah the son of Amitai: Jesus replied, “And there shall be no sign given to it, but the sign of Jonah the prophet. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now One greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:40-41).
God bless, Danny Paul