The story about Jonah and the whale is probably one of the most well known stories in the Bible. The story of Christ’s birth and the story of David and Goliath are the only others that really come close. But, Jonah, a book about a prophet who failed, what is the message here? Even good men fall? True, but it’s not the goal of the story. What then? Is the main theme that God forgives us, even when we run from Him? Well, let’s examine the story more deeply.
Who was Jonah? Well, Jonah was a young Hebrew man who lived in a small village in Israel called Gath Hepher, in the lands of the tribe of Zebulun. Jonah was not a very active prophet, and I believe there are good reasons why. He only delivered two prophesies that we know of. The first was that Israel would restor her borders. King Jeroboam 11 accomplished this during his reign, ending nearly a century of conflict between Israel and Assyria in Damascus.
Jonah probably felt that he was a pretty big man. Suddenly, he became famous everywhere he went as the prophet who brings God’s blessings. Out of nowhere, and with a single prophesy, he became a very popular individual.
Around this time, God sent His words through the prophets Amos and Hosea to fortel of the coming judgement upon the enemies of God. It was then that God called Jonah to go to Nineveh.
Now, all had been going well for Jonah, he was loved by all the people of Israel; comtemporary prophets were proclaiming destruction to the enemies of God’s chosen people, and Jonah was just getting settled into this new life. Then, his perfect little world shattered.
Nineveh? No, surely not. I am God’s good news prophet, but You want me to give them a message of repentance! You want to forgive them? Have You forgotten Lord that these are the Assyrians? Nineveh is their Capitol city. They are our enemies, Your enemies.
They are ignorant of the truth, they can not even tell apart their right hand from their left. I need you to tell them to repent.
Lord, why me? I can’t bring a message of repentance to these vile people, they murder men for no reason at all, they are idol worships, and child sacrificers. No. I will not! They do not deserve fogiveness.
Tell the people that if they do not repent in 40 days, I will destroy their city. Go, tell them my words.
No! I know what will happen. I will tell them Your words and they will repent and then You will not destroy them. No, I will not preach to them, they do not deserve mercy. I have to leave, I have to get away…
So, Jonah, despite God’s command, went down to Joppa and found a boat sailing to Tarshish. The city of Tarshish was entirely across the Mediterranean Sea from Ninevah, on the other side of the known world. Jonah thought, if there was anywhere he could go to escape from God’s presence, it was there. Jonah smiled to himself as he boarded the boat and went down into it.
Ever downward he went, until he finally hit the bottom. It was a storm, the likes of which none of the crew had ever seen before, so the captain called his men together to pray to their gods that they might be spared this wrath and live. They found Jonah in the belly of the ship and brought him up on the deck for a sailor’s way of finding out who had brought the storm upon them: they drew lots.
Unsurprisingly, the short straw fell to Jonah. The sailors asked him, who are you, and what have you done to bring this down upon us? Suddenly, he became bold in his faith and proclaimed to them all that he was a Hebrew who served the God of the sea and the land, and that he was fleeing from Him.
It’s easy to become bold about your faith when you know you will die anyway. Jonah realized he was not getting out of this one, he was getting what he deserved for his disobedience. He would die a cruel, cold death in the raging sea.
Jonah resigned himself to his fate and told the crew that they must throw him overboard, then the waters would calm again. Nevertheless, the men went to the oars and rowed desperately to bring the boat to shore, but it would not obey.
Just as a side note: when God has commanded something to happen, there is nothing any man can do to stop it. No one can save you from God.
So, Jonah was thrown overboard and the seas calmed instantly. The men fell on their knees in prayer to the God of heaven for saving their lives as Jonah sank down to his death.
So, why is the story so important? Why is it so popular when it’s about failure? The story of Jonah is one the world needs to hear. Be sure your sins will find you out, God sees every hidden thing, and no man can stand in the way of His judgement.
Obedience would have save Jonah a lot of trouble, but the book was written by a man who knew he had done wrong. He was aware of his failures in the end. I encourage you to read the account of Jonah and learn from his example.
As always, thanks for reading.
–the anonymous novelist