“Jonah” series: (post #1)
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” (Jonah 1:1-2, N.K.J.V.)
Jonah was one of God’s prophets to Israel’s northern kingdom, a kingdom that consisted of the nation’s ten northern tribes and was literally called “Israel.” His hometown was Gath Hepher (2 Kings 14:25), which was located near Nazareth about 14 miles west of the Sea of Galilee. This meant that first and foremost Jonah was a prophet to his own people.
When the world thinks of Jonah, however, it does not associate him with Gath Hepher or anywhere else in the northern kingdom. Instead, we associate him with Nineveh, a city that stood 500 miles to the northeast of Gath Hepher. Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian empire.
So why does Jonah always get associated with Nineveh? It’s because the opening sentence of the book of Jonah says that God commanded him to travel to Nineveh and cry out against that great city because of its wickedness. Interestingly, that command made no mention of Jonah even evangelizing Nineveh. It was as if God simply wanted him to go to the city and pronounce its impending doom.
Like everyone else in Israel, Jonah not only loathed the Assyrians but feared them for their reputation of showing excessive cruelty in war. Noted pastor and author David Jeremiah, in his commentary The Runaway Prophet, says of the Assyrians:
Perhaps the only modern gauge by which to measure their cruelty is the Holocaust — Nazi German’s reign of terror upon Jewish people in World War II. The Assyrians skinned their captives alive. They pulled out tongues. They gouged out eyes. They mutilated entire cities by driving over their population with chariots fixed with scythes on the wheels. They burned children alive and resorted to other atrocities designed to create fear and submission among their subjects. They engaged in every sort of unspeakable physical cruelty and terror imaginable against those they conquered.
Actually, it would have been perfectly understandable if Jonah had been terrified to go tell such a bunch of roughnecks that God was fed up with their ways. But if Jonah was afraid of what the Assyrians might do to him, they book never mentions it. What the book does clearly indicate is that Jonah wanted God to judge the Assyrians, a fact that should have caused Jonah to be pleased with the message God gave him to deliver. Rather than Jonah being happy about God’s assignment, though, he absolutely despised it. Why?
The answer isn’t revealed until the final chapter of the book, but I’ll go ahead and spoil it for you. According to Jonah 4:2, as soon as Jonah received that word from God, he started figuring that God was up to something other than destroying the Ninevites. Jonah knew that God was gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abundant in lovingkindness, and quick to relent from doing harm, and none of that favored God following through on His threat to lay waste to Nineveh. Therefore, Jonah thought to himself, “If those people never hear my warning, they will never repent of their sins, and God will never have an out to not destroy them.”
Jonah is probably the only preacher in history who didn’t want his assigned audience to hear and heed his message. That’s why he made other travel arrangements. Rather than head northeast toward Nineveh, he made the trip south to Joppa, a city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. From there, he paid his fare to board a ship bound due west for Tarshish, which was located some 2,500 miles from Joppa. Once you understand where all these cities were located on the map, you can understand that it was Jonah’s plan to get as far away from Nineveh as he possibly could in the complete opposite direction! How that’s for not doing something that God wants you to do?
Like Jonah, we must each make the decision to either obey God or disobey Him when He tells us to do something. Also like Jonah, the decisions we make are oftentimes the result of whether or not we actually want to do what God tell us to do. If we want to do it, we’re quick to obey, but if we don’t want to do it, heel-dragging and procrastination become the norm.
The flip side to Jonah’s behavior is how Abraham responded to God’s command for him to take his son Isaac to the land of Moriah and there offer up Isaac as a burnt offering. After hearing that command, the Bible says:
So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. (Genesis 22:3, N.K.J.V. emphasis mine)
That’s what you call getting an early start to obey an unpleasant command, and it’s an example we should all strive to follow whenever God tells us to do things we would rather not do. Perhaps there is something right now that God is burdening you to do, but you are putting it off because it cuts against your grain. Even worse than just putting it off, maybe you are right now on a ship sailing in the complete opposite direction of God’s command. Well, if that’s you, all I can tell you is, get ready for God to deal harshly with your rebellion. Trust me, when God says, “Nineveh” He means Nineveh. Not Joppa. Not Tarshish. Not even your comfortable home turf of Gath Hepher. And all the procrastinating and running you do won’t change His mind. So, you might as well stop playing Jonah and start playing Abraham. I speak from personal experience on this, and I’m shooting you straight.