If you grew up in church, chances are you’ve heard the story of Jonah.
Because it is such a gripping story, we can probably recall lots of details: God calls but Jonah flees, there’s a storm, there’s a giant fish. Jonah ends up going to Nineveh covered in fish vomit; he preaches and surprisingly, everyone listens. Finally, there’s a tantrum, a worm, and then the story ends with a rhetorical question.
But beyond these details, what does the story of Jonah mean for us today?
Let’s start by focusing on two questions:
Who wrote it?
“The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai.”
Jonah 1:1, NIV
We’re not told who wrote the book of Jonah, even though most of the prophetic books tell us in the first line whose teaching it is. However, there are plenty of details in the story that could have been known only by Jonah himself, so either he wrote it, or he told a close friend who did.
Jonah has a little genealogy, which is the Bible’s way of showing he is an important figure. He is the same Jonah son of Amittai in 2 Kings 14:25, who accurately prophesied that Israel would secure its borders militarily under Jeroboam II. His faithful prophecy establishes his credential as prophet of God.
2 Kings also shows us that Jonah lived at a time when Assyria, whose capital was Nineveh, was the great power of the region, crushing neighbouring nations and torturing survivors, and always threatening to destroy Israel. In other words, Jonah had reason to be wary of those in Nineveh.
Yet, it is “the Word of the Lord” and not his own words and opinion that Jonah is called to preach, and it is the same word God has for us today.
What does it teach?
“Salvation belongs to the LORD.”
Jonah 2:9, ESV
If we were to find a verse that would sum up the theme, it would be this. Here, Jonah is going to learn several important truths, as will we through him.
The story of Jonah is no mere bedtime story for kids. This book deals with such rich and significant themes:
- Humanity’s most crushing problem (sin) and its deepest need for salvation, and
- God’s magnificent, lavish offer of kindness to all of us, whether we recognise our need for it (Nineveh) or not (Jonah).
Salvation is completely in God’s hands. When humanity was desperately lost in sin, God initiated, and delivered salvation. Because He is sovereign, He decides how salvation happens and who is offered it. Both are truths that Jonah will deeply wrestle with.
Wonderfully, the Bible teaches us that what belongs to God He willingly gives. We see this most in Jesus, who came to earth to save humanity hundreds of years after Jonah had passed.
“To the LORD”
Whenever we see this name, we are reminded of Exodus 34:6, where God revealed His true name and character.
The name “the LORD” speaks of God’s great compassion, immense patience, and a willingness to forgive all kinds of sin, but also His unbending commitment to justice. It is these seemingly contradicting yet fundamental aspects of God’s character that led to Jonah’s struggle in answering His call to preach to the dreaded Ninevites—Israel’s cruel enemy who doesn’t seem to deserve mercy.
Yet, flawed as he was, Jonah knew God’s character. Even as he stumbled from mishap to mishap and struggled with the depths of God’s compassion, he prayed to the LORD whom he knew intimately, who was immensely patient to teach and shape him.
As we spend time in this wonderful book, may we be reminded of the full extent of God’s loving kindness to us, and so be moved to pass on the true gospel and not our own ideas or judgments.
—James Bunyan, United Kingdom
As we go on to read Jonah’s story and face the challenges it presents to us, teach us what it means to obey you joyfully, to rely on Your sovereignty in salvation fully, and to love others wholeheartedly, sharing Christ with no hint of prejudice or apathy.
Indeed, salvation belongs to You, and we thank You for Your great love for us.
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