One day, while I was praying about what to post about during this difficult season, I was reminded of the book of Jonah. We’ve all heard the story of Jonah before: a dude disobeyed God and got swallowed by a giant fish. It’s a story I have taught in Sunday School (more than a few times) and it always makes for a lot of fun! But I wonder how often we actually take the time to read this book and think through all of its meaning.
As an emotional runner and a natural rebel, I’ve often found sympathy for the disobedient Jonah. I have often been both convicted and encouraged by this short book. But as I examined it again, I saw something that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before. In the past, I have been so focused on Jonah’s desire to run and God’s pursuit of the prophet that I missed something crucial. I have often overlooked Jonah’s heart and what his actions reveal about his beliefs.
From Jonah’s story, I believe we can learn a wealth of information about who God is and who we are.
“The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.” Jonah 1:1-3 (NIV)
Let’s take a moment to break this down.
I believe there was more at work in Jonah’s heart than simply not wanting to speak to a particular group of people. After all, Jonah was a prophet. He was a man who heard God’s voice and proclaimed God’s word. Yet, Jonah refused this assignment. There would have to be a significant reason for a man of God to vehemently refuse to obey God’s voice.
The Ninevites were far from saints and they engaged in immense wickedness. Seriously. They were the literal worst. They were essentially the terrorists of Bible-times. The people of Ninevah were their own saviors who had no regard for God or others. Yet God saw them.
This amazes me! A nation whose wickedness was overwhelming wasn’t deserving of fire, brimstone, and wrath; instead, it warranted a prophet. God was still gracious and kind to those who had slaughtered and done unspeakable things to his own people. I think more than just seeing this incredibly broken nation that needed his truth and grace, God saw the wickedness in the heart of his own prophet.
God could’ve sent anyone to Ninevah, yet he chose Jonah. He loved Jonah immensely and longed for his child to be set free from anger and hatred. This trip to Ninevah was God’s invitation to freedom. While Jonah knew about the love and kindness of God, I don’t believe he had experienced that fully, something that the Lord was looking to change.
Little did Jonah know that God’s pursuit of his people is relentless. He ran from an assignment and it allowed God to shine a light on those areas of his heart that he preferred to keep hidden. And God does the same to us today.
He longs for us to come to him, no matter our credentials or the state of our hearts. His aim is (and always has been) a relationship with us. His love is more potent than we can imagine and his grace so deep that we can’t fathom it. We just have to choose to run into his wide-open arms—let’s run to him (and not from him) today.
How do you react when God does the unexpected?
Have you ever run from God?