|What is the story of Jonah about?
“That’s easy,” you say. “Jonah is a story about a man who is swallowed by a fish!”
Well…that is in the story…but that is not what the story is about.
The story is about the city of Nineveh. Nineveh is within the country of Assyria. Jonah hated the people of Assyria.
Assyria was the enemy of Israel during the time of Jonah. There is a laundry list of reasons why these countries did not get along.
1. The Assyrians attacked Northern Israel and carried its inhabitants into exile. (2 Kings 15:29)
2. The Assyrians besieged Israel’s capital city, ultimately leading to its destruction. (2 Kings 18:9-12)
Israel and Assyria were countries at war. And Israel was usually on the losing end.
One day the Lord appears to Jonah with a message: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.” (Jonah 1:2)
I bet you know this part of the story…Jonah runs in the opposite direction! Jonah knows how evil Nineveh is; after all, it is a part of Assyria. These are the people that have been invading and hurting his people for years. Jonah wants no part of delivering God’s message.
I bet you know this part of the story too…Jonah is swallowed by a fish, spends 3 days in its belly, then is vomited up on the beaches of Nineveh.
I think God has a sense of humor.
Jonah receives a do-over. This time Jonah goes to Nineveh and delivers God’s message. In a shocking turn of events, the people of Nineveh believe Jonah’s message. The whole city, from the king to the general population, ask for forgiveness from their actions. They turn to God and away from violence.
This is a happy ending, right?
Jonah is livid.
Here are Jonah’s exact words to God upon learning of Nineveh’s repentance:
“Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.”
Jonah does not believe that the people of Nineveh are worthy of God’s forgiveness.
Not after what they’ve done.
Not after what Jonah has seen.
So…what is the story of Jonah about?
Nobody is beyond the reach of God’s compassion.
God is willing to forgive anyone who turns away from sin and toward God.
What a beautiful story of repentance and forgiveness!
Is there a person (or a group of people) that you need to forgive?
Are you willing to be used by God to share mercy and love with even your worst enemy?
These are some of the questions that Jonah’s story invites us to consider.
May you be inspired to embrace God’s mercy.
See you on Sunday!