Has someone ever asked you to do something that you did not want to do? When I was in graduate school I had a couple of professors who asked me to write a 25 page research paper. Let me tell you, I did not want to write a 25 page research paper. I was busy with my job and trying to build a ministry at the congregation where I worked. I didn’t have much time to do the research required to write that kind of paper. So you know what I did? I wrote the paper anyway. Why? Because I knew I had to write the paper in order to receive a grade and pass the class. Sometimes we are called to do things that we don’t want to do, but we do them anyway because we know that’s what is in our best interest.
Unfortunately, there are other times that we are called to do things that we don’t want to do, so we just don’t do them. Jonah was a man who was called by God to do something that he did not want to do. In chapter 1 beginning with verse 1 we read, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying…” (v. 1).
Who Was Jonah?
Jonah was a prophet of God. We understand that a prophet was one who spoke on behalf of God to his people. Jonah was God’s spokesman to the Northern Kingdom (Israel) about 800-750 B.C. He prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II who reigned from 793-753 B.C. The interesting thing about Jonah is the only other time we read about him in the Old Testament he had prophesied to the king of Israel about overcoming the oppression they had suffered at the hands of Hazael and Ben-hadad. The only other time we read about Jonah, he was prophesying good news. No doubt Jonah was a popular prophet. Now, God was calling him to go to the people of Assyria, the capital of Nineveh, and speak out against their wickedness. He did not know what kind of reception he would receive, but he was pretty sure it would not be the kind of reception he was use to.
The City of Nineveh
Nineveh was a great and populous city (3:3). It had 120,000 inhabitants. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. The nation of Assyria was a very wicked nation. They were known for their cruelty to prisoners. In fact, they were so wicked, the Bible records that their wickedness reached God (Jonah 1:2). Nineveh was such a wicked city that the king of Nineveh himself, referred to the men of Nineveh as wicked and violent (3:8). Listen to how Nineveh was described in the book of Nahum. “What sorrow awaits Nineveh, the city of murder and lies! She is crammed with wealth and is never without victims. 2 Hear the crack of whips, the rumble of wheels! Horses’ hooves pound, and chariots clatter wildly.3 See the flashing swords and glittering spears as the charioteers charge past! There are countless casualties, heaps of bodies-so many bodies that people stumble over them. 4 All this because Nineveh, the beautiful and faithless city, mistress of deadly charms, enticed the nations with her beauty. She taught them all her magic, enchanting people everywhere” (Nahum 3:1-4).
The leaders of conquered cities were often tortured and horribly mutilated before being executed. They tortured adults by skinning them alive and leaving them to die in the burning sun. They were truly an evil people. However, the interesting thing was that God loved the Assyrian people even with all their wickedness. He wanted Jonah to go and cry out to them about their wicked ways.
Jonah Tried to Run From God
God called Jonah for a mission and Jonah ran. He ran down to Joppa and boarded a ship to Tarshish. Most scholars believe Tarshish was on the southern tip of Spain, on the edge of the Mediterranean world. Tarshish is about 180 degrees in the opposite direction of Nineveh. It was known as a place where the presence of God was absent. Apparently, Jonah thought that he could escape to this place and avoid what God was calling him to do. It seems that Jonah either doesn’t know or just doesn’t remember the words of David when he said, “I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! 8 If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there” (Psa. 139:7-8).
Jonah doesn’t want to answer this call from God. As we continue reading we find out that Jonah would rather die than go to Nineveh to preach (v. 12). However, God wouldn’t allow Jonah to die b/c He had an assignment for him. The fish that swallowed Jonah was part of God’s grace. Grace on the part of Jonah and also grace on the part of the Ninevehites. God was calling Jonah to go and preach to the people of Nineveh.
What Is Your Nineveh?
Many times we are just like Jonah. Think about what it is that God is calling you to do right now that you just do not want to do?
- Evangelsim – God has called each of us to be a witness for Jesus (Acts 1:8). He expects us to tell others of His son and the salvation that can be found through a relationship with Him. Are you answering God’s call to evangelize or is this your Nineveh?
- Selflessness/Generosity – God has called us to be generous toward others (I Tim. 6:17-18) and toward the Lord (I Cor. 16:1-2). Are you answering God’s call to be selfless and generous or is this your Nineveh?
- Action – God has called each of us to action. Unfortunately, many Christians make excuses instead of answering this call. Are you active in serving the Lord or are you a person who has an excuse for your lack of service (LK. 9:59-62)? Is action your Nineveh?
- Forgiveness – God has called each of us to forgive those who sin against us (Matt. 6:14-15). Have you forgiven those who have wronged you or hurt you? Is forgiveness your Nineveh?
- Repentance – God has called you and me to repent of our wrong doing. The Bible teaches that unless we repent we will all perish (Lk. 13:3). Have you answered God’s call to repent from the things in your life that hinder your relationship with Him? Is repentance your Nineveh?
Perhaps you would rather try to run from God than answer His call. If you learn anything from Jonah learn this: You can run from God, but you can’t outrun God. Jonah found out that he had to answer God’s call even though he didn’t want to. The day will come for you and me when we will stand before God in judgment and be faced with answering His call, whether we want to or not!
Now that’s Something to Think About!