The situation told by God: “Nineveh’s wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2)
- Nineveh was a city of Assyria. Assyrian people were, first of all, gentiles, and they were enemies of Hebrews. Given that they had bitter historical relationships, the people of Nineveh were not someone that Jonah would be compassionate as a default.
Jonah’s response to God’s word: “Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish.” (Jonah 1:3)
- There is not much explanation why (except some “excuses” that Jonah provides at the and of the book), but Jonah definitely rebelled against God’s command. While it is a considerable factor that Nineveh is not a place that Jonah had the heart to deliver God’s words, Jonah’s characteristics which are shown throughout the book are something that we should also keep in mind.
You can never ever run away from God physically.
- Jonah runs away to a different city – Tarshish. How can he think that he could run away from God? Remember that you really cannot. God does not stay inside a church. God teaches that fact by the storm that struck the boat which Jonah was in. God is “of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.” Jonah knows/realizes that, too. (Jonah 1:9)
We are easily deceived that death will end our frustrations from the responsibility and the burden. Most importantly, death and life are in God’s hands.
- If God wills, you cannot run away from His command by death. (Jonah 1:17)
- Jonah says this many times. “Kill me.” (Jonah 1:12, 4:3, 4:8, 4:9) Death does not end our responsibilities. When Jonah tells God to “kill him,” it is hard to not think that his request is actually a rebel against God. Instead of actually killing himself, Jonah insists God to kill him. We know that God will not kill him; and probably Jonah knew, too. As much as God loved people of Nineveh, God loves Jonah, too.
- Jonah is rebelling against God by saying “I will not do what You tell me to do (or accept what You say You are going to do), and I will stake my life for it. If You wish to continue to do what I don’t approve, I’d rather die.” This is disrespectful and even blasphemous.
Nineveh’s response was actually dramatic and unexpected. From the Bible, it describes how large Nineveh was: “an exceedingly great city, a three days’ walk.” (Jonah 3:3) with “120,000” (Jonah 4:11) people. When they heard Jonah saying “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4) the whole city repents like dominos falling. Jonah did not even walk through the whole city since he spoke as he “went through the city one day’s walk.” (Jonah3:4)
- People believed in God; they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. (Jonah 3:5)
- King arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. (Jonah 3:6) King also issued “a proclamation to call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands.” (Jonah 3:7-8)
As a result, God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. This seems like a happy ending, but not for Jonah.
Jonah became angry. He sarcastically speaks to God about His characters: gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. He does not want to accept God’s decision to save those people which Jonah did not like from the beginning. God used Jonah to be a passage of His salvation to those whom Jonah wished to die. He is so sure of his opinion that he cries at God saying “I AM RIGHT OR KILL ME.”
God teaches Jonah about His care of people through one episode of a plant and a worm. We do not know how Jonah responded to this teaching because the book is concluded with God’s comments. In God’s point of view, we are all those who do not know the difference between our right and left hand. This is His love. If we are self-righteous, we will tend to see sins of others. Sometimes that will cause us to think that we are different from them. However, our role is not to separate ourselves from them by grouping who is righteous and who is not. God, at some point, will tell us to do things that we do not want to do because we hate certain aspects of it. God will tell us to be a passage of His blessing to those whom we wish were less fortunate than us. God will tell us the good news to those whom, we think, deserve punishment. Stronger self-righteous we are, stronger we hate, stronger we detach ourselves from them, we will hate to do what God tells us to do to an extent that we would rather die than do what He tells us to do.
As a Christian, our perspective grows to encompass more and more of God’s point of view. It should be that way. When we realize that we are sinners, we cannot be angry at God’s salvation for our enemies – or those whom we hate. As a person with emotions, prejudice, and limited experiences, it is simply impossible to have the heart of God. However, the more we find ourselves honestly standing in front of God, the more we will humbly accept our role as His prophets that deliver the miracle that God wanted us to see. The miracle of salvation – a change of heart – that whoever hears God’s words and believes in it will be saved.