By: Dennis Bates
When I was a kid, one of my favorite Bible stories was Jonah. It was something about the whale, especially after I saw Disney’s “Pinocchio.” I could see Jonah sitting in the belly of that fish. Of course, I missed the deeper meanings, but I remembered the story, and sometimes that’s enough of a reason to keep telling those stories to children. They remember the story itself and come back for the deeper meanings when they get older.
Today, I am more interested in Jonah himself although I still kind of like the whale. As you recall, the back story is that God wanted Jonah to go to Nineveh, a corrupt and wicked city, and warn them that they had to change or God would destroy them. Jonah didn’t care much for that idea, so he went the opposite direction, and a big fish swallowed him when the boat he was in hit a storm and the crew threw Jonah overboard to lighten the load.
Jonah spent three days in the belly of that fish until he finally pled with God to get him out of there. In fact, his exact words were “What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.” As soon as he prayed that, God had the fish deposit him on a beach in a very unceremonious way, and a messenger appeared to remind him where Nineveh was.
Reluctantly, Jonah went to Nineveh and gave them only the first line of God’s message. Guess what? They listened and they asked God to forgive them, which is more than you can say for Jonah. He was livid. He wanted to see the city of Nineveh destroyed along with everything in it, but God wouldn’t do it. He forgave the people of Nineveh.
Jonah sat down on the hillside and pouted, even when God raised a big plant to give him shade. When God finally had heard enough, He reminded Jonah that Nineveh had more than 120,000 people who needed His help, so He gave it. And that’s where the story ends. We don’t know what, if anything, Jonah did after that. Maybe he did nothing.
Personally, I hope Jonah learned from his experiences. He ran from God, but God found him. He asked God to save him from the belly of the fish and God did. He warned the people in Nineveh that God wanted them to repent and they did. Through his begrudging obedience 120,000 people “and many cattle as well” were saved. (I love the part about the cattle.) Why would anyone be upset about that?
Hopefully, after Jonah thought about what God told him for a while, he realized he had done a good thing by taking God’s word to the city. If he didn’t rejoice in what he had done; if he just sat up on the hillside until he died, who should we pity more: the wicked people of Nineveh who heard God’s voice and repented, or Jonah, who was basically a good man, who heard God’s voice but took no delight in doing the good God asked him to do?
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