How would you handle it if God called you to go, walk into Mosul or Baghdad or Kabul alone, and begin to preach to them that they were wicked and would incur the judgment of Jehovah if they did not repent of their wickedness? Everybody knows the story of Jonah and the big fish! It is a classic Sunday School story and one that often brings a chuckle as we think about poor, stinky Jonah, headed off to preach to those Ninevites. But Jonah is so much more than a story about a man and a fish and a city full of pagans. Really, Jonah’s story is all of our story. He just gets the unfortunate privilege of having his passed along to the world in the most read book of all time.
Jonah lived at a time where his culture was struggling to make a comeback. He was used to prophesy that comeback early in the reign of King Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:23-25). Unfortunately, as with just about all of the kings of the Northern Kingdom, they were willing to listen to the prosperity preaching but wanted nothing to do with the message of sin and repentance before a Holy God. As a prophet who was first given a message of prosperity by the Lord I think it is safe to assume that he was well regarded by the people.
In addition to this, Nineveh was an Assyrian city. The Assyrians were the super power of the time. Using iron weapons in the age of bronze, they went about beating up on the neighboring nations and imposing tribute on them throughout the history of the Northern Kingdom. Although Jonah had prophesied growth for the kingdom, he knew that it was a matter of time until God’s judgment came to His disobedient people.
As he struggled to deal with his own wicked culture he had a difficult time thinking about what he considered a more wicked culture that had oppressed his people in the past and was certain to do it again. (Ultimately they did and carried the Northern Kingdom off into permanent captivity only about sixty years later; 2 Kings 17:5-6.) In the midst of this tension, God now calls Jonah to do something that no other prophet had ever been called to do. Go and preach to the enemy.
Jonah 1:1-2 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”
I have to ask again, how would you handle this call? Unfortunately, Jonah struggled, not with a lack of faith, but from believing God and disagreeing with His intentions. It was not the fact that he was commanded to go to a very large city by himself to preach against their wickedness that thwarted his obedience. Instead, he just could not stomach the thought of those Ninevites repenting and God showing them grace and mercy.
Jonah allowed his culture and customs to control his thinking about the matter. He let his own personal comfort and the circumstances he found himself and his people in determine what he would do, rather than the plain command of God. I would challenge you today that God has also given us a plain command. If we know Christ as Savior, we are commanded to bear that message to the entire world; to call sin sin even among our compatriots, to preach the Gospel to ethnic and economic subcultures regardless of prejudices that are a part of larger culture, to disregard personal comfort and move beyond present or potential future circumstances that limit our obedience, and to fulfill the command of God.
Unfortunately, just like Jonah, we often go the other way when God calls and we are still able to say with him, “I fear the Lord” though we walk in rebellion to His command. I challenge you to listen to the audio of the message by clicking on the link below. Then ask the Lord how you can be more obedient to the call He has give you as a Follower of Jesus Christ.