I find the book of Jonah very interesting as it seems quite unlike most other books of the prophets.
Synposis: I imagine most people are familiar with the story of Jonah. In Ch 1, God calls Jonah to go and preach in the city of Nineveh (an enemy of Israel), because of their sin. He runs away and boards a ship to try and get far away. God sends a storm and Jonah asks the sailors to throw him overboard to calm the storm, so that the others would be saved. This happens, then God sends a fish to save Jonah. In Ch 2, Jonah prays to God from the belly of the fish, and the fish vomits Jonah up onto land. In Ch 3, Jonah then goes to Nineveh as God commands, and the people and king of Nineveh repent, and so God spares them. In Ch 4, Jonah is angry at God, saying he knew this was what would happen, and is why he ran away in Ch 1.
“Salvation belongs to the Lord”
The verse that stands out for me in this book is Ch 2v9, when Jonah exclaims “Salvation belongs to the Lord”. This comment seems to explain a lot of the book of Jonah. We see a number of salvation events in the book:
It is amazing to see God’s grace and mercy to all of these different people. Especially to think God still loves Jonah and wants to teach him truths about Himself, even after his first response was to run away. We can be very thankful to have such a merciful God!
I find Jonah’s behaviour and comments in this book very interesting, as I can not think of anywhere else in the bible we see such a reaction. After Nineveh repents and God relents, we get Jonah’s reaction in Ch 4 v1-3 “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me””
So we now understand why he ran away in Ch 1; not that he was fearful of doing what God asked, as we may initially think, but because he knows what God is like and will do, and he does not want salvation to come to his enemy. Jonah knows God is gracious and merciful but seems to be jealous and only want that for his people, and not for others.
God explains to Jonah in the rest of Ch 4 that He has created all things so of course he cares for them all, and so this is why He shows mercy to Nineveh.
Jonah’s response to this isn’t recorded as the book ends then. But from his earlier comments he doesn’t seem to fully understand his own prayer that “Salvation belongs to the Lord”. It depends on God to chose who He will save, but Jonah doesn’t like this when it means saving his enemy.
I wonder if we are similar to Jonah in this way. We know God’s grace and love, but do we ever think that we can decide who should hear about it, or who we should share this great news with?
All quotes are from the ESV bible translation.
Footnote 1: On a tour of the British Museum, we were shown some reliefs from Nineveh which showed their priests wearing outfits with fish scales on. The guide told us that they worshipped a fish deity, and therefore Jonah telling them he had come from the belly of a fish to give them this message may have given extra weight to his preaching.