The story of Jonah was one of my childhood favorites. When still young enough to be read a bedtime story, my answer to Mother’s question, “So what do you want to read tonight?” was more times than not answered by an enthusiastic, “Jonah!” (My second favorite was “Daniel and the Lion’s Den”. Any surprise I like action movies?)
Jonah is one of those stories most people have heard of even if they don’t know very much about the Bible. We’ve heard the story primarily from the belly of the whale perspective. We seem to camp out on that part about the whale swallowing Jonah. Never mind that the Bible doesn’t call it a “whale” but a big fish.
Those who do get past three days and three nights in the belly of the whale…uh, fish part usually understand the story to go something like this:
God wants all the heathen to be saved. God calls Jonah to foreign missions and he doesn’t want to go. After being slammed by a storm, thrown overboard by those pagan sailors, Jonah ends up three days and three nights in the belly of a whale/fish whatever. Surprise! Jonah now is willing to go to Nineveh. He goes but he is not happy about it. More surprise…Nineveh repents even down to the animals. Jonah is still not happy with it. Jonah throws a fit under a vine. God is not happy with Jonah. Worm eats vine. Jonah’s not happy. God’s not happy. Nobody is happy. Except we assume the pagan sailors who made it to shore, a big fish recovering from digestive problems and the King of Nineveh, the people and their pets are all happy.
Moral of the story: When God calls you to foreign missions you should go.
Application: Don’t you want to go?
The story of Jonah is not about Christian world missions. It can and should be applied to our mission work. But just to make Jonah into a recruitment poster for missionaries is to miss the point of the story.
You may have noticed I keep referring to “the story” of Jonah. I do believe there was a historical prophet named Jonah who went to Nineveh (By the way, Nineveh is on the outskirts of a town you have heard about lately in the news…Mosul.) And I personally believe Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days. But to argue with those who don’t swallow the part about the great fish (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) is for both of us to miss the message of Jonah.
The book of Jonah is a tightly knit, carefully woven story. It’s only forty-seven verses in the English bible in length. However, every word and phrase is carefully crafted to deliver a message.
God always wants us to hear His message. He wanted Jonah to hear what He was saying. God wanted Nineveh to get His message. And I believe God wants us to hear His message too.
For the next few blogs we will explore the story of Jonah. There is a message we need to hear about God, ourselves and the people God puts into our lives. Good stuff from a “Matthew Connection” point of view.
Besides…it is one of my favorite stories.