Jonah was a Man of God and a second generation prophet. Amittai his father was a prophet from Gath-hepher during the reign of king Jeroboam II (786-746 BC). God used Amittai immensely and the same would have been expected of his son Jonah. Since his childhood Jonah would have experienced the Grace and Power of God and gotten to know Him personally.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. − Jonah 1:1-3
Nineveh is a mere 500 miles from Jonah’s hometown of Gath-hepher but he choose the journey to Tarshish which was about 2500 miles from Joppa. This showed how reluctant he was to go to Nineveh. Nineveh drew comparisons from Sodom and Gomorrah, and we know how God destroyed those cities. They were such an unscrupulous group of people, that the Book of Nahum is all about prophesies of judgment and destruction of Nineveh. No wonder Jonah had his qualms about making the trip to Nineveh. So he choose to ignore God’s call and decided to go in the opposite direction.
God’s wrath descended upon the ship he was traveling in. When the sailors aboard the ship realized who was responsible for this,they threw Jonah into the sea and at once the violent storms calmed down. But God still had a plan for Jonah. He did not leave him to die in the sea. God always has a Plan for his people. And He commanded a great fish to swallow Jonah, where he remained for three days. Inside the belly of the great fish Jonah prayed fervently.
“When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.” − Jonah 2:7
God heard Jonah’s prayer and ordered the fish to spew up Jonah on the beach. A second time God spoke to Jonah and told him to head to Nineveh as he was going to destroy the wicked city in 40 days. This time Jonah obliged and went to Nineveh and proclaimed all that God had told him. On hearing his words the people of Nineveh turned from their evil ways, put on sackcloth and repented of all their sins.
Archaeologists have found the remains of the Assyrian civilization of Nineveh and in it found idols of ‘Dagon’ which when translated means the ‘Fish God’. Many biblical scholars believe the fact that Jonah survived an ordeal involving a ‘Great Fish’ made his outcry to the citizens of Nineveh to throw away their idols more consequential. Even Jonah’s act of disobedience is used by God for bringing deliverance to the people of Nineveh.
Jonah was merely an instrument in God’s hands, an empty vessel. God used Jonah to save 120,000 lost souls. God uses us in the same way. Jonah was quick to forget the Grace Of God and criticized God for changing his mind and not destroying Nineveh. He said to the Lord,
“Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”- Jonah 4:2
How often do we do this in our lives? We haven’t done anything to receive His grace, it is freely given to all, yet we question God for showing grace and forgiveness to our fellow beings when the truth is that we couldn’t face even a single day without His Grace.
God has a plan for each one of us. It does not matter who our ancestors were, but God has chosen us. Many times when God gives us a gentle nudge in a particular direction we tend to ignore it and go our own way. We pray that God let Your will be done in our lives but in the end do only that which lies within our comfort zone. If God can use a stubborn and bitter man like Jonah he can use anyone. We just need to get rid of our pride and be as empty vessels and allow God to fill us with his spirit.
“Today, Jonah’s mission to the Ninevites is commemorated by the Fast of Nineveh in Syriac and Oriental Orthodox Churches.”