Tonight I was listening the song “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.” I thought of all the times that I had turned back and the various cycles of sin and temptation in my own life. My brother and I tend to have very manic phases in life: sometimes it’s word working, sometimes it’s working out until I get an injury, and other times it’s just being down for a season. This song implies that we also turn to something from our past and that following Jesus is not simply turning back. Now there’s many things we don’t need to repeat in our past and there’s many things that we know we’re prone to repeat despite our discipline, but the story of Jonah isn’t one of turning back. I’m not sure Jonah ever had been to Nineveh before, and I’m doubt Jonah had really ever taken a sea faring journey past the known ports near him. Jonah wasn’t turning back, he was going in a new direction.
Tahereh Mafi has been quoted to say, “Moving forward is the only way to survive.”
Jonah wasn’t turning back, he was moving forward... to Nineveh
The story begins with Jonah and his journey. The book is named after Jonah, and the end of the book has Jonah pouting over his plight. In the middle of this is sandwiched the fish story and we have in front of us a Jonah sandwich with a big whale tale. Some read this book, discrediting the validity of the story, “how can a big fish swallow Jonah?” Some read this book with incredulity, “Jonah isn’t a prophet, he’s just a mess!” Those things are understandable to read into the book of Jonah but moving past the awe and surprising features of the story we see a profound message.
This story isn’t about Jonah just as much as any other character in the Bible. Was Jonah a really good guy who just slipped up? Did Jonah deserve to be prophet status in the Bible if he was the one running away from God and getting angry at God’s forgiveness?
We can obviously read the book of Jonah and say, “don’t be like Jonah.” If I lived next to the ocean it might even be applicable to tell my 3 year old son, “Don’t be like Jonah, otherwise a big fish will swallow you.” And if my 3 year old is as wise and intelligent as any other concrete thinker then he would reply, “well even if I did, I would get a pretty sweet ride in the belly of a fish. Which beach do you think he would spit me up on?”
Unfortunately, I live in the mountains and that line just won’t work: “Don’t be like Jonah otherwise Sasquatch will eat you.” That could be a little more threatening, but the point isn’t even what will eat you, where you will end up or even if you can survive for three days in sub-optimal conditions.
The point of all this is really God’s character. The things we can see in Jonah are pretty basic but couched in a beautiful story human disappointment, adventure, and divine intervention
God is in control of it all. The message getting to the Ninevites, the direction Jonah is to go in, the wind, the sea, and the Sailors. Adventure
The message still made it to the Ninevites! Jonah was still God’s mouthpiece! Human disappointment
The Ninevites were part of God’s plan all along. Jonah had chance after chance and even when Jonah himself wanting to be dumped in the Sea, God made a way for Jonah to live. Divine intervention.
After all these things I realize it’s not about the fish or Jonah, It’s about God and his character. So I’m left with the question. Not what am I going to do about the fish. Or how can I not be like Jonah. Instead, I think of when the wind and the waves kick up am I easily responding to God? When I know God is telling me the direction to go and I devise some great plan to go in a different direction, am I quick to change plans? The Sailors and the Ninevites often get overlooked in this story, but when faced with the character of God, how do they respond? In worship. In repentance. They don’t overthink it or scheme up a plot to go around it. They simply hear God’s message and respond. Far to often it’s those that are focusing on the fish and missing out on God. Through our every day lives we have the opportunity to see God’s character and our immediate response will not put us on par with the prophets of great, but will distinguish you as a person who knows God and responds when God calls.