The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy that the one who desires the work of an elder desires a good thing. Paul tells the Ephesian church that those who proclaim the truth of the Lord are gifts from God. Nonetheless, it is not always easy to be an ambassador for the Lord.
In the case of the Old Testament prophet Jonah (see also 2 Kings 14:25), we encounter a man who emphatically rejected the specific mission that God gave to him. The Lord called him to go to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire, and to preach against that great city, calling them to repent of their evil. Jonah refused to do this.
Jonah traveled west by sea, despite the fact that reaching Nineveh required going east by land. He was attempting to sail away from the command of God, and even “from the presence of the Lord.” For Yahweh’s spokesman to be perplexed, frustrated, or even overwhelmed was not that unusual, but to pick up and run in the opposite direction of God’s calling was not normal.
There was no safe way out for the Jonah. He brought danger upon his life because of his refusal to obey. Not only that, those with him were put in peril by his disobedience. Even the pagan sailors on board the ship were beginning to wonder what God was doing as they faced such troubles at sea. The God that Jonah needed to obey controlled the wind and the waves.
The captain of the ship expected everyone to turn earnestly to some god or other in the midst of this crisis. Amazingly, Jonah was trying to sleep through the violent storm. Everyone else was beseeching various deities except for the man who knew in his conscience that he was responsible for this situation. The sailors cast lots in order to identify the guilty party, and they managed to find their man. Was it one of those frantic prayer warriors pleading with some false god? No, it was the Lord’s servant, Jonah, who simply refused to bring the Word of the Lord to the Assyrians, the mortal enemies of Judah and Israel.
Naturally the other men on board wanted to understand what Jonah had done to merit Jehovah’s displeasure. Jonah plainly told the story of his unwillingness to obey the Lord by going to Nineveh. His solution to the problem was very straightforward: “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea.” The crew did not want to send him overboard, yet they were forced to do so because of their own desperate condition. It soon became obvious that Jonah would have to go if any of them were to survive this strange judicial ordeal of trial by drowning.
Prior to throwing Jonah off the ship the sailors turned to the true God in prayer. They wanted Jonah’s Lord to know that they were taking no joy in what was sure to be the death of His subject. Yet Jonah did not die. The sea ceased from its raging. God had a plan for this reluctant preacher. He appointed a great fish to rescue Jonah, and so he was inside that fish for “three days and three nights,” becoming a “sign” for a great future display to the watching world. (See Matthew 12:40 and Luke 11:30.)
Many centuries later a perfect prophet was raised up for a tougher ministry than that of Jonah. While we were yet sinners, Christ was called upon by God to die for us. He too was beyond the reach of men for three days, but in His sufferings He faced the death that we deserved. Jonah is known for a fish that saved him. Christ is known for a cross that saved us.
By running away from his mission, Jonah stands as a supreme biblical example of unwillingness. Jesus never abandoned His calling. Even though He had the power to end His suffering and to send legions of angels against His enemies, He played His unique role with a perfectly holy resolve. This was especially confirmed prior to His betrayal in these glorious words: “Not my will, but Yours be done.” In Jesus we see the greatest example of dedication ever known. In His death we have the powerful accomplishment of the fullness of our salvation, a salvation that could never have been won for us if our Savior had sailed in some other direction away from the cross.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Father God, You surely love Your people and You use us as messengers of that great love. Can we refuse You? Will we be like Jonah, determining by our own counsel that it is wise to run from You? Such a man brings much trouble upon himself and others. It will do us no good to flee from Your presence in the day of chastisement. Surely if we decide to fight against Your purposes, You will win. Who are we to reject Your call to speak for Your kingdom? We bow before You Lord Jesus, for You have rescued us from death and hell.