Greetings! This reading is Jonah 1.
This is an action-packed book. A lot happens in just four chapters.
Jonah 1 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.
The Ninevites had a seriously wicked culture. The prophet Nahumchronicled much of their evil – plotting against God, cruelty, exploitation of the helpless, idolatry, prostitution, withcraft and more. But despite this God still wanted to reach them, just as He reaches out to us in our wickedness.
Prophets typically just preached and prophesied to the Israelites. In this case God wanted Jonah to go to the hated Ninevites and preach a message of repentance to them. As Genesis 12:3 and other parts of the Bible note, the rest of the world was to be blessed through the Israelites. Jonah didn’t like that idea so he disobeyed and went the other direction.
Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish.”
Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)
The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried to the Lord, “O Lord, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O Lord, have done as you pleased.”
I used to think that Jonah was finally doing something noble by offering to be thrown into the sea. But James MacDonald pointed out that Jonah was basically saying that he would rather die than obey God.
Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.
There is the fish part. No drama, just a ho-hum notation that God provided a great fish to swallow Jonah.
Although “three days and three nights” sounds like three literal 24 hour days, it was actually a Hebrew figure of speech meaning any part of a day. Therefore, Jesus was buried mid-day on Friday and arose on Sunday but it was still referred to as “three days and three nights.”
Note how these pagans had more compassion than Jonah. Jonah had put their lives in danger and they wanted to spare his life, but Jonah didn’t want the Ninevites to be saved. The sailors were convinced by this miracle and vowed to follow God.
We can’t run from God and expect to receive his blessings. Are there any parts of your life where you are running from God?
Reflect on what stood out to you in this reading and share your comments and questions if you like.
The next reading is Jonah 2.