Focal Passage: Jonah 1:1-3; 3:1-5, 10
This week’s lesson begins a new unit of study related to awakening and renewal. The story of Jonah exhibits renewal in the life of Jonah, and awakening among the people of Nineveh. I like to think of the story of Jonah as it relates to the greatest commandment. Jesus quotes the Old Testament law, and then challenges His followers to go one step further, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and “your neighbor as yourself,” (Luke 10:25-27).
Jonah is the story of Ninevite neighbors. All of us, if we are really honest, could think of at least one individual, or group of people, in our lives of whom we would say, “They don’t deserve to hear the good news of salvation.” That may be our own feeling, but it is NOT the feeling of God our Father. Peter says of Him, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
Jonah wants nothing to do with the people of Nineveh. He’s going to find out that God’s compassionate love for people demands compassionate love from us. Jonah is not that different than many of us.
First, Jonah thought, “I know better than God” (ch. 1:1-17). The story of the prophet named Jonah begins with him running from the presence of the Lord (ch. 1:1-3). Jonah thought he knew better than God! He was prejudiced, stubborn, uncaring, hard-hearted, cold. Jonah looked at the kingdom with a man’s eyes and refused to do the will of God.
Second, Jonah determined on his own that “the people of Nineveh didn’t deserve God’s mercy” (ch. 4:1-2). Jonah hated Nineveh, with good reason. Nineveh was called by Nahum “that bloody city” (Nahum 3:1). It was infamous for its cruelty toward enemies.
As the capital city of the Assyrian Empire and a major world power (prior to the Babylonian empire) Nineveh was considered an enemy of Israel.
Jonah fled to Tarshish because he had no compassion towards his enemy Nineveh. He realized that God would forgive them if they repented. Jonah ran as fast and as far as he could.
Nineveh was the far eastern boundary of Old Testament knowledge. Tarshish was the western point of the known world.
Next, Jonah seems to proclaim, “I’ll go, but you can’t make me like it” (ch. 3:1-4). Jonah reluctantly follows God’s original call to preach to Nineveh. As he preaches, the people respond to God’s message. The story of Jonah teaches us two important things: No one is too bad for the grace of God, and God wants us to have the same compassion for others as He has had for us.
Jonah’s final attitude appears to be, “See, I told you so” (ch. 3:5-10; 4:2). Everyone in Nineveh was happy except for Jonah (Jonah 4:2). Romans 9:16 says “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” God’s compassionate love is for anyone open to receiving it.
In Matthew 5:43, Jesus says “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise upon the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
The Good News found in the book of Jonah reminds us of God’s compassion for the lost and our need to obey Him when He calls us to be involved in His work of sharing the Good News!
— Harmon is pastor of Rock Springs Baptist Church, Greenbrier.