The Jonah Conundrum by Joseph B. St. John

Photo Chris Lawton on Freely

The story of Jonah is one of the most interesting accounts in Scripture. Like many of the books of the Bible, the childhood story I was raised on and the reality of the real story were so different that at first glance it was shocking.   As a child, I saw many stories about the guy who spent three days in the belly of whale but I did not know the “Rest of the Story” until I was an adult.

I was in my early 20s when I first read the Bible. I was shocked by many of the developments I had to deal with as a new believer.  One of the phenomena I had to adjust to were how many scripture events were so different from my childhood perceptions. And, the story of Jonah was at the top of the list for shocks.  I knew that Jonah was important and his tale was worth telling. Jesus even used Jonah as a metaphor for his resurrection

Jesus Tells about Jonah (Matt 12:38-42 KJV)

38 Then some of the teachers of the Law and the proud religious law-keepers said to Jesus, “Teacher, we would like to have you do something special for us to see.” 39 He said to them, “The sinful people of this day look for something special to see. There will be nothing special to see but the powerful works of the early preacher Jonah. 40 Jonah was three days and three nights in the stomach of a big fish. The Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the grave also. 41 The men of the city of Nineveh will stand up with the people of this day on the day men stand before God. Those men will say these people are guilty because the men of Nineveh were sorry for their sins and turned from them when Jonah preached. And see, Someone greater than Jonah is here! 

42 “The queen of the south will stand up with the people of this day on the day men stand before God. She will say that these people are guilty because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wise sayings of Solomon. And see, Someone greater than Solomon is here!

Jesus confirms that Jonah had done powerful works and that Jonah and his days in the “big fish” foretold Christ’s resurrection. There is no mistake that Jesus took the story of Jonah seriously and understood its ramifications on the Christian faith.  It would stand the test of time in the lexicon of Christendom. But, the story is not as simple as many children Sunday school teachers would make it seem. Jonah was much more complicated than that

The Jonah Conundrum

The first thing that struck me was that Jonah was not a willing participant in God’s plan.  He was upset that God asked him to go to Nineveh.  Not only was he not happy but also Jonah fled in the other direction.

But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. But the Lord sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken. Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.

So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not. (Jonah 1: 3-6, KJV)

I learned quickly that Jonah’s disobedience not only affected him but the others around him. Jonah had put everyone at risk.  After many readings, it struck me how often this happens in everyone’s life.  We deny God.  We run from God and we hide from God. All the time not only are we hurting ourselves but we are hurting others.  Often, the pain we cause other people is greater than the pain we cause ourselves.

After Jonah was thrown into the sea, the sailors were afraid and made sacrifice unto the Lord for they feared the Lord.  God had other plans for Jonah and He had prepared for a giant fish to swallow Jonah.  After three days, Jonah was vomited out onto dry land.

 1 And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey.And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. (Jonah 3:1-5, KJV)

Jonah had been successful and all the people of Nineveh had repented and God was pleased and spared the City.  Was Jonah happy?  Did Jonah delight in the Lord?  Was Jonah comforted with the mercy of God?  The answer to all these questions was no.

In Jonah 4, we learn the opposite.

1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And he prayed unto theLord, and said, I pray thee, OLord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. Therefore now, OLord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live. Then said theLord, Doest thou well to be angry? So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.

And the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live. And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.

10 Then said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:11 And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?

Jonah was so upset with the Lord that he wanted to die. That’s right!  He wanted to die.  Because God was merciful, Jonah was upset.  He even questioned and challenged the almighty God. The fact that Jonah had been successful did not matter to him.  The fact that Nineveh had been spared was not important to him.  The only thing that mattered to Jonah was that he was unhappy.  He wanted the City destroyed.  And nothing short of the destruction of Nineveh was going to make him happy.

Jonah is an extreme case, however how often do we get upset with God?  How often do we have God bless us but not accepted it because it was not done on our timeline or the way we want it done.  We may not be as extreme as Jonah but we are equally as selfish.  We want God to do things our way and on our timeline. And, if we don’t get everything our way, we are upset with God.  This is not the appropriate way to deal with God.

We must always be applicative of God blessings. We must strive to do God’s will even when in makes us uncomfortable.  Pleasing God should be more important than pleasing ourselves.  God should take center stage and stay there.  Even when we are feeling selfish, we must fight that feeling and serve the one most powerful God.  Our true Lord and Savior.



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