“But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:1-3/NIV).
The book of Jonah is one of the short books of the Old Testament. Among the prophetic books it is well known because it is easy to read. In only four brief chapters we can read of some exciting happenings in Jonahs life. We all like to read stories.
A distinguishing mark of the bible is that characters introduced are not supreme heroes. Rather they are human beings with mistakes, flaws and failures. More importantly the sins of biblical characters are not excused as tokens of superiority. Biblical tales are tied to ethical teaching.
Most of the prophetic books contain prophetic messages to the people of Israel, Judah and the nations. Sinful behaviour is exposed and God’s plans and intentions are proclaimed. Occasionally we come across some biographic details too. The book of Jonah is all narration.
God called Jonah to go to Nineveh. He was to preach there.
God said: Ninevehs “wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1). But, as a matter of fact we are not told anything about the wrongdoings of the Ninevites.
The words Jonah was preaching to the Ninevites are contained in one single sentence. Some verses concern the reaction of the Ninevites to this extremely brief sermon. But most of the book really is about the behaviour of the prophet himself.
Jonah will be remembered as a prophet who disobeyed God. Rather than going to Nineveh he had tried to escape from God’s calling. Only in the last chapter of the book we get to know why Jonah had disobeyed God.
“Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” This was the message proclaimed by the prophet when he finally did what God had asked him to do.
Somehow Jonah had understood from the start that the calamity he was to announce might never come to pass. He sensed that the Ninevites might repent. He knew that God would be compassionate upon seeing people turning from their sinful behaviour.
Jonah was a prophet. He heard God’s own voice and God called him to a specific task. Finally Jonah obeyed. He saw amazing results to his preaching. Most of Christian preachers could only dream of seeing a whole city repenting from their sins.
Jonah might be called a great revival preacher. Peter’s sermon on Pentecost was great, but only 3000 persons got converted on one day. Nineveh had many more inhabitants than that: 120,000!
Yet Jonah will be remembered as one who disobeyed God’s calling. He was a prophet but short of love. He did not like the idea that God might forgive the sins of the people he was sent to.
St. Paul says: “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge… but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2). God looks for love even in the lives of prophets.