Friday, December 13, 2019

Jonah: The Reluctant Prophet

"But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish" (Jonah 1:3a).

Jonah began prophesying early in the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel. About thirty years before Jeroboam II came to the throne, God had allowed the Syrians to devastate northern Israel (2 Kings 13:7). In the years that followed, during the reigns of Jehoahaz and Jehoash, God continued to punish Israel at the hands of the Syrians and Moabites (2 Kings 13:17–20). God chose to grant relief, however, when Jeroboam II became king, and in accordance with Jonah’s prophecies, Jeroboam made the kingdom a mighty power once again (2 Kings 14:25–27).

It soon became apparent that Jeroboam II was not going to be any more faithful than his fathers had been. Jonah knew that God would bring more judgments upon Israel. But God came to Jonah and told him something he did not expect: God sent him to preach judgment against Assyria.

What was going on here? Notice in 2 Kings 14:27 that “since the LORD had not said He would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam.” At that time, however, Jeroboam and Israel had turned their backs on God once again. They had ruined their last chance to repent. God withdrew His gracious words of warning and left the nation to sink into destruction. Instead, God took His prophet and His presence to the Gentiles.

Moses had prophesied that this would happen. If the people provoked God to jealousy by worshipping idols, God would provoke them to jealousy by taking His grace to other nations (Deuteronomy 32:21). Jonah knew this prophecy. Perhaps he sensed God was turning His back upon northern Israel. Because he loved his own people, his own congregation, Jonah was reluctant to leave them.

Another factor in Jonah’s reluctance was this: He knew that God would grant the Assyrians repentance and save them, as he said in Jonah 4:2. Jonah knew that the grace of the Gospel would have a mighty impact upon Assyrian life and culture. Obedience to God’s law would result in national blessings. The Assyrians would grow into a mighty power. In this way, God was raising up the Assyrians to be His instrument to punish Israel. Jonah did not want to be involved in bringing this to pass.

When we look at Jonah sympathetically, taking all the factors into account, we can understand why he did not want to go to Nineveh. All the same, he was disobedient to God’s explicit command. Sometimes, because God commands them, we have to do things we don’t want to do. In such circumstances, we must trust His wisdom and sovereign determination over all of life. Regardless of difficulty, purpose to do what is rightly commanded.