Jonah 3: the Rebellious Prophet

Posted on 02 September 2008

Jonah: 3

We have seen that:

• Jonah, the prophet, seeks to evade his call to preach in Nineveh: even death appears preferable to faithfulness to the call (though we are not told what was the reason);
• Paradoxically, the words of the ‘mute’ and reluctant prophet, when uttered, lead to the salvation of pagans;
• Further, Jonah cannot escape the LORD: his sovereignty extends to hell itself;
• There, Jonah is forced, however, reluctantly, to acknowledge the LORD as the God of his salvation.

Thus, Jonah finds himself back at the beginning (2:10) and we are left with lots of questions!!! What is going on? What will happen next?

What happens is that:
• Without recrimination, with a minimum of fuss, the LORD repeats his call (1,2) and this time, however reluctantly, Jonah obeys (3).
• Despite the starkness of the message (4, and in contrast to the repeated experience of God’s prophets among his own people) the vast number of the ‘pagan’, grossly wicked Ninevites (1:2) ‘to a man’ (from the least to the greatest) show genuine repentance (5-9, note especially 8b).
• While the Ninevites repent in uncertainty, they receive certain mercy (as Augustine commented!, 10)

The way the story is told here is plainly designed to gain our sympathy. While Jonah may have understandably baulked at a ministry in such a dangerous and impossibly demanding situation, we are surely expected to celebrate:

• The grace of God to the most undeserving. Thus, warning and forgiveness are freely given to the most notorious ‘sinners’ of the ancient world;
• The responsibility of all to turn to him (‘pagans’ and even Ninevites)
• The mercy of God to each one of us when we fail ‘first time round’.

This is most fully seen in the light of Jesus’ cross. There the readiness of God to cross the gulf that separates us from him was seen in large pen-strokes. There the grace of God to intervene by warning and by action is wonderfully displayed. And there we still can turn and find a waiting Father, far more ready to welcome that judge, immeasurably more willing to set us right that to rebuke past failures.

An outline by Stephen Dray
Ferndale Baptist Church, North Avenue,
Southend-on-Sea, Essex, SS2 4ET. A recording of the spoken message may be obtained at: