Have you ever gone through a rebellious season or lived with someone who has? Most of us can answer yes to the question and a person instantly comes to mind. Often the example of a rebellious person is not ourselves, but I would venture to say that you, me, and all of creation are rebellious at heart. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). I see this in myself and my children in my parenting every day. My children refuse to obey the things I ask, they shift blame to others, and they don’t feel their siblings or friends are deserving of “rewards” because of their sin. I in turn, refuse God’s call and command to be His ambassador to my children and can often justify my frustration as a busy mom and blame my reactions on their misbehavior. As you can see, I am fully immersed in rebellion because I am a sinner and living among other sinners in my own home. The story of Jonah is one that can offer rebels – each of us – hope in that a compassionate God longs for us to turn to Him.
Most people familiar with Christianity know of the story of Jonah. Young children are introduced to Jonah and the wild journey of his disobedience to God’s command that landed him in the belly of a great fish. I must say I often focus on this portion of the story with my children and for myself. For all of our actions of disobedience there will be consequences – and none so great as being swallowed by a huge fish to get a young one’s attention.
“And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” ~Jonah 1:17
However, Jonah has so much more to offer us if we read the entire book (not just the first two chapters). It is a story of rebellion and repentance, but also one of self-righteousness and grace, of anger and the Lord’s great compassion.
The book of Jonah has been debated among biblical scholars as an allegory, parable, or a prophetic narrative. As an allegory, Jonah is a symbol of Israel in its refusal to carry God’s mission to the nations. A parable also uses fictional characters to make a point. The main point of Jonah would be not to follow his initial rebellious actions. The argument for this book to be a work of prophecy comes from the initial sentence; “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah…” (Jonah 1:1). Many references to Jonah as an historical figure exist in scripture and even Jesus treated the story of Jonah as history when He used elements of the story as analogies for other historical events (Matthew 12:40-41). This book of the Bible can be considered a literary masterpiece drenched in satire, and it is part of the complete Word of God. Thus, because of its inclusion in God’s Word, we must be on the alert for its significance.
Many themes “bubble up” from the book of Jonah. The primary theme in Jonah is of the boundless compassion of God for people – both the Jew and the Gentile, saints and sinners. Other themes to watch for in your reading include:
- God’s sovereign control over the events of the earth
- God’s determination to get His message to all the world
- The need for repentance from sin (including rebellion, self-centeredness, hypocrisy)
- God’s compassion
It is also helpful to view the story of Jonah as an analogy to the resurrection of Christ. Jonah spent 3 days in the belly of a fish to be “resurrected” onto shore because of God’s compassion which ultimately led to repentance for more people. And in accordance with the scriptures “…God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). Jesus was then buried and raised on the third day and appeared to individuals and crowds to continue to draw people toward repentance and faith (paraphrase from 1 Corinthians 15:4-6).
“When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he has said he would do to them, and he did not do it.” ~Jonah 3:10
I am convicted when I read Jonah because I see how similar I am to him at times – a rebellious heart and self-righteous spirit. But oh how grateful I am for God’s boundless compassion for me, the people living under my roof, and everyone in the world. When I consider His compassion, I am always drawn back to this verse:
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” ~2 Peter 3:9
I encourage you to read Jonah with “fresh eyes” looking for the Gospel and the themes described.
As you read Jonah, ask yourself:
- Observe Jonah. What were his actions, his responses to God? How did his character change? What more did he still have to learn when the book closes?
- How am I like Jonah?
- Is there anything in my life I am refusing to do because of my sin, my comfort, my self-righteousness?
- Do I think there should be limits on God’s compassion?
- Where can I see God as sovereign and compassionate Savior?