|“The word of the Lord came to Jonah… saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. So, he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”|
― Jonah 1:1-3
There is a stark contrast between how Jonah responded to God’s call to go to Nineveh and that of Abraham, who when God called him to leave everything to “go the land God would show you.”(1) Jonah knew exactly where God wanted him to go — Nineveh and he went the opposite direction! Abraham, on the other hand, had no idea which direction he was to go. He simply had to put one foot in front of the other (begin to move) and trust God’s word.
Jonah was certainly not obedient. Obedience should be done immediately because delayed obedience is disobedience. It should be done with a good attitude—This sometimes takes time to accomplish, as we often do not see God’s perspective at the outset, and it should be done “as unto the Lord.” If we can remember these three tips, our life and ministry will flow much easier, especially relating to the revealed will of God! Someone has stated that the moral to the story of Jonah is: “Be careful to obey God or you could become whale vomit”. While obedience is an important lesson drawn from the story of Jonah, it is not the only lesson.
Jonah was sent by God to Nineveh, which at the time was the capital city of Assyria, a Gentile city that God loved. In the ancient world, it was well known that the Ninevites were the most lawless, vicious, and cruel people on earth. Nineveh was the enemy of Jonah’s people. He wanted to see it destroyed, not spared. Jonah wanted nothing to do with the Assyrian gentiles. In the middle of a God generated-storm, Jonah basically says, “that he would rather die than go and preach to Ninevites!”
WHO IS YOUR NINEVEH?
I travel extensively to other countries and many ethnic groups and have discovered that every culture has a “Nineveh”. India is well known for its caste system and is caught up in a structure where everybody looks down on those from lower castes. In Myanmar, formerly Burma, and a majority Buddhist country, most – even Christians at times, despise the Muslim Rohingya, who are currently being systematically eradicated from their country. Recently this very issue was disclosed relating to the Uyghur people of China and sadly, there is a long list of ethnic cleansing and genocide that has taken place historically, the largest obviously taking place during World War 2 with the extermination of 6 million Jews.
While these are extreme examples, in the heart of man too often we find overt and/or subtle forms of xenophobia (the dislike, prejudice or hatred of foreigners, people from other countries or cultures.) (2) It’s extremely easy to fall into the “Us versus Them” mindset, especially when we have no first-hand knowledge of “them”, or if we have suffered unjustly at the hands of a particular people, as most likely was the case with Jonah.
When we are disobedient to what God has called us to do (to go, to love our neighbors, and our perceived “enemies”, to preach the gospel to all nations) we lose God’s very presence, which initially happened with Jonah. He wanted justice, judgment, and condemnation for Nineveh. God in his great compassion wanted to extend mercy, forgiveness, and love. So, who is your Nineveh? — May we not lose sight of God’s extravagant forgiveness and love for all people everywhere, for He is building His kingdom and the gates of hell will not prevail against it! (3)
1- Genesis 12:1-3
3- Matthew 16.18
Painting: “Jonah and the Whale” by Herbert Mandel