From the introduction:
On the surface, the story of Jonah lends itself to a moralistic interpretation: God sends Jonah to the notoriously evil city of Ninevah (Jonah 1:1-2), but Jonah runs away instead (Jonah 1:3). So God sends a storm and a fish to rescue Jonah from his disobedience (ch. 2), he tells Jonah to go a second time (Jonah 3:1-2), and finally Jonah gives in and obeys (Jonah 3:3). Then God rewards Jonah's obedience by bringing him surprising success among the Ninevites (Jonah 3:6-10)From the commentary on Jonah 1:1-3
But this interpretation leaves us with a number of problematic questions: Why is chapter 4 included? Why isn't our hero, Jonah, a better model of obedience in the end? Why is he still angry after his success in Ninevah? Once we begin to pull back the layers of this story, we discover that it is not really about what Jonah is doing for God, but what God is doing for Jonah.
Jonah is about the disturbing possibility that, having pledged our life to God, we could end up spending much of that life avoiding the God we set out to serve. You may have already discovered this strange contradiction that lies at the heart of all Christian experience: while loving Christ, you find yourself turning from him; while trusting Christ, you often battle fear and anxiety; while serving Christ, you sometimes struggle with disappointment about certain events in your life. You are not alone!
Some people teach us by their example; Jonah teaches us by his weakness. By confessing his own failures, Jonah holds up a mirror for us to see the struggles and enigmas of our Christian lives (1 Cor 10:11). He wants us to discover the grace of God--which, once we see it, is stronger than all our fears, anxieties, and disappointments. The real hero in the story is God. We catch glimpses of God's extraordinary patience with weak people like Jonah (Jonah 3:1-2, 4:4, 9-10), his relentless pursuit of lost people like the Ninevites (Jonah 1:2, 4:11), and the ultimate victory of his love (Jonah 2:9; 3:10)
When God calls us to something new, he is always up to something good. However difficult the call may be, it is one of grace and it is for our ultimate joy. Reflect for a moment on the contrast between Jonah and Jesus.
Jonah was in a good place, doing good work, enjoying a good life. Then God said, "Jonah, I want you to go to another place, and do a different work for the sake of the people I love; people who are facing an imminent judgment." Jonah said, "No."
Jesus was in heaven, ruling the universe by the word of his power. Adored by angels, he was in the best place, doing the best work, and enjoying the best life. Then the Father said, "Go to another place, where you will be utterly rejected. You will live a life that will lead to torture, crucifixion, and death. You will become an atoning sacrifice for people I love who are facing an eternal judgment." Jesus said, "Yes."
Recognizing that Jesus did all this on our behalf moves us from being the kind of people who care about our own comfort, reputation, and success, to caring more about the people all around us, whom we are called to love and serve. Loved much, we are freed to love much. (Luke 7:47)
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible