Jonah! posted by Yuen Woh Voon on Oct 20, 2011
Not many people are named Jonah. More take on names like Peter, James and John. Or even Tom, Dick and Harry. But the biblical Jonah is a hero too. Let me tell you why.
When we think of Jonah, we invariably think of the person inside the whale1. But the Bible focuses on what is inside the heart of Jonah!
Jonah was asked to share his faith to the people of Nineveh, the capital of the evil Assyrian empire. He knew God to be holy and righteous, who punishes sin and rewards those who do good. And God commanded that he, Jonah, should go to preach to the people of Nineveh, so that they would repent of their sins in order that God can spare and save them.
Would Jonah go? No! He ran in the opposite direction! Why? He wanted nothing to do with this evil group of people (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) And the story might have just ended there.
But God not only loves the people of Nineveh. He loves Jonah as well. He has a plan for Jonah, for Jonah to share his faith and for Jonah to learn something about Him and about life. So God arranges for the violent storm and the great fish so that Jonah can have some time out and do some serious reflecting.
Finally, our friend Jonah decides to do what God wants. Better he had done that from the start so that he needn’t have to experience the slime and smell of a whale’s belly. But now, he will go to Nineveh. There is an entire chapter in the Book of Jonah about his prayer to God from inside the whale. No doubt Jonah recorded this to let us know what went on inside his heart.
You see, sharing with the people of Nineveh was daunting. He had too many obstacles to surmount. First, there was the prejudice of race. Then the people of Nineveh were of a different religious and cultural background. There was a geographical problem too, because Nineveh was some 900 km away. (In those days, it would involve a week or two of travelling by “camel express.”) Then there was the economic obstacle. Nineveh was described as “the great city.” It was THE city of the day. Nineveh was the capital city of the great Assyrian empire. Its citizens were rich, stayed in big mansions, had well-paying jobs, rode on branded camels … you know what I mean. And Jonah was a “nobody.” We know his father’s name and where he was born, but that’s about it. Boy, of all people, he really had good reasons for not obeying God’s command to share his faith.
But in the end he overcame all the obstacles. In the end, he went to Nineveh and shared his faith. In the end, he became a hero. Will you be a hero too?
Then he (Jesus) told them: “Go and preach the good news to everyone in the world.”
Mark 16:15 (CEV)
* I know the whale is not a fish, but let’s not get too technical. The sun doesn’t actually “rise” and “set”, does it?