I read the story of Jonah tonight before bed with my kids from The Beginners Bible (Questar Publishers, 1989). God wanted Jonah to go to Nineveh to tell the people to stop doing bad things. But Jonah 1:2 says, “But Jonah ran away from the Lord . . .” He pretty much found a place in the opposite direction of what God had asked him. There is a huge storm, the people on the ship wonder what the cause is, and Jonah has himself thrown overboard. God has him swallowed by a fish, he gets lots of time to think and pray, and then when God saves him by having the fish spit him out. He listens to God and goes to Nineveh. When Jonah tells the people to stop being bad, they listen to him and start doing good things.
Now I realize that is the “simple” version of the story. . But it made me think about how many times we are in a position to tell someone to “stop doing bad things” and we don’t. We may stay quiet, we may avoid the situation, we may make up excuses (and we have some really good ones!), we may do a lot of things. But in the end, we are all acting like Jonah did and not obeying what God asked of us. It is a hard thing to do. It might make us look bad in front of others. We might not have the confidence to do it. But the reality is that God calls us to use scripture to teach, to correct, to rebuke, to train in righteousness, and be thoroughly equipped to do this (2 Tim 1: 16-17). And He might be calling us to certain situations, just as he called Jonah to talk to the people living in Nineveh.
My study Bible linked Jonah’s running away to Jonah 4:1-2, where Jonah didn’t want God’s goodness, compassion, and forgiveness to extend to the Gentiles (aka: the enemy, the competition, the non-in-crowd). Or maybe it was too much for him to understand that God’s grace could reach beyond his expectations.
And then I wonder again, why do I remain silent when God is calling us to do the words of 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with patience and careful instruction.”
The Beginners Bible’s last sentence in the Jonah story (p. 264) says, “God was glad that Jonah had obeyed.” I sure hope that the next time God is calling me to do or say something that maybe I may not want to do or say, that the final words of that story will be that God was glad that Susan obeyed, no matter what the outcome may be for me or those I was associated with.
Other verses to read: 2 Timothy 3:10-4:8, Luke 17:1-5