A reluctant prophet (and a fishy tale)

If ever you were in Sunday School, you will remember this lively, short, book of the Bible.

A Fishy Tale

It’s a fishy tale, that resonates with the children – yes, we will have a whale of a time! However this little bible book has a very grown up message!

In brief, Jonah was commanded by God to preach a severe message to Israel’s neighbour, the Ninevites (nothing to do with hand cream, but the capital of their enemy Assyria).

Anyway, rather than swallow the message, hook, line and sinker, Jonah rushes off in the opposite direction, boards a boat, and seeks to escape.

A severe storm brews, and pagan sailors start calling out to their gods. Eventually, they realise that they are caught up in the crosswinds of displeasure from almighty God, and agree to hurl Jonah into the sea, whereupon, God gets a big fish (not a whale, sorry) to swallow up Jonah, and rescue his reluctant prophet.

From the belly of the fish, Jonah cries out to God, and the fish obediently vomits him out onto dry land. Finally, Jonah does what he is told, and preaches a message of judgment to the people of Nineveh. This is the great message: “salvation comes from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9), which was good for Nineveh and good for us too!

To Jonah’s great surprise, they hear, heed, and repent (even their cattle put on sackcloth!).

Job done, right? God’s reluctant prophet profits from God’s provision, preaches the proclamation he’s been given, and the Lord proceeds to protect pagans from perishing! (how about that for a pod of P’s?!)

Ah, but… Jonah is mad at God. Surely these wicked people are not worthy of God’s lavish grace. But Jonah ends with words of rebuke, directed at the reluctant prophet: “should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh?” (Jonah 4:11)

Some lessons

  • Sometimes we turn and run rather than face the living God. As Winston Churchill was once reported as saying: “Occasionally a man stumbled over the truth but he always picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened”.
  • Sometimes we prefer to feel superior towards the people around us, rather than getting on with telling them about God’s love and his mercy.
  • Sometimes God is very kind and gracious towards us, and again and again, he welcome prodigal children back into his family.
  • And, sometimes, God brings storms into our life, so that we might finally cry out to Him and recognise he is our King.

The story is told of a mother seeking her wayward teenage daughter. Who, like the famous prodigal son, had wasted her money, and her life, on loose living. Not able to bare it any longer, the mother posted hundreds of notices all around the city: “Wherever you are, whatever you’ve done, come home”.

Who is not drawn back to God by his compassion, mercy and love? Indeed: grownups and children alike need to hear again the message of Jonah. Perhaps that is why Jesus uses it as the key symbol of his ministry on earth (Matthew 12:38-42).

Do join us any Sunday to hear more!


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