Remember Jonah, the runaway prophet of God. He was given a huge mission from God. Assyria was widely known as one of the most wicked and brutal nations ever to exist. The message was out in Israel that the worst thing that could happen would to be to fall into the hands of the Assyrians. The stories of their brutality to their prisoners had spread all over. Nineveh was the capitol city of Assyria and the center of the cruelty and immorality in the nation. So, when the word came to Jonah a prophet in Israel to go down to Nineveh and preach to them that God was going to destroy their city in 40 days because of the wickedness that had become so prevalent he ran. Jonah, like most of the Jews, saw himself and his people as the chosen of God and nations like Assyria only fit to be destroyed. His reaction to God’s call was to head in the other direction as fast as he could to get away from the presence of the Lord. Evidently he thought God stayed inside the borders of Israel. How he reconciled that idea with God’s concern for Nineveh I don’t know. He went to Joppa and boarded a ship headed to Tarshish. But he couldn’t get away from God. God sent a massive storm on the sea that caused the sailors to fear for their lives. Jonah had gone below and fell sound asleep. They sent someone to wake him up and plead with him to pray to his God for deliverance. When they cast lots to find out who was at fault for the storm the lot fell on Jonah. They asked what he did and where he was from and he told them he was God’s prophet and was trying to escape from God’s call. When the asked him what to do to save them and the ship he told them to throw him overboard. When they did the storm settled and the waters became calm.
Jonah may have thought that he was finally escaping God but not like he had planned. It didn’t take long to learn that you can’t get away from God or his call. God sent a huge fish or sea creature to swallow Jonah, to save his life. In the belly of the creature Jonah began to cry out to God who heard his pleas. After three days in the fish God had the creature to vomit him out on the shore. He had promised God that he would go and do whatever he commanded if he would spare his life. I’ve heard people argue whether or not a man could live for three days inside a whale. It is a foolish argument because this wasn’t just some whale called to come. It was a sea creature prepared by God for the purpose of swallowing Jonah. The God who made the world and everything in it had no problem creating a sea creature that could contain a man and keep him alive for 3 days, 3 weeks or 3 years if he wanted. God renewed the commission of Jonah and now the runaway prophet was ready to go and do what God told him to do.
For three days he walked through Nineveh preaching that in 40 days God would destroy the city because of the wickedness that was overwhelming them. As the people heard Jonah from the king on his throne to the lowest citizens in town they believed the prophet and began a massive revival of repentance, wearing sackcloth and ashes. The king sent out a decree to the people that they should all repent of their sinful lives and plead with God for mercy if perhaps God might have mercy on them and not follow through on the destruction of the city. When the revival started in Nineveh, Jonah wasn’t a happy prophet thrilled to see so many turning from sin to God. He didn’t send out news releases to tell the world what a great revival they were having in Nineveh. Instead he went out on the edge of the city where he could look over the place and sat there sulking wanting to see God destroy them. When God relented of his plan to destroy the city since they were penitent for their sin, Jonah became angry and began pouting. He even said that was the reason he didn’t want to come. He knew God was a merciful God and if they repented he would forgive them and he wanted them destroyed. As Jonah sat there in the heat of the day with the sun beating down on his head God had mercy on him and had a vine to grow up and give him shade from the sun. He was thrilled with the plant to give him shade. So God sent a worm to eat the vine and for it to wither and die. When it died Jonah was all the more angry. When God asked him if he was doing right by being angry about the plant he responded, “Yes, I do well to be angry.” He even pleaded for God to take his life during this time. God tried to help him see the contrast between him and Jonah. Jonah was concerned about a plant that he didn’t plant but came up on one day and withered the next and God was concerned about a city of 120,000 people who didn’t know their right from their left. Besides all the people there were all the animals in the place as well.
What should we learn from the story of the runaway prophet? First that you can’t run away from God. He isn’t limited to any one area or place. Second, that God’s mercy and love are overwhelming. When people repent of their sins he is always ready to relent and give them a new beginning. Third that God will change his mind when people change their lives. When he told Jonah to go tell them he was going to destroy the city in 40 days that was his plan. But when they repented, God relented and changed his mind. Fourth, that God can use horrible people to accomplish his work. Jonah didn’t have much about him to admire. Yet God used him to carry His message to the lost and to turn them around. One doesn’t have to be some perfect person for God to use them to do his work. Finally, it is often easier to get the rank, immoral and brutal sinner to see their sin and repent than it is one who is doing the right things with a wrong attitude.