The book of Jonah contains one of the Bible’s best-known stories. Like most, I first heard it in children’s Sunday school. Many describe Jonah’s story as a fish tale, but it doesn’t center on a fish. It focuses instead on God’s relationship with Jonah, with humankind, and with us.
Not only does Jonah hold a prominent place as a minor prophet in Scripture, he’s recognized in American literature as the subject of an exciting sermon in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Father Mapple begins, “Shipmates, this book containing only four chapters—four yarns—is one of the smallest strands in the mighty cable of the Scripture. Yet what depths of soul does Jonah’s deep sealine sound!”
Spend some time with Jonah’s opening verses today. The book is a narrative—telling a story about the prophet rather than offering his collected sayings. The first sentence launches the plot: The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, “Go at once to Nineveh…” (vv. 1-2).
And Jonah responds—with a fervent no. He buys a ticket to Tarshish, and maybe he even charters the boat. The narrator names Tarshish three times and twice we read that Jonah wants to flee from the presence of the LORD (v. 3). He shamelessly disobeys God’s direct order. What a shocking response from a messenger of God!
What is going on within Jonah? Why does he flee? What is he running away from? What does he fear? Why would someone on a first name basis with God, a person steeped in God’s grace, and the son of a man known for truthfulness and faithfulness bolt for a place he thought God couldn’t reach?
While these six verses recall a pivotal moment in his life, this story is a revelation for more than just Jonah and Israel. It’s also meant for us.
When have you responded to God with a “No” rather than a “Yes”? What was going on with you at that point? Consider the results of your refusal.
God, in every age, you call your people through your Spirit. Help me hear your call to do your will and yield my life to your leading. Amen.