We all know the story of Jonah. God tells him to go to Nineveh so that he may show them mercy if (when) they repent but Jonah doesn’t like Nineveh so he heads in the opposite direction. A storm comes up and the crew tosses Jonah into the water where a large fish swallows him up before spitting him out on dry ground. Jonah then preaches to the people of Nineveh and they repent and God shows them mercy. There’s more to the story, however. There’s much more to Jonah.
Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.Jonah 1:1–6 ESV
But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”
This story takes place sometime between 790BC and 760BC. Jeroboam II was king over Israel. During his reign Israel was king of the hill, so to speak. The northern kingdom was powerful. Assyria was in a period of decline and Judah was smaller and therefore less powerful than their brothers to the north. While Assyria was not as powerful as it had been a century before, its capital city of Nineveh was a great city, a massive city.
Assyria had a long history of violence and brutality. While Israel was greater in power at that time, Assyria remained a threat, for any war with that nation would be costly. To hear God was angry with their evil would have been welcome by most, for it suggested the destruction of Nineveh. Jonah was not most. He understood that God was actually offering mercy to Nineveh. He was to “call out against them” but implicit in this call was an offer of mercy if they would repent. So Jonah hired a boat to take him elsewhere.
We know the story. God wanted him to go to Nineveh and he wasn’t taking “no” for an answer, so he “hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.” Even the experienced sailors were afraid! They recognized the very real danger they were in so each one called out to his own god. They also took the very expensive action of tossing cargo into the sea in order to lighten the ship and perhaps save their lives. This is the point we learn something significant about Jonah.
Our text tells us that Jonah had gone down into the ship and was fast asleep—during a storm that threatened the sailors’ lives. He was surrounded by people who recognized that their gods could not save them and their own works could not save them. Neither the gods they prayed to nor the cargo they tossed overboard would prevent the ship from being destroyed by the storm the God of Israel sent. No one could save them except for the one who sent the storm, yet the one who knew the God who sent the storm was utterly unconcerned about the plight of those around him. The sailors went down into the ship to wake Jonah:
So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish!”Jonah 1:6 ESV
Not only was Jonah unconcerned about God’s offer of salvation and mercy to the Ninevites, he was unconcerned about the pagan sailors who were taking him to Tarshish. Jonah knows that the God of Israel is a great Savior and is willing to save all who repent and believe in him, yet instead of offering this great news to the sailors, Jonah decides to take a nice, long nap.
Like Jonah God has called us to share the goods news with others. While some may need to travel elsewhere to obey this call, most will find themselves with “pagan sailors” in their everyday work, sailors who are desperately seeking someone who can call out to a god, hoping that “perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish” (1:6). We worship such a God.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”John 6:35–40 ESV
Let us not sleep like Jonah slept, utterly indifferent to the plight of those around us. Let us call out to the Lord that he may have mercy on many in our nation, that all who call upon his name would be saved and would have everlasting life. Let’s commit to pray for the salvation of others and let’s commit to seek out opportunities to proclaim the good news God has sent us to proclaim.