Jonah was one of the most successful spokesmen God ever used, but he failed to appreciate his commission because he resented. what God was doing through him.
Among the people God has called to thunder His messages to a rebellious mankind, the prophet Jonah may be unique throughout history. Not necessarily because he, a lone Israelite; was sent to warn a large gentile city of God's coming punishment. Not because of his 72-hour adventure inside the belly of the great fish. And not because his book is the only one among the minor prophets that records a prophet's activities rather than his prophecies. All these facts make Jonah singular enough, to be sure. But the most outstanding thing about Jonah is that, among all biblical prophets, he was successful in his mission. At Jonah's preaching the ancient metropolis of Nineveh repented of its sins and caused God to spare it, the Assyrian capital, from destruction. Just as incredible, though, was Jonah's great anger and bitterness over this very success. Jonah never wanted to fulfill God's commission in the first place, and all the while God was working through him, he resented it. In Jonah's experience are several lessons for God's people today.
Jonah prophesied in northern Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II (792-753 B.C.). He foretold Israel's territorial expansion to roughly the area held during the time of David and Solomon (II Kings 14:25). Israel was enjoying relative prosperity at the time, but it didn't mean God was pleased with the nation. The Israelites, God's elect group, and often blessed at other nations' expense, had sinned worse than the people God drove out of the promised land before them and had failed to be the good example God wanted them to be to the world. But Israel was not to escape retribution for its covenant breaking. God intended to use a Mesopotamian power to humble His nation (Amos 2:6-16,5:27). It was at this time that God commanded Jonah to pronounce His judgment on Nineveh. The son of Amittai may have suspected that God was going to use Assyria to chasten Israel. If Jonah's warning from God caused the Assyrians to repent and be spared, he would' be instrumental in his own nation's downfall. So Jonah rebelled against God's every instruction, not seeing that the Creator had an overall plan in mind. Jonah didn't believe God knew what He was doing.
Jonah didn't trust God
God commanded Jonah to cry against Nineveh because of its evils, but Jonah went in the opposite direction on a ship bound for Tarshish. God continued to work with the reluctant prophet by sending a great wind to batter the vessel at sea. As the ship appeared to be headed for tragedy, the men aboard began to cry to their various gods for protection. They roused Jonah, who of all things was asleep, and urged him to do likewise. When they cast lots to learn whose fault the tempest was, Jonah was singled out. Desperately, they asked him what to do to calm the raging waves. And it appears Jonah would rather have died than do what God asked. He replied that they should cast him into the churning waters. How hopeless Jonah's rebellion had left him. The mariners tried to row the ship to land, but in vain. They finally did as Jonah said they should and threw him into the deep. Even they realized that this act had been planned by Israel's God, and they asked the Eternal not to lay Jonah's fate to their charge (Jonah 1:14). And God was working out a grand purpose. He had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was to remain in the creature's belly for three days and three nights. Later, in His own wicked generation, Jesus Christ would give only this sign of Jonah to prove He was the Son of God. After His murder, Christ was to be buried three days and three nights before being resurrected (Matt. 12:39-40). This outstanding series of God ordained events must have sobered Jonah somewhat, for he thanked God for rescuing him from what would have been a watery grave (Jonah 2:1- 9). God then caused the fish to expel Jonah out onto dry land. God again told Jonah to preach at Nineveh: By this time the prophet should have sensed that God's will was going to be done one way or another. Perhaps dejected, Jonah went on his way to the city.
God's anger turned
One of the most spectacular events recorded in the Bible followed. At Jonah's announcement of Nineveh's imminent fall, the entire community — from the king to the least beast in the herds — put on sackcloth and began fasting. The king ordered that every Ninevite abandon his violent ways, "Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger; that we perish not?" (Jonah 3:9). And though Jonah's message had been final, "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown," God saw how the Assyrians reacted and didn't overthrow them. God is not willing that any human should ever perish, and Christ recognized the Assyrians' repentance as real (Matt. 12:41). Success! Jonah's effort had helped avert the destruction of one of the world's largest cities. Did he jump for joy and praise God for such a miracle? Unfortunately, no. Jonah still failed to see that God's will, whatever it is, must be done. Instead he sat outside Nineveh, moping over what had happened.
Jonah missed the point
It was hot that day. So God, to teach Jonah a lesson, prepared a gourd to spring up and shade him, and the prophet was glad. But the next morning God' prepared a worm to smite the gourd and make it wither. Then when the burning sun and the vehement east wind tormented Jonah, he wished he could die. When God asked him if his anger was justified, he sneered, "I do well to be angry, even unto death" (Jonah 4:9). The book of Jonah ends with God explaining to the sullen prophet that everything had turned out well. "Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right and their left hand; and also much cattle?" (verses 10-11). Jonah had fulfilled God's plan. The Creator didn't have to destroy the populous Assyrian capital. But Jonah may never have gotten the point.
A lesson in trust
Jonah didn't understand that God really loves all mankind, not just Israel. God's ultimate goal is to bring all humans into His family. Israel failed to pioneer in that respect. True, God did use Assyria to carry Israel's northern 10 tribes into captivity in 721 B.C. (to find out where those so-called "lost 10 tribes" went, see Herbert W. Armstrong's series of articles in The Plain Truth titled The United States and Britain in Prophecy). But Jonah failed to see God's overall plan, refused to believe God could and would work everything out for the best and balked at delivering the message God gave him. We must realize our insignificance compared to God. We were created to fulfill His will, and we will only be happy by doing so cheerfully, not in an attitude of doubt and resentment (I Cor. 10:31, Rev. 4:11). God's people today have been given a message to deliver to a doomed world. And that message — mankind's ultimate hope — has far greater import than did Jonah's announcement 2,700 years ago. Whether we're taking care of the large or small responsibilities in our daily lives or going forward in faith worldwide to announce the coming Kingdom of God, we should understand that our calling is a great privilege. We must follow wherever and however God leads. Then we won't be like Jonah, the reluctant prophet, who performed a unique mission for God but never appreciated his calling. He didn't put his heart into the work before him. It was Jonah, not God, who didn't know what he was doing.