Often times we wonder if perhaps a person in his zeal for the Lord becomes a pastor, a preacher or a priest when it appears obvious that this individual may have acted presumptuously as they do not seem at all gifted to meet the requirements and needs of that calling. For instance one would think that an effective teacher or preacher would have the capacity to hold crowds spellbound through great and articulate oratory skills, however this is not always congruent with God’s prerequisites.
(1 Corinthians 1: 26 - 27) For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.
When reading the story of Jonah one must wonder what God saw in this man that He would expect him to go to Nineveh and call them to repentance. Nineveh was the famous capital of ancient Assyria. Previous cities like Asshur and Calah were ancient capitals of Assyria, but Nineveh became most famous in the seventh century BC. When King Sennacherib (705-681 BC) made Nineveh his capital, the empire expanded and became prosperous. The Assyrian empire became extremely great and powerful with Nineveh as its center, all the way until its final destruction by the Chaldeans and the Medes. Nineveh was located east of the Tigris River in a very fertile plain, the ancient ruins are located just opposite of the present day city of Mosul. Nineveh was over 60 miles wide with a population of 120,000 at the time of Jonah.
(Jonah 1: 1 - 4) Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah arose 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 from the presence of the Lord. But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.
(Jonah 1: 10 - 12) Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “Why have you done this?” For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?”—for the sea was growing more tempestuous. And he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.”
It’s hard to understand how anyone could be so willfully contrary that they would shirk the call and defy the will of the Creator of the universe like that! So as the story goes on Jonah is thrown overboard and swallowed by a large fish prepared by God for this event. And after three days inside the belly of this enormous fish, Jonah cried out to God knowing he was dying and the fish expelled him out close to dry land.
(Jonah 3: 1 - 10) Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent. And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish? Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
One could only imagine how frightening Jonah must have appeared having been exposed to the digestive juices in the belly of the fish for three days, and although he obviously wasn’t a great orator or gifted preacher he simply proclaimed, “Yet forty days and Ninevah shall be overthrown” he obviously had everyone’s attention as they must have been fearful at the sight of him so they responded favorably and repented. It’s difficult to comprehend Jonah’s attitude having been used so mightily by God, but then no one suffered the experience that Jonah had endured and perhaps he felt that his own life’s plans and aspirations had been ruined. However given the tumultuous and uncertain times in which we live anyone would be honored to be used by God to turn the course of this world around, a calling any of us would take seriously. If ever you feel called by God to do His will, don’t shirk and run away, accept the call and say “Lord thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!”
(Jonah 4: 1 - 3) But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”