The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because their evil has come up before me.” Jonah got up to flee to Tarshish from the Lord’s presence. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. He paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the Lord’s presence.
But the Lord threw a great wind onto the sea, and such a great storm arose on the sea that the ship threatened to break apart. The sailors were afraid, and each cried out to his god. They threw the ship’s cargo into the sea to lighten the load. Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down to the lowest part of the vessel and had stretched out and fallen into a deep sleep.
The captain approached him and said, “What are you doing sound asleep? Get up! Call to your god. Maybe this god will consider us, and we won’t perish.”
“Come on!” the sailors said to each other. “Let’s cast lots. Then we’ll know who is to blame for this trouble we’re in.” So they cast lots, and the lot singled out Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us who is to blame for this trouble we’re in. What is your business, and where are you from? What is your country, and what people are you from?”
He answered them, “I’m a Hebrew. I worship the Lord, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land.”
Then the men were seized by a great fear and said to him, “What is this you’ve done?” The men knew he was fleeing from the Lord’s presence because he had told them. So they said to him, “What should we do to you so that the sea will calm down for us?” For the sea was getting worse and worse.
He answered them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea so that it will calm down for you, for I know that I’m to blame for this great storm that is against you.” Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they couldn’t because the sea was raging against them more and more.
So they called out to the Lord: “Please, Lord, don’t let us perish because of this man’s life, and don’t charge us with innocent blood! For you, Lord, have done just as you pleased.” Then they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. The men were seized by great fear of the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
The Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.Jonah 1:1-17
The story of Jonah is a classic example of the descendants of Abraham missing the point of Yahweh’s covenant with Abraham. In the covenant Yahweh said that he would bless the descendants of Abraham (i.e. Israel) so that they may be a blessing to all nations. Time and again, throughout their history, Israel seemed to turn their relationship with God into a private “bless me” club. They liked the part where God would help them defeat their enemies. They weren’t always sure about being a messenger of God to their enemies for the sake of God offering mercy to their enemies.
In this story, God appoints Jonah to be His messenger to the capital of the Assyrian Empire, Nineveh. The Assyrians were the enemy of Israel and would eventually conquer the city of Samaria and take the residents of the northern tribes captive. God’s heart for all nations as expressed through Jonah wasn’t limited to Nineveh, though. Because of Jonah’s rebellion, God was also able to extend His mercy to a group of idol worshiping sailors who manned the boat Jonah took to Tarshish in order to escape the call to Nineveh God had given him. When these sailors experienced the great storm and saw that their lives were spared by throwing Jonah into the sea, they worship Yahweh and made vows to Him. God was faithful to his mission of blessing all nations through the descendant of Abraham, even when His chosen messenger was in rebellion.
We live in an age when isolationism is becoming more prevalent again. Some seem to view the United States as the new Israel and are relishing in God’s blessing on our nation while showing contempt for the idea that God’s heart is for all people. As followers of Jesus, we need to remember that God’s heart is to bless all nations and not just us. We must resist the trends of isolationism to embrace His call to all people.
- Are there ways that you need to break out of the “bless me” club mentality and embrace God’s heart for all nations?