Where Are You Going, Jonah?
May 29, 2020
by Dr. J. Vernon McGee
“I haven’t forgotten you. I’ll save you if you will turn to Me.” That’s the message the book of Jonah speaks to the most wicked, brutal people who have ever lived on this earth. Yet God saved them. And if God will save them, He will save anyone who turns to Him.
Problems with Jonah
Many so-called theologians have problems with the book of Jonah. But it’s not because God saves wicked people who don’t deserve it. Their problem is with the fish. It’s nonsense to make that an issue today. We do well to keep separate the essentials and the incidentals. The essentials are Jonah and Jehovah; the fish is only a prop. The fish is neither the hero of the story nor the villain of the story. This book is not even about a fish, although the fish plays an important role.
My trouble is with Jonah, and it begins here:
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. -Jonah 1:3
This upsets our theology. Here is Jonah, a prophet of God, called by God to go northeast to Nineveh, and instead he runs in the opposite direction. He buys a ticket to Tarshish, which was in present-day Spain and the jumping-off place of the world in that day. People believed Tarshish was the end of the earth. You couldn’t go any farther west, and if you did, you’d sail off the earth and perish. So Jonah bought a ticket for a place as far away as he could go.
Why does this prophet of God go in the opposite direction of where he was called by God to go? Why didn’t he do what God told him to do?
There are several explanations. The first is that Jonah hated Ninevites with a passion. He did not want them to be saved, and he had good reason for this. In his lifetime, the northern kingdom of Israel was under constant threat of attack by Assyria. Their armies would raid the north and capture and kill an entire town. I suspect that when God spoke to Jonah, he was living in his hometown of Gath Hepher—in the north where the Assyrians often invaded. He may have seen his own mother and father slain in front of him or maybe his brothers and sisters taken away captive. Jonah hated Ninevites. He was not interested in seeing them saved, so he went in the opposite direction, away from Nineveh.
Second, God never asked any Old Testament prophet to go as a witness to the world. One of the great distinctions between Israel in the Old Testament and the church in the New Testament is the direction they are called to go. God never said to the prophets of Israel, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Rather, their invitation was, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:3). Israel witnessed to the world by having the world come to them. So Jonah would have been justified in asking, “Why do You ask me to do something you’ve never asked any other prophet to do?”
The third reason is disturbing. Look in your own heart. We have a commission today to take the glorious news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. Why are we going in the opposite direction? Let’s not talk about Jonah disobeying God when, as a whole, we have miserably failed in taking the gospel out to the lost world. Examine your own heart right now, and you’ll understand Jonah’s human side. We are not busy carrying out our commission, either.
God says to His people today, “Take My Word to those who are lost.” And some say, “But I don’t love them.” God says, “I never asked you to love them; I asked you to go.” I cannot find anywhere that God ever asked Jonah to go because he loved the Ninevites. He said, “Jonah, I want you to go because I love Ninevites, I want to save them, and I want you to take the message to them.”
I remember talking to a missionary, home from Africa, and he showed me a picture of little boys in the orphans’ home there. I asked him, “When you first went to Africa, did you love the Africans?” He said, “No, I wanted to go to my people in Greece, but the door was closed.” As he held that picture, I asked, “But do you love those little fellows now?” Tears came to his eyes. “Yes,” he said, “I love them now.”
God says to you and me, “I love the lost. You take the Word to them, and when they are saved and you get to know them, you will see them through My eyes and will love them too.”
Get involved in getting the Word of God out to people. Don’t wait to be motivated by emotional prompts. Take the Word of God to them because God loves them, and if you’ll do that, I guarantee you will learn to love them too. -Dr. J. Vernon McGee
In your own heart, rate your willingness to share God’s Word with people.
1 – I’m willing and sharing God’s Word every chance I get.
2 – I’m willing but don’t know how.
3 – I’m hesitant, fighting resistance.
4 – Just call me Jonah.
One easy way to begin is to join Thru the Bible’s World Prayer Team. Start by praying for people to hear and respond in faith to God’s Word. Ask God to move your heart with the spiritual needs of people He loves in every country of the world.