Why did Jonah run when God told him to go and preach to Nineveh?
Jonah tells us why. After he ran, God caused the storm to come, the sailors threw him overboard, the fish swallowed him and then regurgitated him onto dry land three days later, God told him again to preach to Nineveh, and he did so…what happened?
Jonah 3:4-9 (ESV)
4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water,
8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.
9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
How did Jonah react to God’s grace and mercy?
Jonah 4:1-3 (ESV)
1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.
2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.
3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
From what we read here, Jonah had fled because he knew that God would forgive and be merciful to Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian Empire who were the enemies of Jonah’s own country, Israel. He did not flee out of fear for his own life or any similar reason, as is sometimes taught or implied in Sunday School or sermons. No, he fled out of a deep-seated hatred for an entire city of people, a hatred that kept him from preaching the message of God to them out of fear that they would receive grace from God, a hatred which prompted him to do all he could to prevent that.
Christians, may we take heed of the example set by Jonah here! Is there anyone with whom you hesitate to share the gospel because, deep down, you would rather them to condemned than saved? Is there anyone with whom you hesitate to share the gospel for any reason? If so, why? Should this be the case with you or me, is God pleased? Will we ourselves have to give an account? It’s something to think about…