By Evans Walton

Our hearts need to be fertile when we respond to God’s calling. A heart that is fertile is willing to submit to the direction of God, recognize the grace of God, and be willing to share God’s grace with others. The book of Jonah primarily focuses on a gentile city called Nineveh which was infamous for its cruelty. The prophet missionary was sent to warn the people of Nineveh about God’s coming judgement. MacArthur writes, one of the book’s intents was to, “shame Israel by the fact that a pagan city repented at the preaching of a stranger, whereas Israel would not repent though preached to by many prophets.”

Jonah was the son of Amittia from a village called Gath Hepher near Nazareth. He prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II. He was the prophet that delivered the good news that Israel was going to experience safety and prosperity (2 Kings 14:25). Not much is known about this missionary prophet, but he was God’s instrument to proclaim His word.

Jonah was sent to Nineveh to proclaim God’s coming judgement on the people. However, he decided to run away and was swallowed by a fish (Jonah 1). He repented and was vomited out onto dry land (Jonah 2). Then, he obeyed God’s command and the Ninevites repented (Jonah 3). Jonah was angry with God for showing mercy to the Ninevites (Jonah 4).

Jonah’s call revealed his heart

Jonah had a strong conviction that the Jews should experience divine mercy and grace, and that the Gentiles should experience divine judgement. He would have rather died than see the Ninevites (people created in the image of God) receive mercy and grace. His call to the Ninevites in particular revealed his narrow-mindedness and sinfulness because he ran away from his call and was self-righteous towards the people of Nineveh. His heart reflected the general attitude of the people of Israel who thought they had a monopoly on God’s grace and mercy. He hated the Ninevites and was unaware of the spiritual state of the people God placed around him, such as the sailors who didn’t know Yahweh.

In contrast, there was no indication that the missionary prophet was reluctant or resentful towards God when He sent him to deliver a message to Jeroboam II and the people of Israel. Though they were sinful at the time, God had mercy on them (2 Kings 14:24ff). The missionary prophet had no problem going to his own people because he believed that they were not as sinful as the Ninevites.

Although, God gave a message to Jonah for the Ninevites, God also had a message for His messenger. Jonah had to deal with his own heart. His heart was hardened against seeing God’s mercy shown to him that needed to be shown to the Ninevites. The missionary prophet didn’t run because he was afraid of Nineveh, he fled because of his hatred for them. They were cruel. Yes! They were wicked. Jonah saw them as less than human, less valuable than a plant that brought him shade (4:10). This revealed what was in Jonah’s heart. He didn’t view others with the heart of the God of Abraham who promised that he would bless all nations through him in Genesis 12. When you don’t deal with your unforgiving, unloving heart, you will not rejoice over the mercy of God in the life of your “enemy.”

Chapter 4 discusses his depression in response to the Ninevites’ repentance and salvation. This confirms that, while Jonah’s heart toward God may have changed in Jonah 2, he didn’t fully embrace God’s will. Have you fully embraced God’s calling on your life? The missionary prophet, “[continued] to deny the condition of his heart and the evidence that was around him and was blinded to his own heart. He tended to see himself as okay, when he wasn’t okay.” (Tripp 2012, 35)

What must Jonah do?

There is a saying that, “okra cannot grow bigger than the one who planted it; either it ends up in a stew or it is dried for the next sowing.” Jonah was like God’s dry okra, sown in Nineveh to produce the fruit of repentance. God could have ended Jonah’s life the first time he disobeyed, but He gave him a second opportunity to obey His call. Jonah needed to recognize his own need for God’s grace and mercy in order to extend it to others. Jonah needed to recognize that what was condemned in the eyes of men is precious in the eyes of God. God does not deal with us according to our sins. Jonah teaches us that our hearts must be ready and willing in response to God’s call.

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