Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Jonah was the greatest preacher in the Old Testament. He was called of God, commissioned by God, ran from God, arrested by God, preached the message of repentance, and had the greatest revival listed in Old Testament times. The exciting story is told in the book that bears his name.
In the beautiful Sistine chapel in Rome, Michelangelo is said to have depicted Jonah as the most beautiful and notable figure on the ceiling, surrounded by prophets and patriarchs. In the Roman Catacombs, where Christians buried their dead in subterranean passages, there is to be seen a wide sampling of early Christian art on the wall. The most familiar Old Testament figure is Jonah, whose encounter with the great fish became a symbol of resurrection. Most likely, no person or story prior to the coming of Christ is better known than Jonah.
“The word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son of Amittai, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh the great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness is come up before me” (Jonah 1:1-2). Nineveh had been the ‘queen city of the earth’ for 600 years. Its kings marched relentlessly across the civilized world, conquering, destroying, setting up and tearing down. They were powerful, relentless and cruel.
The Assyrians were chief foes of Israel. In 721 B.C., they would, for all purposes, destroy the northern ten tribes, and, for another hundred years, haunt and harass the southern kingdom of Judah. Both prophets, Nahum and Zephaniah would together predict the final fall of Nineveh and Assyria (Nahum 3:7; Zephaniah 2:13-14). Nineveh seems to have existed in 4500 B.C. and is referred to in Genesis 10:11. It had 15 gates and was 60 miles in circumference. It was surrounded by walls 100 feet high, and so broad that three chariots might drive abreast upon them. Magnificent palaces, temples, and a library with sixteen thousand clay tablets have been discovered. Nineveh, that great city, was extremely wicked.
God’s command was simple. “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it” (Jonah 1:2). Jonah was a prophet, living in far off Galilee, some five miles north of Nazareth (II Kings 14:25). While other prophets condemned Nineveh from afar, Jonah was instructed to appear in the streets of the city and cry against it. The Journey to Nineveh was long, arduous, dangerous and difficult. It was a “bloody city, filled with lies and robbery”.
“But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (1:3). Tarshish was one of the most remote ports known to ancient navigators. Jonah paid his fare, boarded ship, the anchor was lifted, sails hoisted and the prophet went below to get some sleep and relaxation. While Jonah slept, God sent a great wind, a tempest of threatening proportions on the Mediterranean, and the crew began to lighten the ship by tossing overboard the goods it carried (1:5-6).
Jonah was awakened. He identified himself and related to them that he was the cause of their misfortune. “So they cast lots and the lot fell upon Jonah” (1:7-15). “Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah, in whose belly the prophet would live three days and nights, only to be thrown up on dry land (1:17). The factual material about Jonah is confirmed by Jesus (Matthew 12:39-41).
Having been converted, Jonah is now ready to convert an entire city/nation. “Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them (3:5) Even the King, dressed in beggar’s garb and sat in ashes to show his repentance. The city of 120,000 turned from idols to the one true God. It was a marvelous revival. Great preaching!
“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly and he was very angry” (4:1). He was disappointed that the Almighty did not destroy the city and all of its occupants. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah – why not Nineveh? And Jonah went out of the city and made him a booth, and sat under its shadow, waiting to see what would become of the city. He pled with God to take his life.
To shelter Jonah, God prepared a gourd to guard him from the heat of the day and then allowed a worm to kill it and it withered. A vehement wind came and the heat beat upon the head of Jonah and he fainted and wished himself to die (4:8). “O my gourd, O God, what has happened to my gourd? I loved that gourd; I needed that gourd, come on God, what did you do to my gourd? O my gourd, what am I going to do, God, I have to have my gourd” How silly can we be, that when our preaching is successful and then we cry about OUR GOURD. God helped Jonah, maybe he will help us to know what’s important in life. How’s your gourd today?