This post originally appeared on the Calvary website.
We’ve made our way through The Whole Story to one of the most famous stories in all of the Bible, and maybe all of literature. The story of the prophet Jonah.
If I were to ask you to consider what you think the story of Jonah is about, what would likely jump to mind is a great fish (or whale), a disobedient prophet being swallowed by a great fish (how did he survive that?!), and a city filled with such wicked people it warranted destruction (Ninevah). But is that what this story is really all about? I don’t think so. I think we’re meant to learn about something else. And we see it most clearly near the end of the story, in chapter four, verse two:
“And Jonah prayed to Yahweh and said, “O Yahweh, 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.” (Jonah 4:2, ESV)
A couple of things worth noting.
First, don’t miss that Jonah tells Yahweh that this is what he told him before he even left home. Which means that Jonah had said this very same thing at the very beginning of the story, right after chapter one, verse one. He had pointed out how loving God is, and how often that causes him to extend grace and mercy, and relent from punishment planned. So now we can clearly see that this story begins with a meditation on the fixed reality of the rescuing and transforming love of God, and it ends with a meditation on the fixed reality of the rescuing and transforming love of God.
Second, don’t miss that this meditation is based on something Jonah had come to know (“I knew…”, 4:2) because he knew The Whole Story. You see, he is quoting something that Yahweh himself had proclaimed about himself to another of his prophets, Moses, way back in the book of Exodus, when Yahweh met Moses on Mount Sinai:
So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:4-7, ESV)
Which among other things, shows that even for disobedient prophets, studying and knowing all of Scripture is pretty foundational to understanding who God is, and how he operates, and how he relates to the people he has created.
From this understanding, again, I think we find that the main point of the book of Jonah is a meditation on God’s love, and how he wants to rescue and transform not only Ninevah, but Jonah himself. And as we watch God sovereignly bringing that about over the course of this story, I think we learn two things about God’s love. One, his love is sometimes expressed in the painful circumstances of our lives to transform us into the vision of who he wants us to be. Two, his love is aimed at his enemies, to rescue and transform them.
And what gets really fascinating is to then jump forward hundreds of years to another story, connected to this one. The story of the Son of God, Jesus, in the midst of some pretty disobedient Israelites (just like Jonah) who are asking him for a sign. In his response (see Matthew 12), we learn how Jesus understood and applied the very real story of Jonah in his preaching and ministry, and what that means for us today. (Are you beginning to see how important our little adventure is, which we are calling the Whole Story? Once again, we find ourselves agreeing with Eugene Peterson, “In order to read any part of the Bible you have to read the whole Bible.” Namely, to properly read Jonah, we must go all the way back to Exodus, and all the way forward to Matthew’s Gospel!)
If you’d like to know more about how all that is found in this story, you can watch or listen to my sermon on this fascinating piece of history, which is a part of God’s overall redemptive purpose to rescue people out of the kingdom of darkness, and transform them within the Kingdom of his Son.
And, for further study on Jonah, head over to our friends at The Bible Project. There you will find videos, milestones, study resources, and recommendations for further reading and study on this book, as well as all the books found in The Whole Story of God (which we call the Bible).
Finally, just a reminder that this coming Sunday at Calvary we will turn our attention to Micah. Be sure to read it a few times this week so that you may come with a ready and expectant heart as we gather together Sunday morning at 10:30am.
Standing in Wonder at the Overwhelming, Never-ending, Boundless Love of God,