Answer: God commanded Jonah to go preach to the wicked inhabitants of Nineveh (the capital of Assyria) the message of repentance (Jonah 1:1-2) or they will be destroyed by fire. But Jonah instead of obeying God’s command, he ran away to Tarshish, a city in southern Spain, which is more than 2,500 miles in the opposite direction from Nineveh.
God sent a great storm that endangered the ship Jonah was boarding. The people on board felt that God was punishing someone among them. So, they drew lots to find who is the offender? The lot fell on God’s prophet who asked them to throw him in the Sea so that the storm will cease. And they did. But the Lord, in mercy, sent a whale to swallow the prophet to save him from drowning. And Jonah realized that no one can actually run from God (Jeremiah 23:24).
Jonah stayed in the belly of the whale three days and three nights. But when he prayed and confessed his sin, God heard his prayer (ch. 2:2) and ordered the whale to throw him out at the shore. At that point, Jonah obeyed and went to warn the city of Nineveh as God has commanded. And the city of Nineveh repented fully and God forgave them and did not destroy.
But instead of being delighted for this great salvation, Jonah was sad and he complained saying. “That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2). Instead of feeling grateful, he allowed his pride to make him sorry. And because what he predicted did not come to pass, he felt he would be regarded as a false prophet.
To help Jonah understand God’s infinite mercy on His children, the Lord allowed a heat wave to come upon him which led him to wish he could die. And to protect him from the blazing heat, God caused a leafy plant to grow up and shield him from passing away in the desert. And he was very grateful. The following day, God caused the plant to wither and die. And Jonah felt sorry for the plant. So, God said to him, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?” (Jonah 4:9-11). God’s ultimate wish is to save His precious children and not destroy them “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:32).
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In His service,