The biblical story of Jonah is very well known, especially the part about his being swallowed by a whale. But one of the problems with feeling familiar with a story is that we can gloss over the details and miss the message God has for us today. So… for the next few weeks, I’ll be revisiting a study guide I wrote on this “children’s story” and diving into its lessons for us grown-ups. I hope you enjoy the daily devotionals, and the graphics I created to go along with each week. First up… “It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.”
This is the beginning of the famous story of Jonah. It isn’t the first time Jonah appears in our Bible. Back in 2 Kings 14:25, Jonah son of Amittai was called “the prophet from Gath-hepher.” As a prophet, Jonah had been known to speak God’s word to the people. In our opening verses of the book of Jonah, the voice of God speaks very clearly to this prophet. The three verbs used are in the imperative: Get up! Walk to! Proclaim! This is not a request from God or a suggestion. It is a command: “Get right up, walk to the great city of Nineveh, and proclaim against it.” Knowing Jonah’s history as a prophet, we would certainly expect immediate obedience to such an unambiguous call to action.
But… that is not what is about to happen. We have a subtle clue to this in Jonah’s name, which comes from the Hebrew yona, meaning dove or pigeon. In Hosea 7:11, the Israelites were called “silly, witless doves,” as they vacillated back and forth, flitting this way and that, not following God’s guidance for their lives. Likewise, Jonah will not follow the direct path outlined by the God he served. No, Jonah’s path will be much more circuitous and complicated. And painful.
When has a person who you thought you knew well acted in a way that took you completely by surprise?