“The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their evil has come up before me.’”
But instead of obeying the Lord, Jonah fled in the opposite direction.
The Book of Jonah shows us that even in the days of the Old Testament, God’s people did not always answer His call.
But Jonah’s story also gives us hope as a testament to how God’s overwhelming grace uses even our disobedience to serve Him.
For many, the Book of Jonah is known as a Sunday School story of caution – a warning of the punishments for disobeying God.
On careful study, however, the Book of Jonah demonstrates not only the grace of God, but how He uses His servants even when they run from Him.
Upon being called to go to Nineveh (Jonah 1:1-2), Jonah chooses instead to flee in the opposite direction and boards a ship for Tarshish (Jonah 1:3).
As many are familiar, upon boarding the vessel, a tempest the likes of which would destroy the ship was brought upon Jonah and the crew.
After casting lots, Jonah reveals that the reason for the storm lies upon his decision to flee from God (Jonah 1:7-9).
Jonah tells the crew to throw him overboard so that the storm will cease, “So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging” (Jonah 1:15).
It is in this moment that God uses Jonah despite his decision to run from Him.
After the sea is calmed, Scripture says that the men on the ship, “…feared the Lord greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows” (Jonah 1:16, NASB).
Even in Jonah’s cowardice, God used him as an example that led every man on the ship – men who were not even Jewish – to believe in and fear Him.
The reality of this event provides not only hope, but a frightening inevitability to Christians:
Even when His people run, God will use them.
The next event in Jonah’s testimony involves the famous story of being swallowed by a whale, where he spends three days and nights praising the Lord for rescuing him (Jonah 2:1-10).
Jonah’s choice to take the wrong path placed him amid a tempest and then inside the stomach of a whale for three days. Yet, within the whale, he praised God.
Such is the reality of the Christian life.
Even when the wrong path is chosen, God provides a way not only for us to return to where He called us, but also gives us a trial that will strengthen us as His followers.
After three days, Jonah is spit up on land – a three days walk from Nineveh.
Once again, God calls to him saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you” (Jonah 3:2, NASB).
Jonah, without hesitation, does this and walks through the city for a day proclaiming the word of the Lord.
Many times, Christians flee God’s calling out of fear.
When going down these self-made paths, God allows turmoil to fall over us so that we learn to rely on Him and be made ready for what He has called us to do.
Such is the hope of Jonah, and such is the compassion of our God.
Many followers of God live with regrets and memories of the valleys they endured as a result of choosing their own paths.
Upon arising from the valleys, lifted by God’s hand, they look back at the turmoil with the knowledge that it could have been avoided had they followed God’s perfect plan instead.
The Book of Jonah serves as a hope to all followers of God who struggle with this – that even in our faltering, God is using and preparing His people to do His work.
Jonah was spit up right back on the path he originally avoided, just as has happened to many who have run from God.
But then Jonah walked through Nineveh with confidence, aiding to the salvation of its 120,000 peoples.
Sometimes it is our faltering that God uses to give us the boldness to go where He has called us.
How has God used you when you tried to carve out your own path?
How has the Lord prepared you in your trials to go where He has called you?