“But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD” (Jonah 1:3)
I guess you could call Jonah a reluctant prophet. I imagine to some degree, all the prophets of the Old Testament were. Confronting sin is difficult and that’s what prophets did. God raised them up to call the people of Israel to repent of their sin and return to covenant faithfulness. As difficult as it may have been for Jonah to preach and confront the sins of his own people, imagine his shock when God called him to preach to the people of Ninevah, Israel’s enemy. They were evil. Upset at the mission God gave him, Jonah fled. When God said go east (to Ninevah), Jonah instead went west (to Tarshish), eventually ending up in the belly of a fish (Jonah 1:17). God pursued, preserved and delivered Jonah. He eventually preached to the people of Ninevah and they repented. Though grateful for his own deliverance, Jonah was angered at God’s compassion toward the Ninevites. God had more to teach him.
Much like Jonah, we often have our own ideas of who is deserving of God’s grace. Our tendency can sometimes be to look at other people and write them off, believing that God’s judgment is exactly what they deserve. Certainly there are those we witness living outside of God’s will, perhaps even doing great evil. But we have no idea who God has set His heart upon. We should just be thankful He set His heart upon us. When we are, our response will be to extend and share the compassion and love of Christ to others. It’s not to ignore sin, but to graciously proclaim Christ as its cure.
Most of us know at least parts of the story of Jonah. His story certainly teaches us of God’s sovereignty in fulfilling His purposes, but it also teaches us of the magnitude and indiscriminate nature of His grace, mercy and love. It wasn’t reserved for Israel only, nor is it reserved just for you and me, but for whomever God chooses to extend it. This was not only Jonah’s lesson to learn, but is ours as well. “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 145:8).