The story of Jonah seems simple enough. God tells Jonah to go preach in Nineveh. Jonah tries to run. He boards a boat with a one-way ticket to not-Nineveh. God sends a big storm. The sailors on the boat get scared and find out Jonah is the problem. Jonah gets thrown overboard. A great fish eats Jonah. Three days and nights later, Jonah repents and prays to God. God causes the fish to spit Jonah out. Jonah goes to Nineveh and preaches. The city repents. Jonah gets mad.
The story is simple enough until you begin to study Jonah more in-depth. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. The children of Israel always had an ingrained animosity towards the Assyrians. The Assyrians were first and foremost Gentiles. Jews did not like Gentiles. Secondly, the Assyrians were a pagan people. This made the children of Israel, particularly those who feared only God, feel spiritually superior. All of these things rolled together create Jonah the bigot and racist prophet.
Jonah is a book with a story between the lines of what is written. The book does not reveal Jonah’s motive for running but there is a theme that runs through the book: hate. Hate is seen as the motive but I believe this motive manifests itself in a peculiar way: Jonah would rather die than see the people of Nineveh spared.
The first time this can be seen is on the boat in the storm. The storm is so bad that the sailors know the only option is to cry out to their gods to be spared. When it is revealed, Jonah’s advice is to throw him overboard. I have a feeling that Jonah probably was not some Olympic marathon swimmer. If Jonah drowned, he did not have to go to Nineveh and they would not be spared.
The second account is in the fish. The Bible clearly says that he was in there for three days and nights, then he prayed. It took him 72 hours before he would repent. What do you think he was doing? Perhaps he was waiting for the time when it would come to an end. He would be digested and not have to go to Nineveh.
Finally, we see him in chapter four. He is angry the God has spared them. He tells God that he would rather die than live. Jonah would rather die than to see people saved.
It is amazing that even with so much hate, God would use Jonah. Even though Jonah would rather die than see God save anyone, Jonah was used to preach a great revival. It is easy to focus on why God can not use us. The fact remains that we can see so many men and women in the Bible who are complete failures yet God does great things with them.