“No sign will be given except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now One greater than Jonah is here.” Matthew 12:39-41
Jonah is a unique book in the Old Testament. Not only does it foreshadow Christ’s resurrection; it also foreshadows the preaching of redemption to God’s enemies. The idea of transforming nations that Jesus introduced in the kingdom of God was not practiced in the Old Testament. Leaders, in that time, were appointed by God to restrain evil by staying separate from their enemies, or, if necessary, by engaging them in war.
So we can imagine Jonah’s shock when God tells him to preach to Israel’s arch enemy, Nineveh. Prophets spoke to Judah and Israel, not Assyria! (Nineveh was the capital of Assyria) Whenever other nations were mentioned by God to a prophet, it was a message about them, never to them.
“Why would God have me go to the land of my enemy and tell them He was going to destroy them in forty days?” Jonah must have pondered. There was only one answer he could come up with. God didn’t want to destroy them (or He just would have done it), He wanted to save them. When Nineveh repented, Jonah prayed this to God: “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? 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)
Mercy, not judgment, was on God’s mind, but it wasn’t on Jonah’s. God gave Jonah a second chance after his rebellion, but Jonah didn’t want to give that same chance to others.
Today God has given us His grace and forgiveness in Christ and wants us to extend that same message to others. I hope we do better than Jonah!