The Jonah Complex

Last week, I sat down to do a devotion and flipped to the book of Jonah. Usually I read a chapter at a time, but I was drawn in to Jonah's story and ended up reading the whole thing. I'm sure you're familiar with it too. God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh to tell what is really regarded as a pagan people group to turn to Him.

What does Jonah do in response? He runs. He gets on a boat and tries to get away from the call of God on his life. Then a storm comes and starts throwing his boat around, and his shipmates are like, "What's going on? Who's responsible for this?" I love how clear and even calm Jonah seems to be about it. For crying out loud, he's taking a nap on a lower deck! Like, hello Jonah, what are you thinking? But really, how often do we do this very same thing in our own lives?

So the rest of the guys realize Jonah's the problem, they try to get him back to shore, but they're just not going to make it, so they say a prayer and toss him overboard. And then a whale swallows him. A whale. Sometimes those of us who learned this story on felt boards in Sunday School class forget how crazy that is. Can you imagine being swallowed up by a giant fish and then surviving to tell about it?

So the fish spits Jonah out, he goes to Nineveh as originally commanded, and he tells them about the destruction God is going to bring upon them. But then they repent, and God relents. What is Jonah's reaction? He's angry at God. The Message says it this way:

"Jonah was furious. He lost his temper. He yelled at God, "God! I knew it--when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That's why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness!" -- Jonah 4:1-2

Um, does this strike anyone else as unexpected, coming from someone who has just spent three days and nights inside of a whale? What I think is so neat about this story, and something I've never really considered before, is its parallel to the New Testament story of the resurrection. What does this say about the gospel story? Well in a way, Jonah is doing the opposite of what Jesus did. Jonah gets a call from God, and he runs the other way. For three days and nights, he is kept in the darkness of his sin, and then God delivers him.

What can we learn from all this?

  • God wants to use us.
  • God longs for the people of this world to turn to Him.
  • God is the one who sustains us, in His love and in our calling.
Next Wednesday I'll be talking about what happens next in the story, as God creates a vine to shade Jonah and demonstrates something very powerful and different from the expectation... at least from mine.

Have you ever felt like Jonah, running from your calling? What brought you back?


  1. I'm not sure I've run from my calling...but I've definitely questioned it before. And sometimes get afraid that I won't get what I want from it. But the thing is, God's got His plan for how HE wants to use me. And THAT'S what I should want.

    Maybe we should make our motto, "To Nineveh or bust." Whaddaya think? ;)

    1. Ha! Love it.

      I like what you said about being afraid we won't get what we want from God's will or calling in our lives. Isn't that so true? The ironic thing is, God's purpose for us is the only place where we will find contentment. Yet, I think we all feel hesitant sometimes about taking that next step.

      Thanks for sharing, Linds!