The trouble with the book of Jonah is that it has been swallowed by a big fish. The fish is what most people can’t swallow so they never digest it and they miss being nourished by one of the greatest books in all literature.
Jonah is the greatest missionary pamphlet ever written. The story is well known: Jonah is commanded to go to Nineveh and tell that great city that unless it mends its ways it will be destroyed.
Jonah goes in the opp¬osite direction, but he can’t get away from his duty. The run-away prophet is storm bound, thrown overboard, swallowed by a great fish. After three days inside it – during which he does what we all do in a crisis: he screams out to God that he’s sorry and he’ll do anything he’s asked in future. Thrown up on to the seashore he makes his way to Nineveh and delivers the message.
Even that is not the end of the story. As he goes through the city telling them to change their minds they actually take notice and do what he said from the lowest to the highest.
So God decides not to destroy the city. This doesn’t please Jonah, who goes and sits outside the city to see if it will be destroyed. It is not destroyed and so he thinks he’s lost face and there¬fore has a grudge against God.
The book ends with God trying to talk sense to Jonah, “You feel sorry for yourself Jonah, but you’ve no compassion at all for the city; are you even angry with Me because I have compassion on them?” And the book ends on a question mark.
Now do you see why it’s the greatest missionary pamphlet ever written? It’s not really about a great fish at all, it’s about God trying to get His people to be His agents to the world which knows nothing about Him.

Some people see this book as a kind of allegory in which Jonah represents the disobedient Jewish nation, running away from its mission to the world, swallowed up by Babylon for three decades and thrown back and given another chance; then instead of gladly obeying, it has become more self-righteous and bigoted than ever. You don’t have to accept that interpretation, but if you want to get the best out of the book of Jonah see it as a mirror for the modern church.
There are only four chapters: one of them reveals our attitude to our Christian duty – we run away from it.
The second chapter reveals our approach to disaster when we’re swallowed up by trouble – that’s when we truly call on the Name of the Lord and not before.
The third chapter describes our attitude to discipline. We’ll do it, but don’t expect us to enjoy it, Lord.
The fourth chapter is our approach to deliverance. we just can’t understand the grace of God. He’s just too forgiving with sinners.

Jesus said something about Jonah. He said that Nineveh repented when Jonah preached, but now someone in¬finitely greater than Jonah was here. What’s your attitude to that?

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Through the year calendar

December 2010
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