I have a quirky habit – I purchase a metal key-chain each time I visit a new place. You see, I grew up moving quite a bit and during my early adult years, I got the unique privilege of traveling for both education and adventure. Today I have well over 200 key-chains from many different cities and countries, but I have no earthly idea what to do with this uncanny collection! A problem that I am okay with having since each new key-chain marks one more place I have had the privilege to discover. The reality is however, some of these key-chains symbolize an adventure that required I say goodbye to everything and everyone I knew so well. I recognize that not everyone loves the idea of saying goodbye or living out of a suitcase and I imagine that Jonah was one of these people and the town called Nineveh was not exactly classified as a travel destination.
When it comes to the story of Jonah we all tend to focus on his disobedience. However, have you ever stopped to think about Jonah’s life before the moment God spoke to him and asked him to go travel to a new place, add a proverbial key-chain to his collection?
Let’s use our imagination and make some assumptions: Jonah was a man who loved God. He followed his commandments, went to the synagogue daily, and kept the Sabbath. Let’s imagine Jonah was from a small town and all his family lived near his humble abode. In fact, Jonah had only traveled within a twenty-mile radius his whole life and therefore, had no “key-chains” in his collection. Let’s also assume that Jonah had some secrets. He had some things in his life that he had never shared. He felt tremendous guilt about parts of his past and no one knew about these mistakes and/or regrets. The last hypothesis we will make is that Jonah loved fishing and he loved, most of all, being out on the water.
Then one day, Jonah heard God speak very clearly, for the very first time in his life. The message was clear – God told him to go to a town that was far away and preach to a specific people group about forgiveness. Of course, like many people, Jonah was afraid. Can you blame him? Here are just a few of the reasons as to why: He didn’t want to step out of his comfort zone, the people he was supposed to go and speak to were wicked and corrupt. Most importantly, this was not a paid vacation to the beach; -Jonah felt that the people he was going to pay a visit to weren’t truly worthy of forgiveness. After all, he felt he wasn’t even deserving of forgiveness himself and he was a pretty good guy after all. So Jonah rationalized, why go and help some people that he felt wouldn’t even help themselves? What would you have done? Would you have ignored the voice you heard and tried to run away?
Like many humans, even those mentioned in the Bible, running was indeed a popular choice. In fact, in today’s world, Christians still run (in some sense of the word, even if it is not physical). So here we can see Jonah through our own human eyes: stuck between a decision to follow or to run and… Jonah chose the later. In some ways, we all run, the question just becomes… has it caught up to us yet?
Jonah’s decision was to head towards Joppa’s port and continue “running” via boat. After all, he loved the water, remember? Therefore, God knew exactly how to reach him… by a big fish. Have you ever thought about why God chose a whale? He could have spoken again to Jonah or God could have simply chosen someone else, more passionate about doing His work. Why did God choose Jonah and why a whale?
Here’s my opinion: God needed Jonah to learn a lesson just as much as he needed the Nineveh people to experience His second chances and unconditional love. Jonah was the perfect person to go because his eyes needed to be opened, his heart needed to be cleansed of hatred, and his view of God needed to get bigger. Jonah was a Hebrew prophet and the people of Nineveh were a people who hated the Israelites. Even though Israel was enjoying a season of prosperity during this time, it would have been very common for this group of people to attack Jonah’s homeland. Perhaps, Jonah may have grown up hearing stories about their ancestors being terrorized by the people he was now being sent to rescue. I have no idea as to why a whale was chosen, God is a mysterious God. However, I do know that when we are consumed with our own agenda, sometimes God has to do something really dramatic to capture our attention! Why should it surprise us that the God of the universe would use a whale to confound the supposed wise? Do you have a story that God taught you through an unlikely person or situation? I know a have a few and the hand of God is written all over these stories.
When it comes to following God, Jonah was actually lucky. God intervened and changed his course affecting others for good at the same time. However, we don’t always have that same guarantee. God asks us to follow Him and we may choose to run… but we may not have a huge fish waiting to change our minds. Nonetheless, I know that God’s word does not return void and there are consequences for disobedience. I also know that we are taking a major risk when we run. When we choose intentionally to not follow God not only are we left empty, but the others that we were sent to help along the way are affected by our actions too. I can hear God gently saying… “Please follow Me because I have certain people that I am sending your way that you can help in My name.” We are all a little bit like Jonah, natural mortal men or women, afraid of going into the unknown. Yet, I challenge you, the beauty of saying ‘yes,’ will far outweigh the complacency we will feel if we ignore His voice. God’s adventures are far better than our own endeavors, whether you pick up a key-chain along the way or not!