Because we are concerned to see how later canonical writers develop the themes introduced in Genesis, we will now take a break from Genesis for the next week to examine some other biblical texts. This month, an overview of the book of Jonah, as well as two passages from the New Testament, will comprise this portion of our study.
The Lord’s promise to bless all the families of the earth in Abram (Gen. 12:3) provides the backdrop for our study of Jonah. While Israel failed to extend God’s kingdom to the whole earth before the coming of the Messiah, God always intended to adopt Gentiles into His family. In fact, one reason our Father redeemed Israel from slavery was to make her a witness to the nations (Deut. 4:1–8; 28:1–14; 33:18–19). The Lord’s mission for Jonah represents perhaps His most direct outreach to foreign nations before the coming of Christ.
In today’s passage, God calls Jonah, who lived during the eighth century bc, to announce judgment against Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire that would conquer the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 bc. However, Jonah disobeys the Lord and flees for Tarshish (1:1–3), a city likely situated on the southwestern coast of Spain and in the opposite direction from Nineveh (northern Iraq). But he cannot escape; Yahweh hurls a storm into the sea, prompting the sailors with Jonah onboard the ship to implore their gods for aid (vv. 4–5).
Just as the Lord previously ordered Jonah to “arise,” so too does the captain call the prophet to “arise” (v. 6) from his slumber. Ironically, God continues to speak to Jonah, only this time it is through the mouth of a pagan! Moreover, the sailors prove themselves to be more righteous than the prophet throughout the narrative. Jonah claims to worship the Lord reverently (v. 9), but he runs from Him (vv. 1–3), while the sailors fear God greatly, as seen in their attempt to save Jonah rather than cast him overboard (vv. 10–13).
Yet in the end, the sailors do cast Jonah into the sea just as the prophet directed, and the sea immediately becomes calm (vv. 14–15). They then do what those rescued by the Lord must do — they worship Him for His redemption and make vows to serve Him (v. 16).
The story makes clear that the sailors onboard Jonah’s vessel are more concerned to obey God than Jonah was. A non-believer’s good deeds can never save his soul, but we should be ashamed anytime non-Christians are more concerned with living properly than we are. It is a scandal whenever we do not defend the poor or call for justice and righteousness by our words and deeds. Help serve a Christian organization that does these things in your community.