He was supposed to go east. He was supposed to go to the largest city of the greatest empire and tell them that they were living the wrong way. He was supposed to be God’s mouthpiece to a depraved city.
But he didn’t.
Instead, he hopped on a ship and sailed the opposite way. He fled from his calling, but that was only the beginning of his story. A huge storm appeared and threatened to sink the ship, and it was his fault. So the crew threw him overboard, and then a giant fish swallowed him, took him back east, and threw him up onto the land.
The story of Jonah is familiar to a lot of Christians. We all know about the big fish that swallowed Jonah and swam him across the sea. We’ve all probably tried to image what it would actually be like to sit in the dark stomach of a fish for three days, thinking about how gross that would be. We know that Jonah did eventually go to Nineveh and preach the the Assyrians there, and they did repent and turn to God.
What we don’t often pay attention to is Jonah himself. Jonah was a prophet, an Old Testament man of God. His job was to do the will of God, and he didn’t. God comes to Jonah in chapter 1 and says, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” Instead of doing what he’s supposed to, he runs away.
As Christians, how many times have we done the same? We profess to be followers of Christ, but when he asks us to share the Gospel with someone else, we tuck our tails and run the opposite way. We’re all guilty of this in one way or another, and there are several reasons for why we do this. We’re afraid of being rejected, or maybe being ridiculed. We don’t think they will listen. We don’t know what to say. We don’t know all the answers. There are plenty of reasons we come up with to not do this.
We may be tempted to think Jonah was afraid the king would kill him or something, but if we look at chapter 4, we see the truth behind Jonah’s rebellion. When he finally goes to Nineveh, we see that he was angry that Nineveh repented. He even gets angry with God: “Is this not what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”
The real reason that Jonah is mad is because he doesn’t think that the people of Nineveh deserve to hear about God. He has a bit of a perception problem. Think about it. The Assyrians have come in, taken over Israel, and carted most of them off into captivity. Certainly there are some bitter feelings toward the Assyrians on Jonah’s part.
But how many us would be any different from Jonah?
There’s a second part to the Jonah story, though. The fish vomits him up onto land, and God says, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”
Jonah is in the exact same place he was in chapter 1. Notice that God doesn’t say anything to Jonah about running away. He doesn’t reprimand Jonah for disobeying. He simply restates his request to Jonah.
There’s a worship band that I love, Rend Collective. They have a song on one of their albums called “Second Chance”, and the last line of the chorus is, “a second chance is heaven’s heart.”
God is a God of second chances. He doesn’t hold our failures over us. He doesn’t fling down a lightning bolt to smite us. Even in the Old Testament, where God is supposedly a God of vengeance and wrath, we see this kind of love. Jonah got his second chance. Nineveh got their second chance. We all get our second chance.
We may fail. We may stumble. We may rebel. But God is always there to help us back up. Every new day is a second chance for us.
Next time you think someone deserves a punishment or that “evil” people deserve to die, just remember that we all deserve that. If God is willing to give us a second chance, shouldn’t we do likewise to others?