Minor Prophets: Teachers & Preachers





Jonah - The Reluctant Prophet

Everyone has heard of Jonah and the whale. If Jonah were to ask the New Testament question, Who do men say that I am? He would be told he is a myth, a legend, and a fairy tale by many. His story is one of the most unusual in all the Bible. Some have found it harder to swallow than if Jonah had been asked to swallow the whale.

First of all, there was no whale. The story tells of Jonah being swallowed by a "great fish." Second, once a person believes that God made the ocean with a single word and then filled that ocean with "whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas" he has no difficulty with any circumstance designed by the Almighty. The same faith that accepts the story of the incarnation (God reduced to the size of a single cell joined to another single cell in the womb of the Virgin Mary), has little difficulty accepting Jonah and his great fish.

While corroboration and internal evidence of some biblical characters is rare or sometimes non-existent, Jonah has his friends. He was a respected and recognized prophet in his own day and respectfully remembered in the days of Christ.

He is referred to in 2Kings 14:25 "[Jeroboam] restored the border of Israel . . . according to the word of the Lord which He spoke by His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet who was from Gath-hepher." More significantly, Jesus himself spoke of Jonah and thus validated his authenticity and rightful place in the hall of Prophets.

A man named Amittai had a son. Amattai means "truthful." He named his son Jonah which means "dove." They that worship the Father must worship in "spirit and in truth." God was grooming a man who would teach Assyria something about worship.

His call to preach was perhaps the most difficult assignment of any preacher. He was not to stand outside the gates of Jerusalem, or Samaria and preach to the choir. He was not to chide or counsel Jewish kings. He was not even called to renounce the barbaric practices of Israelís enemies which would have been encouraged by a chorus of Hebrew "Amens." Jonah was called to go to the lionís den and look into the face of the beast. Jonah was called o preach to Nineveh in Nineveh.

Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. Assyria was the personification of evilness and idolatry. These people were barbaric, brutal, and exceedingly wicked. They were famous by their own accounts for savagery. Assurbanipal, the grandson of Sennacherib was known to cut off the lips of captured enemies along with thousands of hands and feet. Tiglath-pileser flayed men alive and left gruesome piles of heads in the wake of his army. These Assyrians must have marched in the nightmares of Hebrew children and the thought of them must have caused mothers to tremble with fright. To the very den of this lion was Jonah commissioned to go.

A true prophet must allow God to assign the parish. As with Lot who, when given the choice by Abraham, chose the best and most pleasant for himself, many a "so-called" preacher selects the easy or comfortable assignment. Professional clergymen call these comfortable churches "plums." May the Lord deliver us from such churches and church-

Every church has a few "uncalled" men who think themselves to be preachers or prophets. They are usually shade-tree mechanics who tinker with and dabble with doctrines, precepts, and parables. They are recreational and arm chair theologians who think it should be pleasant to stand in another manís pulpit. He that would be a prophet must pay the price of the prophet. Both John by the Jordon and John in Patmos knew the pain which is part of that price.

While the pain of Jonahís calling is and example of the extreme and very apparent, there is pain involved in every true call to preach. Amateur preachers never pay the price and they never go to Niniveh. When God called this writer out of seminary to go to New York City many a preacher whispered with a kind of cynical sigh of relief, "better you than me." God does not call preachers to green pastures but to barren and needy places. By the grace of God, if sown faithfully, persistenty, and prayerfully the seed will result in pastures lush enough for any sheep. God does not call his prophets to dig wells next to waterfalls. Wells need digging in dry places. A man who wants to preach to the choir is rarely called to preach at all. There are more street corners than pulpits and a man who is truly called to preach will find one before the other.

Sometimes grace offers a cup of water even knowing pride will refuse to drink it. The preacher must go where God sends letting God worry about the results. Jonah ran from Godís calling. He never told us why he ran. The final chapter gives us some clues however. Was he afraid the Assyrians would cut off his lips if they were offended by his Jewish preaching? Would they cut off his hands and send him home helpless? Would they add his skull to already high heap of unfortunates? Was he afraid? I would be surprised if he was not. Here was David without a slingshot. A simple provincial prophet standing in the gates of the most fearsome city in the world bringing a rebuke from heaven. If he was the least bit reasonable he would at least approach this assignment with caution. But Jonahís fear was altogether different. He was afraid, it seemed, that God would spare these awful people. He was afraid God would save Ninevah.

What if God had saved Hitler in that fateful bunker? What if Hitler had taken the path of Peter rather than that of Judas? What if at the last moment, just before the allies stormed the wolfís lair, this man who was responsible for the agony, torture, suffering, and death of six million Jews repented and asked for forgiveness? Before you quickly and easily say you would embrace and welcome him to the Lordís Supper, suppose he has gassed your entire family at Aushwitz.  Suppose you were asked to preach to him in a warehouse filled with a million bars of soap made from men, women, and children who had been your neighbors.   Suppose you had to read to him of Godís love under the illumination pouring from a lampshade of human skin taken from the body of a helpless grandmother who pleaded for the lives of her terrorized and naked grandchildren.   If you do not understand Jonahís reluctance by now, you never will, and there is little hope that you will ever truly understand the real meaning of a single word in the Bible. Jonah hated these people. He wanted to have nothing to do with them, let alone preach in their presence.

His response to the call of God was to go in the completely opposite direction. Nineveh was approximately five hundred miles northeast of Palestine; Tarshish is believed to be the ancient Tartessus of Spain which was not only two thousand miles due west, for all practical purposes it was the end of the earth. He became a fugitive from God.

This reluctant prophet has become a timeless object lesson about obedience. Every Sunday School has taken his failure as a parable of foolishness and his dirty laundry has been hanging out for everyone to see for nearly three thousand years. If my dirty laundry can be used to save a single soul, or restore a single prophet, then may God pin it to the line in spite of my shame. Millions have been ministered to by Jonahís poor example though he must still shake his head has he remembers his lack of faith while he marvels at the grace of God.

"Faithful is he that calleth you who will also do it" 1 Thes. 5:24. Jonahís problem was a lack of trust. He failed to trust God either for the means or or the result. We have all been there. We may not have purchased a ticked to Tarshish but we have all been on board that boat. Every time we resent or resist Godís call to obey some command we sail on dangerous waters. Every time we secretly wish fire would fall from heaven on some enemy or modern Assyrian we deny the name of Christ as much as Jonah failed to live up to his. Every time we think we are somehow superior to a Samaritan or an Assyrian we are seeing our reflection in the muddy waters of our imagination rather than in a true mirror of Godís Word. We are all sons of Adam. We are only saved by grace.

Whether to Ninevah or New York, a call of God is a call of God and a prophet whoís name means "spirit" and whoís fatherís name means "truth" must go. He should fear neither failure nor success. He should simply sow the seed while trusting the results to the Lord of the Harvest. Each man must find his calling. To hear that calling, the ear is not as important as the heart. Not every man is a prophet and not every man is sent to Nineveh. How foolish it is for a bird to become a fish , a mouse think itís a lion, or a tinker a teacher. The writer of Hebrews said it well. "Today, if you hear his voice, harden not your heart." Jonah had a second chance and he took it. There is no guarantee a second call will come. There is no guarantee you will be more inclined to listen when your heart has become harder either. It is sad when we buy a ticket to Tarsish when God has a job for us in Nineveh. The Holy record says "so he paid the fare thereof." It is very expensive indeed to try to flee "from the presence of the LORD." Satan will send you the tickets, but you will have to pay the price.

It was said of Jesus that "he must needs go through Samaria." Eternity had made an appointment. A needy woman had a date with opportunity. She found the Savior and living water, yet only God knows the number of times he waited at some well and no one came. We are on a journey and Jesus knows the way.

Not every Jew is a Rabbi, and not every prophet a priest. Each person must answer the knock at his own door. And that knock is seldom a pounding. "Behold I stand at the door and knock" Rev. 3:20. If we expect a friend to come calling are we not more prone to be listening? When God calls, answer the door. Go to Nineveh if he asks you, or should he request to "sup" with you and yours, make room at the head of the table. Every believer is called to care. Every believer is called to share. Every saint is called to serve. No, not everyone is a preacher, nor a prophet, for then we should all be yelling in the streets.

We seldom feel equipped or adequate, or ready for Godís call, nor sufficient to accomplish Godís calling; yet faith and obedience places itself at Godís isposal. The man who jumps up to speak often has the least to say. The man who rushes to the platform and loves the lime-light and attention knows nothing of Godís call. The gift of gab in not the gift of God. The prophet is always aware that "that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" John 3:6.

Jesus spoke of Jonah twice. He compared Jonahís ordeal in the sea monsterís belly to his own crucifixion and resurrection and said that Jonah was a "sign." Secondly, he referred to the ministry more than the man when he warned Jerusalem of the coming judgment. "The men of Nineveh shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah..." Then our Lord gave what amounts to a warning for the world and every man who ever heard the name of Jonah. "A greater than Jonah is here." (Lk. 11:32.)