The Story of Jonah in The Bible and the Choices We Make
This article is about choices. Specifically, it's about how our free will choices interact with God's will for our life. The story of Jonah in the Bible is a powerful lesson about these choices, precisely, the apparent conflict between our will and God's will. But if we know whose will prevails, how much free will do we really have as Christians? Let's wonder about this question together.
We are going to dive into the Old Testament book of Jonah. But before we do, let's make this personal.
You are getting ready for work on a typical day. As you brush your teeth, the voice of God says, "_______ (insert your name), Go to _________ (insert wicked city name near you) and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before Me." Yes, this happened to Jonah.
Time for a pre-quiz as you spit the toothpaste out of your mouth.
What will you do with this command from God?
A. Ignore the voice of God but take it as an indication that you need a vacation. Right Now! Find the next sailing ship headed for Palau, get on it, and call family and friends from the ocean. No need to contact your boss. The boss won't agree. Neither will God.
B. Quietly call your local mental health clinic and schedule a psychological examination. You question your sanity but are sure you need lots of medications and a shot of Jack Daniels. You don't say a word to anyone.
C. Tell your family, friends, and boss that God has called you to preach against _____________ (a wicked city near you), and you won't be back for a month. Suggestion: Be packed and ready to go because the professionals with tight white suits may be on their way. Your loving family may disagree with God's call and want to protect you from harming yourself.
D. Try to negotiate with God. Reason with Him about why you are not interested, qualified, or willing to go. If you haven't been struck by a lightning bolt, reconsider Choice C. Jonah has already taught the lesson you need to learn.
Time to get back to Jonah and the choice he faced. See you in the book of Jonah. It's one of the short books near the end of the Old Testament.
God's Will and the Choice For Jonah
As with our modern-day example, I'm sure Jonah was going about his merry life. Then,
"The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 'Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.'" Jonah 1:1
I don't know why God called Jonah to be a prophet. Apparently, God needed the right person for the job of telling the people of Nineveh they were sinful and to start obeying God. So God chose Jonah as the "right person" for the job. Time for Jonah to make a choice. Obey God or make a free will choice to disobey the Lord.
Jonah's Free Will Choice and Its Consequences
Scripture tells us,
"But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord." Jonah 1:3
I can see Jonah now. He's relaxing below deck and thinking he's in the clear. No saving his enemy, the Ninevites, for him! Unfortunately for Jonah, the Lord knew where he was and stirred up the waters, causing a great storm. Everyone on the boat thought they would be lost. As they prayed to their own gods, they questioned Jonah. Jonah knows why they are in trouble. It is because of his disobedience. Jonah knew that he needed to pay the price for his disobedience. He told the others,
"'Pick me up and throw me into the sea,' he replied, 'and it will become calm.' I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you." Jonah 1:12
As Jonah was floundering in the sea, I wonder if he thought, "now, why did I do that!?" We don't know how long Jonah might have wrestled with that question, but we know what happened next,
"Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God." Jonah 1:17-2:1
God heard Jonah's prayers and acknowledgment that salvation comes from the Lord. So the great fish vomits Jonah onto dry land. I assume Jonah has reconsidered his choices. Especially after God repeats His message,
"Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you." Jonah 3:2.
Now, Jonah goes to Nineveh and proclaims God's word. The king of Nineveh and all of the city turned from their evil ways and obeyed the Lord.
"When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened." Jonah 3:10
But Jonah was upset with God. He knew God would have mercy on them if they changed their ways. And that is precisely what they did. Jonah was so upset he told God he would rather be dead than alive. Sounds a bit overly dramatic, but that's exactly how we behave. Then and now. The conversation continues between God and Jonah, back and forth, until God has the final say,
"And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left - and also many animals?" Jonah 4:11
Most of us see ourselves clearly in the story of Jonah in the Bible. We hear God's call on our lives and quickly turn away in disobedience. We run away from God and what He wants us to do for Him. We typically run straight into trouble and then call God for salvation. He comes to our rescue, sets us on the right course, and waits for our subsequent complaint. Perhaps someone got a blessing we think is unjust. But God is always there to remind us that were are just like the Ninevites. We "can't tell our right hand from our left." If this is true, maybe we should think less about our free will and more about God's will.