Today, we know of so many stories that are about villains or are written from the villain’s point of view. Antiheroes are usually interesting, but their stories are not so easy to craft. Usually, antihero stories will progress in either one of these two ways: one, a progression of the antihero from being “bad” to “good”; or two, a story that shows how the antihero was never “evil” in the first place, but actually “good.”
But Jonah’s story is not one of an anti hero, rather an anti villain. To the Israelites at that time, Jonah was the hero of the story, he was a faithful remnant who held on to nationalistic principles. They could sympathise with his disobedience and sense of unfairness for God to offer salvation to the most evil people in the world. However, as the story progresses, the Bible tells us that Jonah only proved himself to be the villain instead. He was no kind of hero. He was a disobedient prophet. Among the many prophets of God, Jonah is the only one who directly disobeyed God. The next closest comparison would have to be Moses who struck a rock twice instead of once (as God had commanded him to). And for such a ‘minor error’, this great prophet was given a heavy punishment; to die in the wilderness and never enter the Promised Land. But Jonah had intentionally tried to flee from the presence of the Lord, he ran in the opposite direction of Nineveh and wanted nothing to do with His plan of salvation.
And sometimes we are like Jonah. For example we read about the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount and we know exactly what God wants us to do. But instead of obeying God, we flee from Him. We try to do what is an utterly irrational and ultimately futile action. We pretend that we can run away from God, and like Jonah deceive ourselves. Or at other times we find ourselves rebuked by the Word, the Holy Spirit, others and even our own conscience. But what do we do? We shut down our thoughts, put away the Bible, keep our prayers short – not thinking much about what we say, and distance ourselves from the church – especially those who remind us of God. Like Jonah, we run away from God.
Moreover, when we are running away from God and disobeying Him, sometimes life just seems to go so smooth and easy. Just like how Jonah must have felt relieved when he found a ship going to where we wanted (back in those days it was hard to find one at the right place, right time!) we may feel that everything is going perfectly to our plan. However, if Jonah really had succeeded in fleeing all the way to Tarshish, it would mean that God had completely forsaken him. But God is a merciful God, and he brought a great wind to the sea and threw the ship into a terrible storm. So when we run away from God, sometimes the troubles we face are a form of God’s grace to bring us back to Him.
Nevertheless, to understand how God works through troubles and struggles, we must know God. However, like the sailors in Jonah’s story, some people in this world do not know God. For them, the world is a very confusing place; out of nowhere comes a pandemic, followed by a financial crisis and then rumours of war. However, we Christians know how the world came to be, how it ended up in such a terrible mess and most importantly, we know the Way, the Truth, and the Life who will get us out of this mess.
So when you look at the people of the world – panicking and frantic in the storm of life, will you open your mouth and interpret the storm for them? Will you point them to the One who calmed the storm? Or are you indifferent to the spiritual crisis of this world?
For Jonah, he was definitely indifferent. He knew the truth, but didn’t tell the sailors the truth. He was a prophet of God who had direct access to the Lord, but didn’t pray to Him. Rather, he chose death. He thought that death was his victory against God. However after the sailors threw him into the sea, what awaited him was not death but the mouth of a big fish. God’s mercy.
Jonah was in many ways a failed prophet. He disobeyed God, and put others in life-threatening positions. Nevertheless God continued to show His mercy to Jonah, speaking to him through the sailors, the storm and even the fish. Every time, God is reminding Jonah of His mercy – he was determined to save Jonah too.
Jonah was a failed prophet, but Jesus isn’t.
Jonah was willing to die to disobey God. Jesus was willing to die to obey God.
Jonah slept through the storm because he was running away from God. Jesus slept through the storm because He was with God.
By a symbolic death of Jonah thrown into the sea, the sailors were saved from temporary judgement – but by the death of Jesus, sinners are saved from an eternal punishment. How great of a blessing is this for us! To receive Christ, who died for our sins, and after three days rose again. Let us remember that, savour that, and let us love Christ forevermore.
- Jonah tried to flee from the presence of God by fleeing from Israel. We know that this action was ultimately futile and irrational. But what are some ways that we Christians try to flee from our responsibilities and calling? Is there anything in life that can give us false comfort while we are living in disobedience?
- Jonah was probably wrongly respected by the Israelites for his courage to hold to his nationalistic (proIsrael) principles, even if it meant to disobey God. Similarly, there probably are a number of “respectable sins” in our current Christian world. Can you name one that you are guilty of?
- The sailors could not interpret the storm rightly, because they didn’t have the right Christian worldview. However, Jonah could. He knew the God behind the storm. He knew what was wrong. He knew how to deal with the storm. Can you think of a current issue that is being wrongly interpreted by nonChristians? And how do you think we can point them to Christ and the gospel through this issue?