Of all of the prophets in the Old Testament, Jonah has probably been one of the most colorful and adventurous. No other prophet could boast about surviving the depths of the sea, heat of desert winds and gastric juices of a great fish.
According to Jewish Scholars, Jonah was a student of the prophet Elisha. No doubt, he had personally observed some of the miracles that Elisha had performed. In Hebrew, the name Jonah meant “dove,” but during his ministry, he acted more like a raven on his own hunting flight, doing the opposite of what God had wanted him to do.
Jonah had witnessed much in his life which included miracles worked through Elisha, the Assyrian army attacking Israeli cities and leading the citizens into captivity, and the cruel treatment of Israeli citizens who were left in the countryside to have their farms plundered. Jonah witnessed the proud and ruthless behavior of the Assyrian soldiers as they mistreated women and children and burned their towns. Jonah did not have a very positive opinion of Ninevah.
Despite this, God had commissioned Jonah to preach repentance to the massive city of Ninevah. God called Ninevah a great city. According to historians, Ninevah had a population of at least 120,000. The city was advanced with libraries, schools, universities, public advents buildings, public services, but no places of worship for God. In God’s eyes, it was a city that had teachers and officials who were never taught about God’s mercy and love. In Ninevah, there were children who lived in innocence, who went to schools that did not teach them about the God who loved them. The city was full of people of various ages that were being marked for judgment, but there was no prophet who would deliver a message of repentance and God’s mercy.
So, Jonah ignored God’s commission and left for Joppa. Jonah was a prophet who knew firsthand that God was a merciful God. Jonah knew that God was quick to forgive, but Jonah did not like Ninevah. Jonah did not view Ninevah the same way that God viewed Ninevah.
As a result, Jonah went down to Joppa; down to the bottom of a ship; down to the bottom of the sea; down to the bottom of the great fish’s belly. In Hebrew, the word “belly” had a very interesting meaning in this selection. It was the word “meah,” which meant “stomach or abdomen” and “sympathy.” Maybe while Jonah was in the belly of the great fish, God was giving him an object lesson on His sympathy over mankind.
After spending three days and nights inside the great fish’s belly, Jonah was thrown-up and spat-out from the fish. Jonah had repented of his own disobedience and had willingly made his journey to Ninevah. Just imagine Jonah’s appearance. He had spent three days crouched in gastric juices. According to Jewish historians, his skin had been bleached to a ghoulish white. His hair had turned from black to white, if he still had his hair. His clothes had holes due to the stomach acid. His aroma reeked of spoiled, digested food.
After arriving in Ninevah, Jonah began to preach one of the shortest sermons in history, “Repent for judgment will come in 40 days.” The citizens listened to a prophet whose appearance and smell was like someone who had just traveled from the place of death. The entire city had repented and was in the mist of revival.
However, Jonah sat outside the city to wait for God’s judgment. Had Jonah forgotten the attributes of God? Jonah was more concerned about his own feelings and temporary comforts than the eternal destination of the citizens of Ninevah. God’s heart has always beaten for the eternal destination of the citizens of earth, no matter the nationality. God’s heart has always beaten for salvation. God has always been full of compassion and mercy and would much rather show mercy than judgment. Can we look beyond our own comforts long enough to hear God’s heart beat for compassion for souls?
The Rev. Kitty Mills teachers Sunday School at Mount View Pentecostal Holiness Church in Claudville, Virginia.