Most of us are familiar with the story of Jonah and the whale. I heard it in Sunday School class as a child, but today it has taken on new meaning for me.
Jonah was instructed to go to the great city of Nineveh. Now the Word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” Jonah 1:1 (ESV).
As a child, I remember being mesmerized by the thought of Jonah being swallowed by a whale and then spit out on dry land. “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Jonah 1:17. “And the Lord spoke to the fish and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.” Jonah 2:10.
Today, it is not this image that captures my attention—it is God’s steadfast love. As Jonah prayed he said, “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.” Jonah 2:8.
Even while in his dire situation, Jonah did not doubt God’s steadfast love.
The Word of the Lord came to Jonah again and told him what to say in Nineveh. And he called out, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Jonah 3:4.
In response, the people of Nineveh believed God, called for a fast and repented—everyone from the least to the greatest. “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster he said he would do to them, and he did not do it.” Jonah 3:10.
Evidently, Jonah became angry at this. Maybe he thought it made him look like a false prophet, or he felt he had wasted his time coming so far if God was going to relent. In Jonah 4:2 he says to God “for I knew that you are a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”
In response to Jonah’s anger, God replied, “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left,” Jonah 4:11.
With all that is transpiring in our world today, I can’t help but wonder how this example of God’s steadfast love will apply to us. Will the people see the warning signs? Will they believe God? Will they call for a fast and repent, from the greatest of them to the least of them?
If so, how will God’s steadfast love be shown to our nation? Will He have mercy on us? Will He relent as He did for Nineveh—for a people who don’t seem to know their right hand from their left?