Jonah the Mission of The Jews

Jonah the Mission
of The Jews

Leslie S. Rainey

Mr. Leslie S. Rainey, the editor’s uncle, presently serves the Lord in Nairobi, Kenya, East Africa.

The story of Jonah is, we believe, not fiction, but an affirmed fact. The name Jonah is a common word in the vocabulary of the Hebrews and means a “dove.” It occurs more than thirty times in the Old Testament and is sometimes translated turtledove or pigeon. Since messages are at times committed to the carrier pigeon, especially in wartime, one may think of Jonah as a commissioned messenger of the God of Israel. The subject matter of this book is not the story of the “whale” but foreign missions. His parish was not primarily among his own people, but the hated imperial city of Nineveh. As a Jew he had no sympathy with God’s plan to save a wicked Gentile city and its citizens. Assyria was the inveterate enemy of Israel and Jonah desired to let them perish in their sins, and thus Israel as a nation would be spared.

To preach the message of Jehovah might lead to their salvation and preservation. This he wanted to avoid. It is obvious that as a Jew he was not able to trust God to do the right thing in relation to other nations.

Jonah was God’s messenger sent to preach repentance to the Gentiles. Israel was God’s selected instrument for the blessing of all nations. Jonah in his pride of race and nationalistic spirit rejected the purpose of God and fled from the presence of the Lord. God visited him in discipline by means of a great storm and he was cast into the sea. Israel as a nation was cast into the sea of nations, but like Jonah is not lost but divinely preserved. She will be cast up on the earth and become a mighty force for good and the glory of God in the world.

The Man

Not far from Nazareth as you follow the highway towards Galilee there is a place called Gath-Hepher, a town of Zebulon, and here the Scriptures affirm Jonah lived. From the heights of Gath-Hepher there is a magnificent view of the Mediterranean sea and the lush valley of Jezreel. From an early age Jonah was linked with the sea and his name as well as his tribe, is suggestive of “going” (Deut. 33:18). To Jonah the word of the Lord came for he was chosen of God to be a channel of blessing to Assyria. Jonah’s trouble did not lie in the lack of authority to proclaim the name of Jehovah, but the lack of heart and obedience of will to carry out God’s command. So the full tide of God’s blessing is hindered even until this day because Israel is out of God’s will and contrary to His revealed purpose.

“Jonah rose up to flee into Tar-shish from the presence of Jehovah” (1:3). Some think Jonah with his knowledge of the sea routes had Spain in mind, but it is more likely South India according the exports of gold, silver, ivory, apes and peacocks (2 Chron. 9:21). One thing was certain, Jonah wanted to get as far away as possible from the fulfilling of God’s command. Today the Jew is scattered to the far ends of the earth, but he is still unable to escape the voice of God’s Spirit (Ps. 139:7-12), and it is impossible for the nation to forget the Book. Jonah as a man paid a high fare, for in the path of disobedience the cost is exacting and exorbitant. Jonah sought to flee, paid the fare, embarked on a ship, watched the shore line fade in the distance and then he stretched out for what he thought was a well earned rest. Little did he think upon the God of Israel who neither slumbers nor sleeps. Jonah in the midst of the ship and asleep felt his identity would be unrecognized and, as to the future, time and distance would enable him to forget.

Jonah was reckoning without God and oh! what lessons are to be learned in observing this runaway. “The Lord sent out a great wind.” It was the preparation of God and all through this book can be traced the providential gracious dealings of God with his erring servant (1:17; 4:6, 7, 8), for by means of the storm Jonah was to meet the Lord, and after repentance and confession be recommissioned to carry out the initial purpose of God. The mariners in their heathen superstition felt and knew the cause of the tempest was due to someone on board, and eventually it was established there was a Jonah on board. God was at work and now the disobedient prophet was faced with a barrage of questions. (1) Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us? (2) What is thine occupation? (3) Whence comest thou? (4) What is thy country? (5) Of what people art thou? What searching questions as God prepared the heart of His servant for repentance towards Himself and confession unto restoration. Jonah answered the last one and indicated in the name “Hebrew,” one who is transient, a temporary person, possessing the knowledge of God. To know better and not to do it is the inevitable pathway to judgment and punishment. Jonah was cast into the sea to learn that “God is not mocked,” and “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32). Sin always brings bitter, bitter fruit. As a nation the Jew is proud of his heritage and glories in his Hebrew tongue and Promised Land, yet the story of the nation has been the dispersion and a city downtrodden by the Gentiles. Because of the conduct of the nation, and according to her own confession (Matt. 27:25), until this day she is cast out of the sea of nations, and there she will remain until the day of her resurrection bringing life, liberty, and the blessing of the Lord that make the rich and addeth no sorrow.

The Message

The course of self-will, pride and rebellion led Jonah far from God and the revelation of His will and Word. The experience of Jonah in the depths of the sea, and in the belly of the fish, is used by our Lord to set forth His own entombment and resurrection. Jonah is a type of the salvation of God after the resurrection going out to the Gentiles. Jonah in his distress cried unto the Lord and his prayer was heard. In spite of disobedience and wilfulness God is ever the same and ready to hear and forgive. Wonder of wonders, our God is the God of grace. Jonah recognized that behind all is God and He bowed to the goodness and severity of His hand. In the anguish of his soul he learned what he could never have learned in Gath-Hepher that, “Salvation is the Lord” (2:9). One day the nation will look, even as Jonah looked, towards “The Holy Temple,” and in confession repeat the words of Solomon in Chronicles 6:38, 39.

It was on the basis of such words that Jonah had full confidence in the mercy and grace of God. So in the day of Israel’s national repentance when she learns in the hour of her deepest woe that salvation is in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, she will be saved nationally and spiritually. What a day when an individual or a nation learns that, “Salvation is of Jehovah.” May the Lord graciously grant writer and reader to know more and more of this great lesson.

The Mission

The book of Jonah forms one of the battle grounds for modern destructive criticism. Many believe it to be only an allegory with no historical background. However, we know it to be authentic in several ways. Historically, in the book of the Kings, Jonah is mentioned as a prophet and centuries later this is endorsed by our Lord (2 Kings 14:25-27; Matt. 12:38-41). Archaeologically, the city of Nineveh now in ruins was discovered in 1845, and it is believed to have been founded by Nimrod (Gen. 10:11). Even walking around the city and spending a short time in that part of the world convinced the writer that it was a great city, as Jonah records three times (Jonah 1:2, 3:2, 3).

Though the record is silent about the experiences of Jonah immediately after being cast up on the dry land, we know our God is the God of the second opportunity. Jonah is recommissioned and one can imagine the holy joy that marked his steps and filled his soul as he made his way to the great Gentile city of Nineveh. His preaching was not to be with the excellency of speech or wisdom of the world’s preachers and philosophers but as the servant of the Lord with the message of God. Like Haggai he was the Lord’s messenger in the Lord’s message. His declaration to Nineveh was the first of three warnings that God sent to them. The second by Nahum, perhaps 150 years later, and the third, by Zephaniah, some years after Nahum, were both disregarded by the proud godless city. We know that the judgment so long delayed eventually fell with terrible retribution as foretold in the Holy Scriptures.

The preaching of Jonah resulted in sorrow for sin producing repentance towards God and faith in His Word. How vividly the Word of God depicts the work of the Spirit: “So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even unto the least of them” (Jonah 3:5).

The key of the book is seen in God’s gracious dealings with His servant. God rebuked Jonah who could mourn for the destruction of the gourd vine that shaded his booth, but who had no pity for the godless city and its multitude of little ones that were unable to distinguish their right hand from their left hand (4:6-11). Surely it is a warning to all, against spiritual prejudice and national exclusivism. The whole of the wondrous dealings of God with Israel as well as the Gentiles is, “of Him” as the source, and “by Him” as the channel, and “to Him” as the purpose, in consequence of which, “the glory” of it all belongs to Him forever. Amen.