Have you ever said something like, “I’d rather die than admit I am wrong”? or “I’d die before I’d do that job”? Noah did, only he wasn’t using hyperbole; he meant it.
Choosing death over another choice is extreme, but I understand Jonah. God asked him to do something that was abhorrent to this prophet. Preach to the Ninevites? He would rather die — and he nearly did.
But first he hopped on a ship and fled in the other direction. The ship encountered a severe storm and the sailors asked Jonah to call out to his God. In their terror and the confusion of trying to keep from capsizing, the truth came out . . .
Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” (Jonah 1:10–12)
Jonah would rather die than be willing to obey and see God calm the storm. Why? The people of Nineveh were known for being godless and cruel. However, the God of Jonah was known for grace and mercy. Jonah was certain that if he preached to them, God would grant repentance to these hated enemies. He would rather die than see them blessed.
Jonah’s understanding of God’s mercy is clearly repeated throughout the Bible. Who deserves it? The Scriptures say no one, for we “all fall short of the glory of God.” And yet . . .
God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:4–6)
The truth is Christ. His sacrifice to save sinners was looked forward to by people of faith in the Old Testament and now we look back, believing in the ransom made for all. It was this truth Jonah wanted to suppress, at least for the people he hated. He knew the power behind it. It was this same power that Paul wrote about in the New Testament . . .
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16–17)
Actually, the finished act was better in some ways than the message Jonah was to take to Nineveh. Jonah could point to the future and speak of the promises, but Paul spoke of their fulfillment and how Jesus Christ had gloriously made them all true.
But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. (Hebrews 8:6)
The point? The attitude of wanting “to die” rather than doing a hard thing is not pleasing to God. He sent His Son to die that I might have His life and receive that same kind of courage. For Jesus, the act of dying WAS the hard thing, not an escape from obedience but the ultimate obedience. He did it so I can have forgiveness and eternal life.
Jonah did typify Jesus in one way. He went to a watery grave (not a stone tomb) and was there for three days, like Jesus was. Then he repented (which Jesus didn’t have to do) and was brought from the belly of the fish. This was a signpost that points to Jesus, the ultimate Prophet who did all that Jonah refused to do. He died for our sin, even while we were still His enemies (Romans 5:8).
Is there an idol in this story? The one I see is Jonah’s regard for his excuses and decisions rather than trusting God and being obedient. He honored what he wanted against what God wanted and had to learn the hard way that God often makes the hard way incredibly important. That is, by going to Nineveh, thousands of people wound up in the kingdom of God instead of facing eternal judgment.
Jonah repented while in the fish, but still had an attitude. Whether that eventually changed is not part of his story, but he likely did change because repentance is the way of faith. I learn from Jonah and from the rest of God’s Word that even in my disobedience, I can repent and experience God’s mercy . . .
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1–2)
The odd part that pops to mind from these Scriptures is another truth: living the Christian life does require dying . . . however, explaining that is for another day.