One of the stories that most of us learn as children is the story of Jonah and the big fish. We learn that Jonah tried to run away from God and God’s plan for him, and because of that God sends a big storm on the sea, Jo nah is cast overboard from a ship, and he is swallowed by a big fish (Jonah 1).
Many times, however, we continue to think of this story in the same way that we did while we were children. The story of Jonah, nevertheless, has a powerful message for those who have grown. Why is it that, as it is written, “Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD” (Jonah 1:3)?
The book of Jonah reveals this, from Jonah’s mouth himself, in Jonah 4:2-3:
And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, “I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I hasted to flee unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and full of compassion, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy, and repentest thee of the evil. Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Why did Jonah flee from God? Jonah heard God’s command, that he should go to Nineveh and warn the Assyrians that God would destroy them if they did not repent, and Jonah knew that the Assyrians would repent and that God would be merciful toward them. Jonah hated the Assyrians so that he would rather flee across the world than to carry out God’s command.
How tragic! Unfortunately the story is all too familiar. Are we often guilty of the same crime as Jonah? Do we see people around us and think that they would never hear the Gospel, or, God forbid, think that certain people are not worthy of the Gospel? If God were to command us to go and preach the Gospel to people whom we did not particularly like and who were our enemies, would we follow God’s command or would we run as far as we could (Matthew 5:43-48)?
Let us not be guilty of the prejudice of Jonah, and let us preach the Gospel to all!