Same message (Repent!), same prophet (Jonah), different audience (Israel and Nineveh), and different response (repentance - Nineveh and Israel - hardness of heart).
The Chinese have a unique way of describing contrasts; their idiom is "same, same, but different". Had they been around in Jonah's day, that certainly is the phrase Jonah would have used. The Jonah drama contrasts Nineveh's response to a prophetic word from that of Israel. God uses the same prophet to confront two very different nations. Jonah gladly goes to preach to his own people even though they've turned a deaf ear to his message. On the other hand, Nineveh responds in humility and brokenness to a prophet whose gladness has given way to stubbornness and even disobedience to God.
Amazingly the parallel between Jonah and countless modern preachers is all too real. Like Jonah they happily spend their lives preaching to ever shrinking crowds who turn the same deaf ear that Israel did to Jonah. Meanwhile in a nearby country lives a large people group who are on the heart of God. Jonah would rather be a prophet to an obstinate people than to an unengaged people group. God, however, stages a fish to swallow a running prophet in order to reach a people prepared to respond to God's message.
Ninevah is six hundred miles north and east of Jerusalem, a twelve day walk for a man who could walk fifty miles a day. With contemporary air travel no place in the world is as inaccessible as Nineveh. God uses an unwilling prophet whose heart changes in the belly of a whale. What will it take to change the hearts and awaken a generation of comfortable preachers who would rather preach to deaf ears than to receptive hearts. Just as the Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah so too people groups today are waiting for someone to come, live in their midst and bring the good news of Christ to them.
Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
- How many of the ten commandments does Israel break?
- How are the priests of Israel described?
- Nine times in Hosea Israel's condition is described as that of prostitution. How does prostitution differ from adultery?
- Why is unfaithfulness to God such a serious condition?
- What provokes the LORD to respond to Israel at this time?
- In what ways does Jonah's view of God change from the beginning of this story to the end?
- What does Jonah learn about God's care for the nations?
- What do the sailors and the Ninevites learn about God through Jonah's actions?
- What was God's purpose in showing mercy to Nineveh?
Ask the LORD to raise up laborers for the harvest fields of the world and volunteer to go yourself.