God called Jonah to go to a pagan nation and call them to repent. We’re seeing here God’s focus on the salvation of the gentile nations. God has love for “all” the people of the world, but Jonah does not share that affection for the sinners in Nineveh. Instead, we read in Jonah 1:3, “But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So, he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.” Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian nation. That nation would be the one that would conquer the northern kingdom of Israel and scatter the ten tribes of Israel to the world. They then would settle the land with their own people as well as those taken from other parts of the world. We end up with the land of the northern kingdom being occupied by foreigners who would intermarry with the remnant of the Israelites that remained in the land. These are the ancestral roots of the Samaritans of Jesus’ day. Jonah represents the attitude of the religious Jew toward the gentile people around them. This attitude persisted throughout history. Jews, like Jonah, would go out of their way not to have any contact with their neighboring Gentiles.

How can a supposed “prophet” of God disregard God’s call on his life? But Jonah does just that. Richison writes, “This is the only occasion in the Old Testament where a prophet refused to do the will of God.  God told Jonah to ‘go’ and he went all right – in the opposite direction…Tarshish was 2500 miles to the West in the southern tip of Spain.  It was a merchant city.  Nineveh was 550 miles to the northeast while Spain was 2000 miles to the West.  Jonah was willing to go four times as far out of the will of God as he was in the will of God!”[1] I can’t help but compare Jonah with Peter as we read in Acts chapter 10.  Peter is called to go to Cornelius, a gentile living in Caesarea. Being a good Jew who would have nothing to do with gentiles, needed his own “great fish” to move him from this prejudice. God sent a vision of unclean foods and commanded Peter to eat. Peter professed his determination never to break the laws by participating in such feasts. God tells Peter never to call something unclean that God has cleansed. After visiting with Cornelius and his family, Peter finally gets God’s message. Peter says to them in Acts 10:28, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.” Jesus made this clear also in the Gospel of John where he met the Samaritan woman at the well. She was stunned that a Jew would have anything to do with her. Jesus offered this gentile woman the water of life from which if she would drink, she would never thirst again.

It’s the same offer to all people in the world today. God so loved the world that he sent his Son, Jesus to die for their sins. Does God love gentiles? Yes. He loved the gentiles in Nineveh. He loves the gentiles in Caesarea. He loves the gentiles in Samaria. He loves the gentiles in the USA. He loves all people. He demonstrated the depth of that love on the cross where when we were still sinners, Christ died for us. What matters to you and me is that God’s love reaches us. God was reaching out to the gentiles in Nineveh with Jonah. He was reaching out to those in Caesarea through Peter. His love is still reaching out today. Right through the chaos of modern life and the confusion in our minds, Christ is reaching out to us. One of our favorite old hymns was written by Haldor Lillenas in 1918. You’ll still hear it sung occasionally today, “Wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin; how shall my tongue describe it, where shall its praise begin? Taking away my burden, setting my spirit free, for the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me.”

[1] Richison, Grant. 2006. Verse by Verse through the Book of Jonah. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems.