Lent Devotional: Jonah 1:1-17

by Jonathan Haefs

Jonah 1:1-17 (click here)
Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 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. (Jonah 1:1-3)

This is not a book about a big fish. It’s not even ultimately a book about Jonah. This is a book about God. It is a book about God’s grace. It is a book about God’s heart.

The very first words which come from the mouth of the Lord reveal his heart, “Arise, go to Nineveh…” Jonah knows what this means. Nineveh was an evil Assyrian city known for flying captives and draping their skins on their walls. They were cruel, bloodthirsty, and built their entire kingdom on violence.

This violence had affected Jonah’s own people and would eventually consume the entire Northern kingdom of Israel. Jonah knew that the Lord sending one of his prophets to this city could only mean one thing…God must be giving them an opportunity to repent. “Go to Nineveh” reveals the gracious heart of God and Jonah knows it (just read Jonah 4:2).

Yet these words reveal not only the heart of God… but they reveal Jonah’s heart as well. Jonah does not desire grace for Nineveh, but judgment. He wants to watch Nineveh burn. We all have our own Nineveh…don’t we. We have a place, a person, a people whom we would love to see as the recipients of divine judgment.

Jonah is meant to be a funny character. We smile at him as we see him try to oppose the will of God almighty and run from him. We laugh at this man…until he becomes a mirror. We are Jonah.

The whole point of this book is to reveal the gracious heart of God and to question the hardness of our heart. The whole point is to show us whether or not we have merely understood grace with our heads or whether we have been transformed by it in the depths of our hearts.

How can you know if grace is merely a head concept or if it has changed your heart?… You can know if you’ve been changed by grace not by how you react when it is extended to you, but by how you react when it is extended to others…when it is extended to Nineveh.

You’ve been changed by grace if you’re willing to extend it to Nineveh…because you know that you were Nineveh first.

*The complete SVCC Lenten reading guide is available here.