In April 2014, the driver of a Chicago Transit Authority train fell asleep at the wheel as she approached the terminal at O’Hare airport. The train jumped the tracks and crashed into the terminal, destroying an escalator. Later it was revealed that she had fallen asleep at the wheel before.
You might say that Jonah repeatedly fell asleep at the wheel, wreaking havoc on others and himself. Commanded by God to go to Nineveh, Jonah fled in the opposite direction to Tarshish (v. 3). His goal was not only to avoid going to Nineveh, the capital city of Israel’s brutal enemy Assyria, but also to escape from God’s presence.
He couldn’t outrun God. The Lord pursued Jonah by sending a storm so fierce that the sailors feared for their lives. Unperturbed by either the storm or their terror, Jonah went below the deck and literally fell asleep. The outraged captain woke Jonah and urged him to pray. Notice the great irony here. Throughout Jonah’s story, even after he is finally forced to obey the Lord’s command, idol-worshiping pagans seem to have a greater sense of piety than God’s prophet.
Throughout the book Jonah comes across as smug and presumptuous. He has great confidence that God will show grace to him but is unwilling to have God share that mercy with others. Jonah was proud of his spiritual heritage. He viewed himself as superior to pagans. Yet the pagans he despised were more open to God than he was.
Jonah prioritized his religious heritage over an obedient relationship with God. This misplaced confidence rendered him hard-hearted and disobedient. By the end of the book Jonah was still pouting, resisting grace, and trying to negotiate with God.