As a professor at Moody Bible Institute, I regularly assign grades to my students. And I must admit that if Jonah was on my class roster, I’d be inclined to give him an F. After all, he failed to obey God’s direct command. Instead of doing what was asked, Jonah ran the other way (1:1–2). Even after his miraculous rescue, Jonah obeyed but preached the harshest sermon he could (3:1–4). Even when Nineveh repented, Jonah still had a negative attitude. He hoped to witness the city’s destruction and felt irritated and depressed at God’s mercy (4:1–3). The book ends with a question from the Lord that condemns Jonah’s ungodly attitude (v. 11).
Why did Jonah disobey God? Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria, Israel’s enemy. He wanted to see them obliterated! Yet God’s assignment represented an open door for His mercy. Jonah tried to slam that door shut, but he should have known better. God’s plans can never be thwarted. As I reflect on Jonah’s story, there’s one factor which causes me to reconsider my grade—the book itself. Tradition holds that it was authored by Jonah, which would demonstrate that his heart had been changed by these events. The narrative is filled with personal details that most likely come from the prophet himself, including his undersea prayer (chapter 2) and the episode with the plant (4:5–9). He recounts his story with honesty and vulnerability.
Jonah was not trying to make himself look good! If he could tell his story, magnifying the Lord’s love and compassion, then he was a man who’d been transformed by God. God is portrayed as the true Hero, and He turned all of Jonah’s failures into successes within His divine plan.
>> Transparency and vulnerability with fellow believers can bring glory to God. It might be painful to share our failures honestly, but when it shows God working to conform us to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29), then it’s worth it!