The sign of Jonah is the sign of judgment
It is important to understand that Nineveh is the capital of Assyria which is public enemy number one in Israel’s eyes. God uses prophets to lead people to either repentance and righteousness or destruction. Of course Jonah is nervous. What if Nineveh and Assyria actually repents, when northern Israel hadn’t in 150 years? Who would be the instrument of God’s judgment against who? We know what happens of course. The judgment of unrepentant Israel comes a few generations after the book of Jonah. By who? Assyria destroys northern Israel. The judgment associated with Jonah is the spirit of God departing from northern Israel to rest on the repentant Assyria.
Assyria’s attack on Israel comes after hundreds of years of God struggling with his wayward people. Covenantal presumption is death. It is the judgment of Israel that God uses to bring the good news to the nations. This points forward to the same situation in Jesus day, but then, God uses the rebellion of Israel as a means to save the whole world. God punishes His people for its complacency. The Lord’s kingdom does not remain with the unrepentant, presumptuous or proud.
It’s like giving a bb gun to a young boy for his birthday. How many times are you going to discipline him for shooting his brothers or birds or windows before you simply take it away? How much recklessness will you allow a 17 year old to commit with an automobile? These seem like reasonable situations for discipline, but surely God doesn’t reject his people! God does reject the self-righteous and presumptuous; those who say Lord, Lord and yet know nothing of doing His will in the world. How long will the kingdom of God remain with those who use God’s grace as an excuse to live sinful, worldly, self-centered lives?
How long does God suffer the obstinate Israelites in the wilderness? He gives them precisely what they want, which is not to enter the land flowing with milk and honey. If Israel wants a God solely of justice and not mercy, that is precisely what they will get.
Jonah is a wise man and in a position I do not envy. He knew the history of Israel. There is one other instance when a Prophet was sent to a foreign king before Jonah. It was the prophet Elisha sent to Hazael to inform him he would be king of Assyria, Israel’s fiercest enemy and the arm of discipline against Israel.
2nd Kings 8:11-13 Elisha “fixed his gaze and stared at Hazael, until he was embarrassed. And the man of God, Elisha, wept. And Hazael said, “Why does my lord weep?” He answered, “Because I know the evil that you will do to the people of Israel. You will set on fire their fortresses, and you will kill their young men with the sword and dash in pieces their little ones and rip open their pregnant women.” And Hazael said, “What is your servant, who is but a dog, that he should do this great thing?” Elisha answered, “The LORD has shown me that you are to be king over Syria.”
Now Jonah is called to go to the seat of power in Assyria. He must be afraid of what his mission will lead to, given this history. Of course Jonah is afraid. Of course he is apprehensive.
Jonah knows that God loves His bride too much to watch her go off with another god. The Lord always seeks his people. He always uses physical events to get our spiritual attention. He was seeking to show Israel that if they would just repent, he would show them mercy. God showed mercy to Nineveh, after all, and how much more does Israel mean to him? Horrible things befall us, but how often are the storms meant to get our attention? How competent are we to read the signs, the signs of scripture that teach us to read scripture, that teach us how to interpret our lives and teach us how to live lives that point the world toward God? The judgment of Israel at the hands of Assyria is a sign of what befalls Covenant presumption, one we should all take to heart. It’s a sign Israel failed to heed and they were ripped form the olive tree so that we could be grafted in their place.
Romans 11:20-22 “That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.”
God is long suffering, more than anything we can imagine, yet if we do not respond to him in continued repentance, he will depart from us. We will come to the end and say Lord, lord and he will not know us.