The word of God is the authority to determine and direct man in his duty to God. Apart from God’s word, we will not know God’s will nor His direction for our lives. Man’s first responsibility in life is, therefore, to listen to Gods word so as to obey Him. Hence, the book of Jonah begins with the word of the Lord coming to Jonah, instructing him to preach to the Assyrians of Nineveh. Note that Paul was not the first commissioned by God to preach the good news to the Gentiles. Neither was Peter, but Jonah.
Sadly, Jonah did not recognise this privilege. Jonah 1:3 says twice that Jonah fled from the presence of God. Jonah ran away because he did not want the Assyrians to be forgiven of their sins and cruelty (See Nahum 3:1-4 and Jonah 4:1,5). The Assyrians were Israel’s enemies. He wanted justice done instead of forgiving the Ninevites.
Jonah’s name means “peace”. His father’s name Amittai means “truth of God”. There is no peace for a man who runs away from God’s truth.
Jonah deserted his calling, deviated from the Lord’s will for his life, and went on a downward spiral leading him to the bottom of the sea, symbolic of the abyss. It was a depiction of his spiritual condition.
Likewise, when we walk in disobedience to God, we lose the purity of our conscience, the joy of our fellowship with God, the power of a prayer life, the privilege of influencing others, and the honour of serving Him. Instead, we will waste away our life like Jonah sleeping away at the bottom of the ship. In the end, we will reap only shame and regrets.
But thank God for his mercy and grace. He could have abandoned Jonah for another who would heed His call. But He turned Jonah back and recommissioned him. Is this not the same God who extended His love and grace towards us time and again when we fail?
What does it mean then to obey such a gracious God? The book of Acts shows us how Paul suffered through persecution, stoning, shipwreck, imprisonment, and false accusations. Paul could have chosen a different life but he did not. He was not disobedient to the heavenly vision given to him on the road to Damascus. Therefore, God gave him the accompanying boldness to proclaim the only message he knew before both his persecutors and prosecutors. Towards the end of his life, Paul could say in II Timothy 4:7-8, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” May God grant us too this same blessing of obedience to heed His call.