Who does God love? You? Your friends? Your family? What about the people who are different than you? The ones who believe in different things and disagree with you? Does God love them, too? What if they’re not very nice and don’t like you? Could God still love them?
Jonah didn’t think so. Jonah knew who he didn’t like. It was the Assyrians. They had been mean to the Israelites back in Elisha’s day and the Israelites were still pretty upset about it. They’re bad people, Jonah believed. They don’t deserve for God to love them.
So you can imagine how surprised Jonah was when God told him to go to Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria, and warn everyone that they needed to change their ways and turn to God. Jonah didn’t want the Assyrians to hear God’s message. He thought things should just stay as they were. Jonah knew that God had done amazing miracles in Israel and could see everyone in Israel, but perhaps if he went somewhere else, God wouldn’t see him, and would forget about this job. Jonah got on a boat headed in the opposite direction of Nineveh.
Jonah’s boat was going as far as boats from Israel went back then. As far as anyone knew how to sail. Jonah thought he had out-smarted God. But he was in for a surprise! God sent a huge storm to rock the boat back and forth. All the sailors were terrified. They went down below deck and found that Jonah was sleeping like a baby. He didn’t even know the storm was happening. They woke Jonah up and yelled at him to pray to his God.
Jonah told the sailors that he worshipped the true God, the Creator of the universe. When the sailors heard this, they knew they were in trouble. Jonah realized he could never run from God. He told the sailors to toss him into the water. Jonah thought he would drown. He believed that God was angry with him and had sent the storm to kill him. But God had sent the storm to get his attention. God was still watching over Jonah and keeping him safe.
God sent a giant whale toward Jonah. If Jonah had his eyes open, he would have been scared to death! The whale opened it’s mouth and in went all the water, and shrimp, and seaweed, and Jonah, too. He was trapped in the whale’s belly. Now what would Jonah do? He did the only thing he could do, and what he should have done in the first place: pray!
Jonah asked God for forgiveness in the whale’s belly. He promised to obey God and bring His message to the people in Nineveh…even though they were different…even though they had been enemies…even though he didn’t think they deserved it. The truth is none of us deserve God’s love. He doesn’t love us because we have earned it. He loves us because He is Love and we are His children. God wanted Jonah to obey Him and He wants us to obey Him, too. But we don’t obey God to earn His love. We obey Him because we already have His love.
God made the whale spit Jonah onto the beach. And Jonah was ready to obey.