The Book of Jonah - "Searchlights from the Word" by G. Campbell Morgan.
... But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.
That is to say, in modern speech, that he resigned his office as a prophet of Jehovah. He had exercised that office with good effect in dark and difficult times in the history of Israel (see 2 Kings 14:25). Now he determined not to continue longer in that office. A command had come to him to go to Nineveh, which lay overland to the north-east. He left his country by water, setting his face west, to a port at the far end of the Great Sea. Why did he do this? The answer is found in his own words later in the story: "... I hasted to flee unto Tarshish, for I knew that Thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness, and repentest Thee of the evil." Let these words be most carefully pondered. Jonah fled because he knew God well. His resignation was not due to ignorance of God, but rather to accurate understanding. He was commissioned to proceed to Nineveh, and cry against it on account of its wickedness. He knew that if he did this, and Nineveh should repent, God would spare it. This was what he did not want God to do. The cruelties of Nineveh had been brutal, and in the heart of Jonah there was no pity for her. He was in complete sympathy with the righteousness of God proceeding to punish the wicked; but he had no sympathy with the Divine compassions. Therefore he fled. This is the story of breakdown on a high level, but it is breakdown. A passion for righteousness, which makes us vindictive and incapable of forgiveness, even in the case of those as cruel as Nineveh, puts us out of fellowship with God. Let us not forget that Jonah had the courage of his convictions, and the decency to pay his fare when he ran away!
Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish's belly.
The "then" reminds us of the events following the flight of the prophet. Jonah was a true prophet, a real servant of Jehovah, and one who knew Him well, as we have said. Jehovah does not allow such a man to escape Him easily. Circumstances were in his favour; he "found a ship going to Tarshish;" he paid his fare and embarked. Then God began to act. He "sent out a great wind upon the sea." Jonah understood the storm. He said to the mariners, "I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you." At his own request, they cast him into the sea. "And Jehovah prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah." Out of that grave in the deep the prophet prayed. Let that prayer be considered, and it will be seen how fitting it was. It was made up of quotations from the psalmody of Israel, just such quotations as would occur to one familiar with that literature, in such an hour of mystery and darkness. It referred to circumstances of darkness and affliction, but persistently celebrated the delivering power of God. But carefully observe that there was not a line in it which suggested any yielding on the part of this man to the compassion of God as it might move out towards Nineveh. It was personal from first to last. Twenty-four occurrences of the personal pronoun in the first person singular! The prayer does reveal, however, that the sense of his relation to Jehovah had become more acute. At least he had discovered that he could not easily sever relationship with Him.
And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time.
That is a word of pure grace. It is in many ways the central light of this wonderful prophetic story. Judging by human standards, the highest and best of them, we are inclined to say that when a messenger of Jehovah had so broken down as to withdraw from his work and decline to deliver a Divine message because he did not desire results to be produced by it which might conflict with his own conception of what was due to righteousness, by such act he had for ever disqualified himself for service. But it was not so in the thought of God. He did not cast away His servant because of this failure. He gave him his second chance. "The word of Jehovah came unto Jonah the second time." There is nothing to be said except to utter words of wonder and amazement and thanksgiving that it was so, and that it is so yet. How many of us who have been called to deliver the word of Jehovah, would still be doing it, if it were not for this patient and perfecting grace of God? Surely not many! How have we failed Him, and broken down in our ministry; and often not on ground so high as that of Jonah's failure. It is all of His mercy that we have not been completely cast away from our holy work. In hours of our failure and deflection, He has led us through dark and dismal experiences, in which we have found Him anew, and out of the very "belly of Sheol" have cried to Him. Then has He delivered us. That in itself has been a wonder of grace. But to this He has added the yet greater wonder, that He has entrusted us again with His Word, and sent us forth to deliver it. Such grace keeps the soul in the dust of self-distrust; but lifts it to the height of confidence and loyalty.
I do well to be angry even unto death.
These are the last recorded words of Jonah in this story, and they are positively startling. God gave him his second chance, and he obeyed, going to Nineveh, and delivering the Divine message. The result had been as he himself expected. The city had repented, and her judgment for the time was averted. Jonah was angry. He had made no advance. He was not in sympathy with the compassion of God. It is a remarkable ending. But is that the ending? Hardly. There are two things to be said. The first is that God is revealed as still patient with His servant, talking to him, giving him the chance to utter his anger, and to complain, and in gentlest way arguing with him as to the falseness of his position. The second is that Jonah wrote the story. That in itself is evidence that he was brought at last into sympathy with the heart of God, for the value of this writing for his own people was that it rebuked the spirit of vindictiveness and revealed the Divine grace. The reading of the story carries us on to the days of One Who said of Himself, "A greater than Jonah is here"; One Who was as perfectly in sympathy with the righteousness of God as Jonah, and infinitely more so, but Who had complete fellowship with the compassion of God. He it was Who in order to fulfil righteousness gave Himself to bearing the sin of the world. It is ours to have the mind of Christ. We need, therefore, the warning of this book, and its encouragement also.