Jonah is a great example of a man who was caught between his religion and the truth of God’s word. When God told Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, he had to decide whether to follow the call of God or follow the corrupt Jewish culture in which he lived. Jonah must have heard that the King of Assyria was extending his borders toward Israel, and being a prophet, he may have known that the Assyrian Empire would in a couple of hundred years destroy the nation of Israel. In Jonah’s eyes and the eyes of his fellow countrymen, preaching to Nineveh could have been seen as an act of treason. Jonah thought he would rather die.

He bought a ticket to board a ship headed for the end of the known world. Along the way, Jonah was thrown overboard and ended up in the belly of a fish. After God miraculously saved Jonah from the belly of the fish, Jonah finally agreed to preach to Nineveh. After the city repented, Jonah went to the east side of the city even though Israel was to the west. Maybe Jonah did not want to go home. What if his fellow citizens heard about his ministry to Nineveh? Maybe he thought he would not be the most popular prophet in Israel.

The first lesson for us is that we must be careful about putting our patriotism above the Word of God. Jonah’s fellow countrymen would have considered him a hero if he had been willing to die rather than save Nineveh. But Jonah was willing, after some not-so-gentle persuasion from God, to be a hero for the cause of Christ. Not only did he bring the entire city of Nineveh to its knees before God, but his experience in the belly of the fish became the greatest picture in all of the Bible of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. The Lord Jesus said to the Pharisees of His day:

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.” (Matt. 12:39-41)

The second lesson for us is that we must be careful about valuing our religion above the word of God. The religion of the Old Covenant Jews taught hatred for all Gentiles, but God not only saved the Gentiles of Nineveh from physical destruction, He saved them for all of eternity. Jesus said that those Ninevites will one day rise up in judgment against the Jews who rejected the Lord Jesus, and we can safely conclude that they will rise up in judgment against the Jews of Jonah’s day as well. The Jews of Jonah’s day and the Jews of Jesus’ day were victims of their own religion. Their religion made the false assumption that God hated certain people as much as they did. If they had known God’s Word, they would have known about God’s love for the Gentile nations. They would have known that God intended for the nation of Israel to be a testimony to the nations concerning God’s love and grace.

The Jews of Jonah’s day were destroyed by the Assyrians, and the Jews of Jesus’ day were destroyed by the Romans, but there is a greater judgment that is yet to come. It is a judgment which will bring eternal separation from God to those who refuse to believe what God has said in His word. If you do not know the Lord Jesus as your personal Savior, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.