Jonah doesn’t get much right. Not much at all. God called him to arise and go to Nineveh. Nope and nope. Jonah up and ran the opposite direction. But after God gets Jonah’s attention, Jonah ever-so-tentatively leans into what God calls him to.
The third call God placed on Jonah’s life was that he “call out against” Nineveh “the message that I tell you.” After being spit up by the fish and told a second time to “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you,” Jonah heads to Nineveh. We aren’t told what God tells Jonah to tell the Ninevites, all we have are Jonah’s words: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”[i]
Just imagine what this must have looked like. We don’t know whether Jonah delivered this message once or multiple times as he walked through the city. The text is ambiguous about that. But it’s not ambiguous about how it must have been delivered. All we need to do is look one chapter further to see that Jonah’s heart was not at all in his message. After he delivers the message, Jonah sits perched on an overlook, anticipating the destruction of the city. In fact, if there was any pep in Jonah’s step as he delivered his message, it was that he was pouring salt into Nineveh’s terminal wound.
In my mind’s eye I picture the bleached out Jonah wandering slowly through the city, speaking monotone in a barely raised voice, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Jonah mumbles. And again, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”
We know the delivery was bad. But what about that message? What a weird message! Could this really have been the message God commanded Jonah to deliver to the Ninevites? On the one hand, it seems like it can’t possibly be the message. There is no mention of God, no mention of repentance and no offer of hope if they do repent.
But maybe it is the message Jonah was given. Maybe God knew this is all the Ninevites needed. They, after all, will repent even with this skeletal message delivered by a half-hearted man.
We don’t know. And yet, Jonah’s calling out was enough.
The word “call out”(qera) pops up only four times in the Hebrew Bible, all of which are clustered in Jonah (1:2, 3:2 (twice), and 3:4). It’s a word that was translated in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible as kerygma, a word that would have significance in the Christian tradition, understood both as our call to preach and the content (the good news) of that preaching.
I don’t know whether the message Jonah delivered was the message God gave Jonah to deliver, but either way, it is an incredibly encouraging story. Thousands were saved by possibly the most barebones evangelistic call ever delivered.
How many of us opt out of our call to share the good news of Jesus because we think we don’t know if we would explain it well enough? How many of us opt out of our call to evangelize because surely someone could do it better than us? But here Jonah is, with a monumentally bad gospel presentation that elicits the conversion of thousands!
How can that be? Because the work of salvation is the work of God. Period. He is the one who draws.[ii] He is the one who calls.[iii] He is the one who opens ears.[iv] He is the one who changes hearts.[v] God’s work of salvation is despite us, not because of us. It is a gift, perhaps the most profound gift we can experience as humans to participate in God’s work of salvation.[vi] And it is his grace that he allows us to be part of it.
Barna released a study in 2013 that shared that only 52% of evangelicals said they had shared their faith in the past year.[vii] How sad that half of Christians are opting out of one of the greatest privileges we have: to speak the hope of the rescue of God into others’ lives. Let us open our lips and, filled with boldness and hope, proclaim the call to repent and the offer of life through Jesus, our Savior.
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[i] Jonah 3:4
[ii] John 6:44: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.
[iii] Romans 8:30: And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
[iv] Isaiah 50:5: The Lord God has opened my ear.
[v] Ezekiel 11:19: And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.
[vi] 1 John 1:4: And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.