When you think of the book of Jonah, what immediately comes to mind?
“Jonah and the whale.”
Expected. I suppose given the word association test among people who think that they are up on the book, their answers would yield a similar response.
“And even if a person doesn’t know much about the book, one thing is certain, they’d know about that incident!!”
Right you are. But, now, let me ask you a further question: What is the purpose of the book? What’s it really about—at its heart and core? Certainly it isn’t Jonah’s fish-experience—that takes up only a couple of verses in the book. It’s startling, and therefore, memorable, but it isn’t central to the account.
“Well, probably something about Jonah’s disobedience.”
Pretty good. But still not the central message.
“How about repentance of the city of Nineveh? That’s a biggy.”
Correct. It surely is—yet, not the most prominent feature in the book.
“Well, then, let me see? Is it Jonah’s attitude—you know, about the death of the plant, and all that?”
Another important feature, but still no cigar!
‘OK. OK. Tell me. I give up.”
There are all those things you mentioned—you might even call them mini-lessons of the book. But there us one fact that trumps them all. In six places throughout Jonah there appears the expression “God appointed,” or a similar one.
God appointed a storm that he “hurled” into the sea.
God appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah.
God directed his travel route and disembarkment at the shore.
God caused a plant to grow and shade Jonah.
God appointed a worm to gnaw at it, and kill it.
God appointed a scorching E. wind to vex Jonah.
If anything stands out it is God’s providence. That’s the theme of the book. God is in control not only planning His work, but also working his plan. Indeed, He is deeply interested in all that happens, and personally directs circumstances to assure that His plans and purposes are achieved.
“Wow! Never thought about that. But, you’re right—that’s the most prominent fact in the book. Why hasn’t anyone ever told me that?”
Dun’no; but now you know. I think the fish episode has blinded people to the real message of the book.