In our last installment I said that Jonah is a story that can be considered in its contrasts. The most obvious contrast is a contrast of obedience. Aside from Jonah himself, everything seems to be obeying God. The wind (1:4; 4:8), the fish (2:10), the shade plant (4:6), and the worm (4:7) -- all of nature stands in unquestioning submission to the will of its Creator. Most strikingly, the Ninevites also obey. This fierce, idolatrous nation of Israel's enemies is found believing in Jehovah and repenting after the first day of Jonah's preaching.
If anyone should obey God in this story, it should be Jonah. After all, he was an Israelite, an inheritor of the law, the promises and the covenants. Moreover, he was a prophet, charged with proclaiming the Word of God to others. But when confronted with the Word of God himself, he runs the other way (1:3).
No doubt God intended for the first audience to see this irony and note their disobedience - the same disobedience which was leading them toward exile - for what it truly was: offensive, unbecoming, unnatural, and ultimately foolish, because no one can hide from God.
I remember one personal episode of near-disobedience. We, along with other foreigners in our provincial city, had been run out of town by a hostile element just one month after setting up house. Now we found ourselves back in the capital city, but receiving every surprising confirmation that we should return. It was a sense against which I fought hard, right up to the last minute. I could see the headlines about a foolish American family ignoring danger signs and heading blindly to their deaths. Surely God would not expect us to step back into that situation! The morning arrived, the bags were packed, the taxi horn was honking, and I was found pouting on my bed and announcing, "I'm not going back there!"
Graciously, my wife had a faith and a practical edge I didn't have at that time. "Honey, I've got all of our belongings in those bags and I am not going to unpack them," she said. "Jesus is calling us to go back. You can stay here, but I'm going!"
We went, and walked out a pattern of good works God had for us there for another year and a half. Though I could point to no chapter and verse, it was clear enough what the Lord was asking of us. I really believe that if I had insisted on not going that day, it would have been disobedience. And disobedience is a dangerous thing.
When I say disobedience is dangerous, I do not mean that you might get swallowed by a fish, or some other bizarre consequence - though it could happen! Jonah's getting swallowed was a gracious thing... a sign of God's ongoing commitment to him. What is dangerous about disobedience is the possibility of NOT getting swallowed by a fish, that is, disregarding the voice of God and getting away with it until you stop hearing him, and stop caring. How do we hear the voice of God? Primarily and authoritatively through His Word. Then as we develop ears to hear the Shepherd's voice and follow his promptings. Hearing and obeying begins with the small things. A radical commitment to doing whatever the Master says to do, big or small.
That is, after all, the definition of being a disciple: one who obeys all that Jesus commands (Matthew 28:19-20). And obedient disciples of Jesus Christ can turn our world upside-down. Won't you join great fish and tiny worms, plants and wind, angels and saints, in the harmony of obedience to the Master's every command?