We all love a good Bible hero. But just how heroic are some of our faves? Most of the time, they are less than impressive. But as we treat them as heroes, what are we teaching our kids? Let’s have a look at one of these dudes, and think about just what we ought to be saying about him. It’s Jonah.
A fun story
Well it’s not a massive surprise that just about every single Kid’s Bible includes this story. It is a very fun story. You get a prophet who runs away from God, gets caught in a crazy storm, thrown overboard, swallowed by a massive fish and vomited back up so he could go where he should have gone to in the first place. It’s epic. There’s not a kid on earth who wouldn’t be entertained by this bad boy. Well there probably is somewhere. But nevertheless, it’s a great story and our kids generally love hearing it.
But what is Jonah’s deal?
Well, his first problem is that he runs away from God’s command. In fact the text says he tried to ‘flee from the LORD’ (Jonah 1:3). This is an issue that will usually get raised as a bad move on Jonah’s part. And it is! You don’t run away from God. And especially not when the word of the LORD comes to you (as in Jonah 1:1). But you wanna know what makes this a particularly jerk move? We get his reason for not wanting to go to Ninevah in chapter 4.
He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Jonah 4:2
Jonah doesn’t want to go to Ninevah because he knows God will save them if they turn and repent. He doesn’t want God to save filthy sinners. And to make his point, he quotes from Exodus 34:6, which is from when God proclaimed his glory to Moses. This is God’s goodness. His compassion. His love. And it is the very thing that makes Jonah so angry that he tries to run away from God.
And then, just in case we don’t quite get the measure of this guy, after he sees the people of Ninevah repent – knowing that God will relent – he goes and watches the city, just in case God still destroys them anyway. He hopes beyond hope that they will burn, even though they’ve repented of their sin.
What’s so bad about this?
Well, the main issue I see with Jonah is that he totally doesn’t have the heart of God. God’s core character in this story is of love and mercy. Forgiving the rebellious when the repent. Yet Jonah is super angry about this. In his pride (perhaps?) he doesn’t think it is right for God to forgive. They are gentiles. Dirty, sinful, gentiles. They are Israel’s enemy. And yet God longs to forgive them. Jonah shows how far his heart is from God’s. Even after God saved him from death, by getting eaten by a massive fish, he doesn’t get it. Listen to what he says from inside the fish:
But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD.’ Jonah 2:9
But do you remember Jonah's reaction as God goes to save the Ninevites?
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry.
He is stoked that God has saved his neck. His life has been rescued from the pit. God has delivered him from death. But rescue the Ninevites? No thankyou very much. That’s a bit much isn’t it? What is the Lord playing at? That would be like God coming down in the flesh and eating with filthy tax collectors and sinners. That would be like the Son of God bearing the world’s sin on his shoulders, to show mercy to the people who rejected him. That would be like Jesus copping his Father’s wrath so that his enemies might walk free.
What do we do with him then?
Do you see how Jonah misses the very heart of God? He is not a model for us to follow. He should be so far from hero status in our homes that it’s not funny. But is it ok to still teach the story? Yes! A hundred times yes. It is a super fun story. We love fun Bible time. And as God’s Word there is lots to shape us in it. Just don’t teach that Jonah is the hero. Teach your kids that he misses the whole point.
Tell them that although he grew up in Israel and was God’s prophet – that didn’t mean that he ‘got it’. It didn’t mean that he automatically loved God. Don’t let your kids think that just because they grow up in a Christian family, then they will definitely keep following Jesus. Use it as an opportunity to pray, that God would stop them from ever running away from him! Teach them that we should love and pray for our enemies. And that, with God, we should rejoice when any sinner repents. When any younger brother comes back home.
NOTE: Jonah isn’t all bad. He gets a positive mention in 2 Kings 14:25. It’s just in the book of Jonah where he clearly mucks it up big time.
You can find more Bad Boys of the Bible here