The story opens with Jonah being commanded by God to go and preach to the inhabitants of the city of Nineveh (vv 1-2). No doubt, this call came to the prophet as a great surprise because of the threat the city of Nineveh, as the capital of a rising power, posed to the entire region. But we should not be surprised at what God calls his people to do.
The call is surprising because it reveals unexpected aspects of the sovereignty of God. No doubt, Jonah would have anticipated a message of judgement rather than one of mercy. He knew that the residents of Nineveh deserved to be punished for their sins. Yet he became aware of a delightful surprise – God desired to show mercy to them.
This call is also surprising for Jonah because it was different from the way God had previously used him as a prophet. Previously he had predicted prosperity for Israel (2 Kings 14:25). Now he is given a sudden and very different activity to do – go to a national enemy and tell them about God's mercy. We should never assume that God will always use us in the same ways throughout life. Instead we should always be alert to the possibility of a change.
Why did God send his servant on this mission? The answer to this question is found in the Lord's promise to Abraham that through his descendants the world would be blessed (Gen. 22:18). While the ultimate fulfilment of this promise would happen after Jesus came, there was a real sense in which Israel had been called by God to be a light to the nations. She failed most of the time. Nevertheless God wanted to bring spiritual blessing to a Gentile people and he used an Israelite as his messenger. We too are called to be lights to the world.