Why did Jonah refuse God's call to go to Nineveh? There are two reasons that we might think would cause this choice, yet his actions reveal they were not the motives for his disobedience. First, we might imagine that he had some religious scruples about living among Gentiles – yet he did not because his response was to try and go and do so in Tarshish. Second, we might imagine that his disobedience was connected to a loss of faith in God, yet it is clear from his words to the sailors that he still believed in God: ‘I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land’ (1:9).
Instead, Jonah’s refusal was connected to the objects of God’s mercy, the citizens of Nineveh. Why was he so opposed to them? His opposition may have been based on national pride; Assyria was the power that could prevent the continued rise of Israel.
We also know that within a few decades, the Assyrian armies would invade Israel and lead her into captivity. Of course, this does not mean that Jonah knew that this would happen. Yet his response to God’s demands indicates that he strongly disapproved of what God was asking him to do. His disapproval was so strong that he was prepared to resign as God’s spokesman, not only to the Assyrians but even to the Israelites, which is why he was prepared to leave his home country.
Indeed, his sense of displeasure with God was so strong that he was prepared to die rather than complete it. I suspect that if he had told the captain to turn the boat round and sail for Joppa, the storm would have ceased. But Jonah did not want to go back to Joppa if it meant bringing God’s message to the people of Nineveh.
Have you ever disapproved in your heart, or even verbally, of God’s dealings with you? I’m sure most Christians have, particularly when things have not worked out as expected. God’s treatment of us can be very demanding and the thought can rise in our hearts that he has got it wrong. Jonah has a message for us if we are in such a confused state.