James Montgomery Boice on Jonah

Jonah was a preacher whom God told to go to Nineveh, but he would not do it. He ran away. Indeed, he was going to Tarshish until God intercepted him and brought him back. God took His election of Jonah to that particular ministry so seriously that in God's sight Jonah was absolutely indispensable. So He brought him back and used him to effect one of the greatest revivals the world has ever seen. However, at the end of the story Jonah was unhappy, and he explained why he did not obey when God sent him to Nineveh.

Why was it? Was it the danger? Well, Nineveh was a dangerous place. The Ninevites were not nice people. When they did not like somebody, they cut off his head. If there were a lot of people they did not like, they cut off all their heads and piled them up in a great pyramid in the city square. It was their idea of a visual aid to learning. Jonah might have said: "I don't want my head on that pile. It's too dangerous. I won't go." Yet there is not a word in the Bible to indicate that this is why he refused.

Was it the difficulty? He might have said: "Me? Jonah? One man? A Jew? How can I possibly influence all those mighty people? I can't do it; I'm just a nobody. I have to stay home." There is not a word to indicate that this was the reason, either.

What was it? At the end of the book, Jonah says, in effect: "The reason I'm unhappy is that You, 0 God, caused a revival among the enemies of my people and so spared them. The reason why I wouldn't go to Nineveh in the first place is that I knew that was what You were going to do. You were sending me to preach a message of judgment, to say, `If you don't repent in forty days, you're going to go to hell.' But You didn't need me to go and tell them they were going to go to hell; they'd have gone to hell just as quickly without my preaching. You were sending me with a message of judgment so they would repent. And do You want to know how I knew that? I read it in Your book. I read it right there in the thirty-second chapter of Exodus, where it says, `The Loin, the Loin, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation"' (Ex. 34:6-7; cf. Jonah 4:2).

Do you see the problem? It was not a question of Jonah's not knowing the Word or not believing the Word. It was a question of obedience.

Boice applies this teaching to us by saying it is very easy to make a crusade of something while not actually allowing it to influence your life. You can wave a banner. You can say, "Oh, yes, I believe in the Bible." You can get people to cheer. But then you can go out and do something that you know is perfectly contrary to what the Bible says. You can even know the Bible well enough to quote it back to God and yet disobey it.
– James Montgomery Boice in his chapter called “The Foolishness of Preaching” from Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching (pp. 29-30). Kindle Edition.

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