This post is written by Katie Orr and is published as a companion to Unit 15, Session 1 of The Gospel Project for Adults Vol. 5 (Fall 2022): From Rebellion to Exile.
The Book of Jonah is a masterpiece. At first glance, it seems to be a unique object lesson with a call to obedience. It does indeed contain words of warning and encouragement to embrace God’s call instead of defying it. But (like every book of the Bible) we must remember that this was penned by a person with great purpose. These words were not an afterthought, simply scratched out on a restaurant napkin. This is a careful composition of words meant to convey God’s message to us.
A great question to ask anytime we come to a book of the Bible is, “Why were these words written?” We must consider why the author took on the task of communicating each detail. We must also seek to understand why God inspired this message and preserved it over the centuries. Another way to think about it is, what would be missing in the overall message of the Bible if these words had never made it into Scripture? So, then, we must ask, “What is the divine purpose of the Book of Jonah?”
Whether Jonah wrote the book himself or shared his stories with someone else to write the story, the book seems to end on a sour note, without an ounce of repentance from this stubborn, wayward prophet. It is an abrupt ending that leaves us hanging. There is the sense that the story is not yet over. We don’t know what happened to Jonah, whether he lived to tell the tale of a prophet-gone-rogue and the God who relentlessly pursued him or whether his story simply ends. But more than his personal adventure, the Book of Jonah provides a picture of our God in action:
He is a steadfast Commander who does not give up on his recruits.
He is a holy Judge who righteously preserves His holiness.
He is a relentless Savior who never abandons His rescue plans.
He is the merciful Divine who accepts the offerings of the repentant.
He is an attentive King who listens to the prayers of His people.
He is an impartial Benefactor who has compassion on all people.
He is a patient Father who lovingly corrects His children.
So as we enjoy the Book of Jonah, let us not forget that the primary purpose of these words (and all the Bible) is not to straighten us up and make us better humans. The goal of this narrative is to set our sights on the glory of God. You see, if our primary take away from our encounter with Jonah is that of trying harder, we miss the main message. Instead—if we pay attention—we get a peek into the magnificence of God. For when we see God more clearly, that glimpse of His glory can change us in ways no tale of morality ever could.
Katie Orr is the author of Secrets of the Happy Soul: Experience the Deep Delight You Were Made For, seven FOCUSed15 Bible studies, and is the creator of the Bible Study Hub community where you can receive training, encouragement, and accountability to enjoy God’s Word. Katie, her husband, and their three children live in central Florida. Learn more about and connect with Katie at katieorr.me.