A Missionary’s Lesson of God’s Sovereignty and Compassion

Jonah, a book that foreshadows New Testament centrifugal evangelism, is a favorite among God’s people. Perhaps one reason for this is that the book demonstrates not only God’s sovereignty, but also His great mercy. In fact, these are two major themes throughout the book. A brief survey of the book makes it clear enough that every chapter displays divine sovereignty. God appointed Jonah (1:1, 3:1), sent a wind (1:4), rescued (2:6, 9), commanded a fish (2:10), appointed a plant (4:6), appointed a worm (4:7) and sent a scorching east wind (4:8). Jonah tried to flee from the presence of the Lord but was unable to escape God (1:3, 1:10). In fact, there was nowhere, not even Sheol, that God did not hear Jonah’s voice (2:2).

The second major theme is God’s compassion. Jonah knew “that [God is] a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindess, and one who relents concerning calamity” (4:2, NASB). If Jonah knew this about God, why was this missionary so resistant? After all, God not only spared the mariners (1:14) and the city of Nineveh (3:10), but Jonah himself (1:17). But the climax for Jonah personally was not simply when God spared his life, but when God mercifully revealed to Jonah his own depraved way (4:10-11). In his very act of bitterness, Jonah demonstrated his own need for judgment. After all, rebellion is not less culpable when exercised by a chosen people. Jonah did not deserve mercy, but to Jonah, mercy was good when it involved his own lot, and not “Nineveh, the great city in which there [were] more than 120,000 persons who [did] not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals” (4:11).

This lesson is for you and me too—for all of God’s people. One can easily take for granted the tender mercies of a sovereign God by claiming exclusive rights to what God Himself initiated. Jonah must have eventually learned the lesson, for he told on himself for Israel’s (and our) benefit. How is God teaching you of His sovereignty and compassion for all? It is so easy for any believer to take for granted God’s sovereign mercies. Will you claim exclusive rights or learn the missionary lesson from Jonah?

Kevin Oberlin

Kevin Oberlin

Although from Chicago, Kevin has served the past few years in the “Bible belt” at Bob Jones University, teaching Bible and missions. He has served as well in interim pastoral positions in his home state, Illinois, and abroad. Kevin has traveled in over 40 countries and served as a resident Bible teacher in Manila and Singapore and a visiting teacher in Mumbai and Yangon. He also leads global vision trips with the goal of training and mobilizing men for effective cross-cultural ministry. He and his wife, Rachel, have two children.

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