God’s Blessing for All Nations (Jonah 1:16, 3:1-4:2)
Jonah disobeys God’s call because he objects to God’s intent to bless Israel’s adversaries, the nation of Assyria and its capital city, Nineveh, and when he ultimately relents and his mission is successful, he resents God’s mercy to them (Jon. 4:1-2). This is understandable, for in time Assyria was to conquer the northern kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 17:6). Jonah is being sent to bless people he despises. Nonetheless, this is God’s will. Apparently, God’s intent is to use the people of Israel to bless all nations, not just themselves (see "Blessing for All Peoples (Jeremiah 29)" in Jeremiah & Lamentations and Work).
Is it possible that we each try to place our own limitations on the reach of God’s blessings through our work? We often assume we have to hoard the benefits of our work for ourselves, lest others gain an advantage over us. We may resort to secrecy and deception, cheating and cutting corners, exploitation and intimidation, in an effort to gain an advantage over rivals at work. We seem to accept as fact the unproven assumption that our success at work has to come at others’ expense. Have we come to believe that success is a zero-sum gain?
God’s blessing is not a bucket with limited capacity, but an overflowing fountain. “Put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing” (Malachi 3:10). Despite the competition, resource constraints, and malevolence we often face at work, God’s mission for us is nothing so puny as survival against all odds, but the magnificent transformation of our places of work to fulfill the creativity and productivity, the relationships and social harmony, and the environmental balance God intended from the beginning.
Although Jonah initially refuses to participate in God’s blessing for his adversaries, in the end his faithfulness to God overcomes his disobedience. Eventually he does warn Nineveh, and to his dismay they respond passionately to his message. The entire city, “everyone great and small” (Jon. 3:5b), from the king and his nobles to the people in the streets to the animals in their flocks, “turn from their evil ways and the violence that is in their hands” (Jon. 3:8). “The people of Nineveh believed God” (Jon. 3:5a) and “when God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it” (Jon. 3:10). This is dismaying to Jonah because he continues to want to dictate the results of the work God called him to. He wants punishment, not forgiveness, for Ninevah. He judges the results of his own work harshly (Jon. 4:5) and misses out on the joy of others. Do we do the same? When we lament the seeming lack of significance and success in our work, are we forgetting that only God can see the true value of our work?
Yet even Jonah’s small, halting moments of obedience to God lead to blessings for those around him. On the ship, he acknowledges, “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven” (Jon. 1:9) and sacrifices himself for the sake of his shipmates. As a result they are saved from the storm, and moreover, they become followers of the Lord. “The men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows” (Jon. 1:16).
If we recognize that our own work in God’s service is hobbled by disobedience, resentment, laxity, fear, selfishness or other ailments, Jonah’s experience may be an encouragement to us. Here we have a prophet who may be even more of a failure at faithful service than we are. Yet God accomplishes the fullness of his mission through Jonah’s halting, flawed, intermittent service. By God’s power, our poor service may accomplish everything that God intends.