Themes in the Book of Jonah: The Universal King

Christianity is not an “American/Western Religion.” I get so tired of hearing misinformed troglodytes spew this “argument.” If it has been co-opted in some manner by American culture, Jesus himself remains, nonetheless, a Jew from Bethlehem. It’s not uncommon for people to associate God with one culture, people, or ethnic group. In the New Testament there was concern in the early church about whether or not the Holy Spirit could come to Gentiles, and at the very heart of the Old Testament is the understanding that Israel has a very unique relationship with the one true living God of the universe. This, of course, is why we don’t often talk about “missions” in the Old Testament. But God has always been a God for all people, a God to all the nations – even those who didn’t recognize him. We see evidence of such an assertion in the book of Jonah. The book reveals to us that our God is a Universal King.

It has been debated as to whether or not one could connect Jonah with any missionary idea, as we now understand it. A number of authors have criticized efforts to connect the book with any sort of proto-missionary ideal in the Old Testament. But chapter 4 of the book begs to differ. In Jonah chapter 4 we find the purpose of the book clearly implied: are we going to adopt God’s or Jonah’s attitude? Walter Kaiser writes:

The text was written to help others avoid the trap Jonah fell into and to encourage their adoption of Yahweh’s heart for the nations – yes, even one’s most brutal enemies! (Mission in the Old Testament, 68)

Jonah is a book that calls us to be better missionaries than this reluctant prophet. It is a book that also reveals to us the very mind of God.

God had promised Abraham all those years before that it was through the nation of Israel that he was going to bless the nations (Gen. 22:18). Periodically throughout the OT we are being reminded that our God is a God to all nations and all peoples and all cultures. We see it in the story of Rahab and Ruth, and we see it again here in Jonah. Jonah is called to go and speak warning of certain destruction to the people of Nineveh, with the knowledge that if they repent God will relent. It is an important introduction for them to this great God. But we note that the nation does not change forever. Eventually God is going to destroy Assyria. So why go through all this trouble, then? It has to be that God is reminding us of his Universal Kingship. The story is as much about God’s missions and God’s sovereignty over all the earth, as it is about a misguided prophet.

God is Lord of all, and He will rule the earth in all its fullness. All peoples will bow to Him and Jonah reminds us of that. God is the Universal King. In many ways Jonah is a proto-missionary book. Jesus even alludes to this when he says: The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here (Matthew 12:41). The purpose of going to Nineveh was that in their repentance they would shame the formalism of the so-called people of God. While God had a unique relationship with Israel, His Kingship surely went beyond the boarders of that nation.

God’s Kingship should be proclaimed everywhere. We are challenged by this book to ask ourselves, “are we proclaiming his kingship in all the world, to all peoples?” We are also challenged by this book, like the Jews to whom Jesus referenced, to ask “is God Lord of our life?” Walter Kaiser adds:

Missions is one of the means God uses to provoke those who claim to be his people to jealousy and repentance. The image of thousands of heathen casting off their former way of life and crying out to God  in repentance is to shame mediocre believers into repentance and mending of their ways. Such is one of our Lord’s final and loudest calls to repentance. God is no respecter of persons. (71)

In Jonah the Universal King demonstrates the extents to which His grace will go to reach anyone. In reading it we are forced to ask if we are proclaiming that grace to all nations, and if we personally have experienced it. He is King of the Universe, but is He King of your life?

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