Lessons from the book of Jonah

Called to start city evangelism

For the French equivalent of this article (with more food for thought) click here.

For Spanish language tools, see below.

“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city.” – Jonah 1:2 (NKJV)

« All these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. » – 1 Corinthians 10:11 (NKJV)

JonaInstead of « great city, we could also say: « Go to that big city! » Thus, the book of Jonah is about a call to go to a big city, about the call to go to the big cities. (According to 1 Corinthians 10:11, bible events are reported for our admonition. Furthermore, they are especially relevant for the end-times!)

But the book of Jonah is also about spiritual revival (Jonah slept on the boat – the sailors had to wake him up). Therefore, it can be said that following Jonah’s example (i.e. sharing the Positive News with people in the big cities) is one of the factors that will bring about spiritual revival.

According to Janet Howe Gaines, ‘Jonah, son of Amittai’ may be broadly interpreted as either ‘Peaceful bird, son of human truthfulness’ or ‘Birdbrain, son of God’s enduring truth in the face of human capriciousness’ (see Gaine’s book ‘Forgiveness in a Wounded World: Jonah’s Dilemma’)”.

It is also remarkable that Jonah buys passage in advance, thus showing “extreme eagerness to escape divine injunction, for the custom in ancient days was to pay the fare at the conclusion of a voyage”. (Footnote 1)

Jonah and Seventh-Day-Adventists

It seems there are several parallels between Jonah and us, Seventh-Day-Adventists:

1) Jonah found it quite difficult to do God’s will. What about us? For over 100 years we have had the following advice: « The message that I am bidden to bear to our people at this time is, Work the cities without delay, for time is short. » (Ellen White, Letter 168, 1909 / Ministry to the cities, p. 26) Ellen White also wrote the following: « The Lord has shown me that there is a work to be done in the cities that is scarcely entered upon. This question of the work in the cities is to become a living question with us. » (Letter 42, 1909 / Ministry to the cities, p. 26)

2) Jonah received the call twice. He had to talk about judgment. God’s people receives the call twice (Rev. 14 and 18). We also have a judgment message (Rev. 14).

3) Jonah was called to « cry out against » Niniveh (Jonah 1:2). Both the first angel (Revelation 14:7) and the fourth angel (Revelation 18:2) are speaking with a « loud voice » or « crying with a loud voice ». Note that the passages in Revelation relate to SDAs.

4) If Jonah’s story applies to SDAs, then (in some countries) we are currently in a boat – that is taking us into the wrong direction. A boat? Yes, have a look at the logo on this website…

5) What will make us leave this boat? According to the bible, it is a storm – or a (short) time of trouble. See « Last Day Events », ch. 10, The little time of trouble

Thus, it is obvious that the book of Jonah was written for us! Why should we refuse to learn from Jonah’s mistakes?

The best excuses in the whole world

Jonah had very good excuses not to accept God’s call, for example:
1. Niniveh was truly huge: Greater Niniveh was 4 times bigger than Greater London: Greater Niniveh occupied an area of about 6,000 km2 whereas Greater London occupies an area of 1,572 km2 (or 607 sq miles). Note that it took three days to travel from one end to the other, three days of 20 miles each. Now imagine a place four times bigger than Greater London…
We could also compare Greater Niniveh to the London metropolitan area: 6,000 km2 vs. 8,382 km2 (or 3,236 sq miles). Thus, we can see that Greater Ninveh would have covered about 70% of the London metropolitan area.
Jonah was asked to work such a big place on his own – a place that was the largest city in the world for some fifty years. There was nobody to help him. Mission impossible (humanly speaking)!

2. It was a cosmopolitan place (see Easton’s Bible Dictionary). It also was a place where paganism was the norm. Would you think that these people might be interested in learning about the Creator God?

3. The Ninevites were known for their extreme brutality. Thus, Jonah might have thought: « I am sure these people will show no interest in my message. No doubt, they will laugh at me – they might even kill me. I do not wish to risk my life – certainly not for these Assyrians, our worst enemies! »

4. And finally, Jonah could have said: « How am I going to finance such a long mission trip? I definitely do not have enough money in the bank! God is asking me to do something impossible!”

Since it was deemed to be impossible, Jonah decided to run away. Who would not show a similar reaction?

Mission to the cities

adapted from floridaconference.com

Seeming impossibilities

“As the prophet thought of the difficulties and seeming impossibilities of this commission, he was tempted to question the wisdom of the call. From a human viewpoint it seemed as if nothing could be gained by proclaiming such a message in that proud city. (…) In the charge given him, Jonah had been entrusted with a heavy responsibility; yet He who had bidden him go was able to sustain His servant and grant him success. Had the prophet obeyed unquestioningly, he would have been spared many bitter experiences, and would have been blessed abundantly.”Ellen White, Prophets and Kings, p. 266

The number 40 in the bible

The number 40 seems either to stand for a time of grace (40 years for Jericho, 40 days for Niniveh), or for a preparation time (Moses spent 40 years in the desert to prepare for his ministry, God’s people was 40 years in the desert to prepare for the promised land, Jesus spent 40 days in the desert to prepare for his ministry). It seems that humans were given a lifetime that is made up of three times the « standard » time of grace (120 years, see Genesis 6:3). This could show how merciful God is: To make sure everybody has plenty of time to accept Christ as his Saviour, God is willing to give us three times more than the « minimum probation time » (3*40 equals 120). – (Footnote 2)

Setting a date for Jonah’s mission trip

There are several pieces of information we have to take into account:

1) Jonah appears in 2 Kings 14:25 as a prophet active during the reign of Jeroboam II (c. 786–746 BC).

2) Some think that God prepared the Ninivites so that they might be receptive for Jonah’s message – through an (unexpected) total eclipse of the sun: “Astronomical investigations have shown that a total eclipse of the sun occurred at Nineveh June 15, 763 B.C., lasting two hours and forty-three minutes. » – (Footnote 3) Note: June = the month of Sivan or Simanu

Cowell (1906) claimed that this eclipse had also been seen by the prophet Amos (Amos 8:9).

Regarding the unexpected total eclipse: “It has been argued that any reliable prediction of a solar eclipse was impossible before the time of Hipparchus” (c. 190 – c. 120 BC). – Thales’s Prediction of a Solar Eclipse; Panchenko, D.; Journal for the History of Astronomy, p.275

As a result, it can be assumed that Jonah’s trip took place between 763 and 746 B.C.

A story with four characteristic elements

In his wonderful come-alive presentation (Diary of a Bird brain – Jonah), Dick Stenbakken reminds us that Jonah

  • ran away from God, next
  • ran towards God, then
  • ran with God, and finally
  • ran ahead of God.

Pastor Stenbakken also observes that even though the wind, the waves, the lots, the fish, the plant and the worm obeyed God immediately, Jonah found it very difficult to obey God’s word. Do I sometimes find it difficult to obey God, to believe God, to believe God’s word?

Put in a nutshell, the book of Jonah can bring encouragement to those who run away from what God wants them to do. It is also a reminder of our mission: « Go to the big cities! Now!!! »

(1) Forgiveness in a Wounded World: Jonah’s Dilemma, Janet Howe Gaines
(2) A « glass ceiling » for longevity?
(3) History of Babylonia and Assyria, Robert William Rogers, p. 324

Further reading regarding Jonah’s story


Here are some exciting tools with ideas for urban ministry (SDA book and matching website):

By the way, where does the term “beehive” in SDA literature come from? Look no further: « During the past few years, the “beehive” in San Francisco has been indeed a busy one. Many lines of Christian effort have been carried forward by our brethren and sisters there. These included

  • visiting the sick and destitute,
  • finding homes for orphans,
  • and work for the unemployed;
  • nursing the sick,
  • and teaching the truth from house to house;
  • the distribution of literature,
  • and the conducting of classes on healthful living and
  • the care of the sick.
  • A school for the children has been conducted in the basement of the Laguna Street meeting-house.
  • For a time a working men’s home and medical mission was maintained.
  • On Market Street, near the city hall, there were treatment rooms, operated as a branch of the Helena Sanitarium.
  • In the same locality was a health food store.
  • Nearer the center of the city, not far from the Call building, was conducted a vegetarian cafe, which was open six days in the week, and entirely closed on the Sabbath.
  • Along the water front, ship mission work was carried on.
  • At various times our ministers conducted meetings in large halls in the city.

Thus the warning message was given by many.«  – The Review and Herald, July 5, 1906 (Ministry to the Cities, p. 190; Welfare Ministry, p. 112; Pastoral Ministry, Page 117).

Mission to the Cities (videos)

Other material

Spanish language tools


A propos A. Becker

Lire, écouter et regarder des encouragements selon la bible (par ex. des prédications adventistes) - pour grandir dans la foi !
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3 commentaires pour Lessons from the book of Jonah

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