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The Reluctant Prophet
Jonah is best-known from his famous encounter with a whale (see the Fact Finder question below), but the often-overlooked reason that Jonah was at sea was because he was attempting to run away from what the LORD had told him to do:
"1:1 Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 1:2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. 1:3 But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. 1:4 But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken." (Jonah 1:1-4 KJV)
"And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time"
Back on land, with his lesson not to disobey the LORD firmly "anchored" in his mind, "Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD."
"3:1 And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, 3:2 Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.
Jonah was successful in his mission, but he would much rather to have "failed" - at least in the sense of the people of Nineveh rejecting his warning. Jonah (rightly) viewed the people of Assyria as a major threat to Israel - and would much rather have preferred to see The Lord destroy them - another profound irony. Nearly all of The Lord's prophets had little joy because most were ignored and rejected; the one that was successful, Jonah, was also unhappy because of the people that he was successful with.
It was however a plain assurance and proof that The Lord has compassion and forgiveness for anyone who repents and obeys Him. Again, to emphasize: "12:41 The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here" (Matthew 12:41 KJV).
"4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. 4:2 And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. 4:3 Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.
Fact Finder: How did Jonah's "three days and three nights," as plainly spoken of by the Messiah ("12:40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" Matthew 12:40 KJV) get ignored by much of the Christian-professing world? How did it cause people to assume the wrong day of Christ's resurrection?