"And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest" (Psalm 55:6).
Reading the book of Jonah the other day, I learned that his name means dove in Hebrew. How appropriate this is, since Jonah was the prophet of God who tried to spread his wings like a dove and flee from the Lord. Jonah didn’t like the assignment God had given him. He was told to go to the wicked city of Ninevah and tell them that God was going to destroy their city if they did not repent of their sins. “Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me” (Jonah 1:1,2). Not fond of the fact that God was merciful and would spare Ninevah if the inhabitants obeyed Him, Jonah decided to flee to Tarshish (Jonah 1:3). What he soon discovered was that there is nowhere a man can go to hide from the presence of the Lord. As the story goes, Jonah boarded a ship, but God interrupted his voyage by way of a violent storm, and Jonah was thrown into the deep to perish. The Lord sent a great fish to swallow up Jonah and he became a captive in a rather unusual aquatic prison. Despite what many critics of the Bible may think, this story is not a myth or ancient legend. Jesus referred to it in Matthew 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."
Incredible as it may seem, Jonah did survive his ordeal. In answer to his prayers, the reluctant prophet was freed from his captivity, went to Ninevah, and boldly preached, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown" (Jonah 3:4). Amazingly, the people of Ninevah took heed to the message, and God spared them from certain destruction: “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not” (3:10). Rather than being elated over his missionary success, Jonah was sad and angry. The truth was he didn’t want to see Ninevah spared. He wanted them to get what they deserved: “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry 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” (Jonah 4:1, 2).
A couple of lessons are apparent from this dramatic event in the life of Jonah and the Ninevites. First, if we all got what we deserved we would all suffer the judgment of God. Jonah should have been elated that the Ninevites heard the truth and believed it. No man is beyond the grace of God. He is indeed merciful toward those who will turn away from their sin and seek his forgiveness. We should be praying for the salvation of all, not their destruction. Secondly, it never pays to try to flee from God. If you are a Christian and you believe that God has called you to a certain task, or occupation in life, or ministry, just obey Him. Rather than spreading your wings like a dove and taking flight from God, run all the harder to God and He will take you up and carry you on eagles wings to a place of great blessing: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). God never calls us to do what He will not empower us to do.