The book of Jonah begins with the word of the LORD going to Jonah calling: "Arise! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it." From the first verses of the book of Jonah, we learn a theme that will continue throughout the rest of the book and Scripture - missions. God is telling Jonah to share the Good News with gentiles and proclaim His mercy and grace to those that repent of their evil ways. We see that Jonah initially ran from this commission, allowing him the chance to proclaim God to the sailors on the ship carrying him away from Nineveh and see them learn of the Lord and sacrifice sacrifices to the Lord and vow vows to him (Jonah 1:16).
Later Jonah is faithful to his call to go to Nineveh and we see the city repent of their ways and turn to the Lord. Jesus considers them part of the redeemed in Matthew 12.
Literary Form of a Commission Narrative
The following provides a literary example of a commission narrative:
Divine Commission - Jonah 1:2
Objection to Commission - Jonah 1:3
Divine Rebuke and Reassurance - Jonah 1:4-16
Ritual/Symbolic Act - Jonah 2:1 (1:17)
Clarification of Commission - Jonah 3:2
We see this similar pattern being used in Exodus 3 and 4 with God's call to Moses through the burning bush
Divine Commission - Exodus 3:10
Objection to Commission - Exodus 3:11-4:13
Divine Rebuke and Reassurance - Exodus 4:14-16
Ritual/Symbolic Act - Exodus 4:1-5, 17
Clarification of Commission - Exodus 4:14-16
Our Great Commission Call
Old Testament theologian John Walton does not consider Jonah's call to be an argument for missions in the Old Testament. He argues that because Jonah runs from the call and is not happy that the Ninevites are saved, it is therefore not missions. However, the call from God is clear. He calls Jonah to spread the Good News just as He calls us to do the same.
We too have been given a call to participate in God's mission. The Great Commission in Matthew 28 states:
Then Jesus came near and said to them, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Though we will be tempted, like Jonah, to run from this command to share the Good News of Jesus with those around us. Let us remember that in that commission given to us, Jesus reminds us that He is with us always. We must be faithful because He is faithful!