The complete sovereignty of Yahweh is accentuated throughout this short book. Yahweh controls the winds, seas, ship, and fish of His creation in chapters one and two. He controls the plant, worm, and scorching wind in chapter four. He appoints each of these to carry out His sovereign will. Yahweh is, then, the cosmic sovereign Ruler and nothing is outside His control except for the will of man. Jonah exercises his free will and rebels. The sailors exercise their free will and reluctantly hurl Jonah into the sea then offer freewill sacrifices. The Ninevites exercise their free will and repent. All of these acts are the result of people exercising their free will. Yet even in the acts of men Yahweh is glorified. The sailors seeing the storm calmed call on Yahweh and offer sacrifices. Though he takes some persuading, eventually Jonah comes around and does the will of God. The Ninevites are convicted by the word of God and glorify Him by their repentance.
Even as Yahweh was sovereign over the events in Jonah’s day, so too He continues to exert His sovereignty over His creation. “He makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and unjust,” says Jesus (Matt 5.45). He is still control of things and events. Yet this sovereignty remains balanced with the free will of man. People continue to exert their free will in either rebellion to the Lord or in obedience to Him. Some may take more persuading than others, but people can and are convicted by His word and glorify God by repentance.
Jonah speaks clearly to the power of the word of God. At the preaching of a reluctant and perhaps disinterested prophet the people turn from their wicked ways. Even at a half-hearted declaration of the word of God the people heard and repented. The word of God was the power of God unto salvation and righteous then; it remains the power of God unto salvation and righteous today. God’s word is alive and active, sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb 4.12). Christians today can depend upon the certainty that God’s word will not return to Him empty (Isa 55.11).
Jonah’s declaration that idols are “empty nothingness” (2.8) is an echo of Psalm 31.7: “I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in Yahweh.” The paganism of the mariners in chapter one was a vivid example of the nothingness of idolatry. They “cried out” to their respective god(s) and received nothing but empty silence in return. Many people today are trapped in the “empty nothingness” of idolatry. Idols today do not look like the idols then, yet they are just as potent. People kowtow to the idols of salary, success, and sex. Even some Christians fall prey to the allure of these gods. However, fortune, fame, and fondling disconnected from a godly perspective will only leave one empty and dissatisfied. Our trust must be in God so that we can enjoy the fruits of our labor, humility, and intimacy as designed by God.
There is also an evangelistic component to the book of Jonah. Jonah refused to hear the cries of the world, specifically the 120,000 in Nineveh. He was also furious when they repented. He cared more for a plant than for people. Worst of all, he hated that God had been merciful upon the Ninevites. In a similar way, Christians today can adopt a self-righteous mentality toward the world. Christians can become deaf to their cries for salvation. They can become consumed with a love of possessions to the marginalization of a love for people. They might develop an older brother mentality like the older son in Jesus parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15.25ff), callous at the grace of the Father and refusing to celebrate His abundant mercy. The church must not adopt an isolationist policy, withdrawing from the world. Her ears must ever be open to the cries of the world. Unlike Jonah, she ought to celebrate the grace and mercy of the Father.