In Jeremiah, God explains to his prophet that He selected Jeremiah as a prophet even before he was born.
Jer 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”
The text here is not suggesting that God appointed Jeremiah as a prophet from eternity past. The idea is that right before pregancy or right after conception, God chose Jeremiah as His spokesman. This claim is all a part of a larger attempt to convince Jeremiah to become God’s prophet. Jeremiah is to be impressed with the fact that he is special and chosen. Instead, Jeremiah’s first action is to recoil and ask not to be the spokesman:
Jer 1:6 Then said I: “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.”
God then spends the next few verses convincing Jeremiah to be his spokesman. It ultimately works; God sucessfully recruits His prophet whom he had been grooming for that task. But things do not always work out that way. Sometimes God tells people that they will be His prophet and then they run away:
Jon 1:1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
Jon 1:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”
Jon 1:3 But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
What results is a cat and mouse game where God goes through great lengths to recapture Jonah. God eventually swallows Jonah with a big fish and hauls him to the mission field. Needless to say, God could have chosen a more willing individual, but God was very serious about Jonah being God’s prophet.
Jonah never experiences a change of heart. Jonah remains bitter. He preaches against Nineveh, but burns in anger against God. God has impressed him into service, deposited him in a hostile nation, and then denies Jonah the satisfaction of seeing Nineveh destroyed:
Jon 4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.
Jon 4:2 So he prayed to the LORD, and said, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.
Jon 4:3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”
It seems that the theme of Jonah is to show God’s benevolence and power.
Illustrating God’s power: Against a prophet’s wishes, God can coerce them into prophesying. God can counter their resistance and have His will ultimately prevail. Even with a reluctant prophet who takes extreme action to evade God, God can force them to prophesy. This is not robotic control, God is not overriding their free will and moving their mouths. Instead God impresses the consequences of disobedience.
As to God’s benevolence: God will pardon Israel’s enemies based on their behavior. This is exactly what God declares He will do in Jeremiah 18. God thought He would destroy a nation, they repent, and then God repents. God is not as vindictive as His own prophets. Even if an evil Gentile nation repents, God will show mercy. God displays justice throughout the text. God even illustrates to Jonah the principle of unwarranted anger. The text cuts off with no indication that God’s reluctant prophet, Jonah, took God’s point to heart.
The text shows that although God is powerful, sometimes He shows mercy. If God wanted to destroy Nineveh, He could have just as He forced Jonah into ministry. But the Almighty God chose the route of forgiveness.