“How Old Testament ‘Prophets’ Can Be Relevant To Christian Believers Today.” by Donald Andre Bruneau

IMG_4136[1]When God spoke through the Old Testament prophets his wrath and his love and mercy were put before the people for a choice to be made.

One such prophet who was called by God for a very important mission was Jonah, son of Amittai. God commanded Jonah: “Go at once to Niniveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” (Jon 1,2)

Jonah was a ‘reluctant’ prophet. He was afraid and he tried to flee from the Lord. He was the only prophet who ran away from God. In this respect he is unique as a prophet.. “For many readers, he is simply frightened at the prospect of venturing with a hostile message into the heart of Assyria, a feared imperial power.” (1)

Jonah’s experience with God was a great lesson for the nation of Israel to heed. “Jonah, in his rebellion and disobedience, in his hardness of heart, was a man who typified the rebellion of the nation of Israel. As the Lord said to Moses, centuries earlier, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people.” (2)

As we proceed to discover Jonah’s mission for God and its outcome let us be attentive to what the prophet Jonah is saying at the time. A very good way to understand Jonah’s message and experience is to be conscious of the following question: “What does it mean for understanding the story if the hearer or reader takes the place of Jonah? (3)

It is very important to understand what message Jonah is bringing, because he is a ‘spokesperson’ for God. This is the role of a prophet, to bring God’s message to a people that God is concerned with at a particular moment in history. As Lloyd Ogilvie says:

“The book of Jonah is one of those accounts of a person’s encounter and struggle with God that is power-packed with theological truth and practical implications for people of every age. As we follow the story line, we find that analyzing Jonah is like a look in the mirror, and we may not like what we see. We all have run away from God or his explicit guidance. And we have all run back to him in times of need. We also remember the delight of running with God.” (4)

When we run with God we discover how greatly God wants to establish something very special with us. Yes, God wants to develop a ‘love relationship’ with us.

A Love Relationship With God

Usually the prophets of the Old Testament were used by God to warn the Israelites that they had broken their Covenant relationship with ‘Yahweh’, their one God. ‘Love’ between God and the Israelites was at the heart of the Covenant that He had established with them through Moses in the Decalogue. (Ex 20, 2-17)

I like the way Neher explains this ‘love relationship’ between God and Israel. Neher says:”It looks as if God revealed in the Torah the demand for love because he Himself wants to be loved. God longs for love of His creatures, and therefore He concludes a covenant, Israel has not only been chosen because of God’s love but because God expects love in return.”(5)

I emphasize this ‘love relationship’ with God because it is at the core of the message of Jonah. We will discover that God’s love and mercy is greater than his wrath as we journey with Jonah.

Journeying With Jonah

We shall imagine that we are with Jonah as we begin to discover his extraordinary adventure as a reluctant prophet of God. At times we will make comments or ask ourselves questions. We will also reflect on how we can apply what the prophet said and experienced to our life today. So let us see how Jonah got involved in all this.

It Begins With A Call.

“The call of God is simultaneously a sign of mercy, in that he is willing to employ the unworthy, and also a sign of his greater purpose, his concern for those nameless masses whose drab existence has not yet been illuminated by the divine light.”(6)

In Jonah 1,1 the story begins with the word of the Lord coming to Jonah. This word brings a command: “Go at once to Nineweh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” Nineweh was a great city inhabited by the Assyrians. The Assyrians were very powerful rivals of Jonah’s people, the Israelites.

The Ninevites were not worshipping the God of Jonah and they were very evil. It is no wonder that Jonah’s reaction was to flee by ship from the presence of God. Jonah did not want to be persecuted by the Ninevites. In Jonah 1,4 we immediately see God’s wrath displayed as he ‘hurls’ a great wind upon the sea, so great that the ship threatened to break up. The mariners’ fear of death causes them to each call upon their god. (See v5) The mariners discover that God is angry possibly because of Jonah’s presence on the ship. They realized Jonah was fleeing from the presence of the Lord.

Jonah told them that he is a Hebrew who worships the LORD, the God of Heaven, who made the sea and the dry land. (See Jon 1,9) In verse 11 we see God’s wrath increasing as we are told that the sea is becoming more and more ‘tempestuous’.

This is God’s way of getting the mariners to throw Jonah off the ship. The sailors try their best to bring Jonah to land, but when they realize they can’t do it, they throw Jonah overboard while promptly begging God’s forgiveness. When the sea immediately became calm the sailors feared God, converted and offered sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to the Lord. (Cf:Jon 1,16)

“May we be unlike Jonah who disobeyed what he knew, and rather be like the sailors, who obeyed all that they knew to be the will of God.”(7)

Can we imagine Jonah’s fear as he is being thrown into the sea where he will no doubt drown. Can you imagine the prayer of repentance he must have cried out to God?! “God meets us even in our self-imposed trouble.”(8)

Here we see God’s mercy displayed as He provides a large fish to swallow up Jonah, wherein Jonah spends three days in the belly of the fish. Can we visualize how yukky, how terrible it must have been for Jonah, in that total darkness, completely covered with slimy material? Then we hear one of the most beautiful prayers of repentance coming from the ‘reluctant prophet’ Jonah.

Would we have to reach such a desperate point in our struggle with God’s call on our life before we give our consent to God? Jonah’s experience reminds me of mine when on August 18, 1979  I cried out to God: “Please give me a second chance!” You see, God was ‘calling’ me and I had been a rebel. God spoke seriously to me through the parable of the talents. My sincere repentance led immediately to the wonderful life transforming experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and many tremendous adventures with God ever since.

In Jonah 2,2 we see Jonah’s frantic and desperate cry to God. Jonah realized he was just moments from death. (Cf: Jon 2,7) Jonah describes his descent to the deepest part of the ocean floor. (V 6) But Jonah ‘remembered the Lord’  and promised to answer God’s call and go to Nineweh. Then God speaks to the fish and it spews Jonah out upon dry land. Then Jonah walks towards the city of Nineweh.

Jonah as Prophet

Once Jonah is on dry land, God speaks to him again and tells him to go to Nineweh and proclaim the message that God gives him. Jonah obeys and walks through the wicked city saying: “Forty days more, and Nineweh shall be overthrown.”(Jon 3,4)

The Ninevites immediately repented upon hearing Jonah. They proclaimed a fast and humbled themselves before God by putting on sackcloth. The King of Nineweh also when he heard the prophecy of Jonah, commanded all his people to repent, fast and cry mightily to God. God CHANGES HIS MIND and does not destroy Nineweh (cf: Jon 3,10)

This shows us so well how God hates sin but loves a repentant sinner. You would think Jonah would have been overjoyed to see all the Ninevites repent, however Jonah becomes angry instead. (Cf: Jon 4,1)


Jonah is Angry

Why is Jonah angry? Is Jonah angry because God had ‘mercy’ on the Ninevites? In the time of the prophet Jonah, the Israelites were accustomed to seeing God help them ‘destroy’ their enemies, who worshipped ‘other gods’. Or is Jonah angry because what he prophesied did ‘not’ come true?

Nineveh was not destroyed and Jonah could be accused of being a false prophet and be persecuted. We must remember that in those days the test of a ‘true’ prophet was the actual fulfillment of the prophet’s prediction. In Deut 18, 21-22 we read: “How can we recognize a word that the Lord has not spoken? If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the Lord has not spoken.

The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; do not be frightened by it.” Jon 4,2 shows us that Jonah was aware that God was gracious and merciful, slow to get angry, full of love and able to relent from punishing. It seems that Jonah believed that God would only have mercy on His people, the Israelites and not on gentiles such as the Ninevites.

Doesn’t Jonah’s attitude reflect that of many Christians today who have a ‘holier than thou’ attitude and look at non-Christians living out their sinful lifestyle and figure that God’s mercy is not within ‘their’ reach. We as Christians have so much to learn from Jonah’s experience. We can sincerely ask ourselves what we struggle with God about. “If He told us to go communicate His mercy to some person, some group, some type of human need, what assignment causes us to dig in our heels?”(9)

We have so much to learn about  ‘God’s wrath’  which is triggered in this case by Jonah’s disobedience to His call and the Ninevites’ wicked lifestyle and their persistence to live in sin. God hates sin and desires for His people to turn to him and love him. In the ‘Dictionaire du Nouveau Testament’ we read: “Attribue a Dieu, la colere dit de facon anthropomorphique que le Dieu de saintete ne peut tolerer le peche.”(10) This simply means that a Holy God cannot tolerate sin. But we must remember that God’s wrath sometimes triggers our repentance and we turn to Him.

We have seen this so clearly in Jonah’s experience in the belly of the whale and of the Ninevites who sinned by worshipping other gods. It allows God the opportunity to extend His hand of mercy. As Jonah said in his prayer of repentance: “I went down to the land whose bars closed down upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the Pit.”(Jon 2,6) Jonah had a tremendous experience of God’s mercy. What did he learn from it? What can we learn from it?

Jonah’s Lesson on God’s Mercy.

Jonah 4 shows us how Jonah was so convinced that God would destroy Nineveh. Maybe with fire and brimstone from Heaven? So Jonah makes himself a shelter from the hot sun and sits on the mountainside and keeps an eye on the city to see what would become of it. God, in order to teach Jonah a very important lesson provides for a large bush to suddenly grow in order to provide shade and comfort for Jonah against the great heat.

The next day God withdraws the shade from Jonah by having a worm destroy the bush. (cf:Jon 4, 5-8) When Jonah complains to God about the outcome of the bush, God replies that just as Jonah should not be concerned about the bush because he did not labour for it, then it is God’s business if He wishes to show mercy to the Ninevites. This brings us to a very important question. What if we were in Jonah’s place? What would have been our reaction to God in regards to His mercy for the Ninevites? Perhaps we should examine our theology towards ‘sinners’?


Our Theology in Regards to Terrible Sinners.

What is my theology as regards God’s mercy for ‘terrible sinners’? What is your theology? It is crucial to examine this because on many occasions in each of our lives we will come face to face with ‘sinners’ like the Ninevites. Will we react like Jonah with a ‘holier than thou’ attitude and desire only God’s wrath upon them? Perhaps we need to look at our theology and acquire a better understanding of God’s mercy. Do we have a ‘Jonanistic’ attitude within us? As Leslie Allen wrote: “A Jonah lurks in every Christian heart, whispering his insidious message of smug prejudice, empty traditionalism and exclusive solidarity.” (11)

We also have to examine ourselves in the light of Jonah’s ‘disobedience’ to God’s call. If God calls us today on a mission of evangelization will we give an immediate ‘yes’ as the Virgin Mary did (cf: Luke 1,38) or will we run from God? Jonah, we saw, sunk to the lowest depths possible before he cried out to God for mercy. Peter Craigie describes Jonah’s descent so well. He says: “Since first he said ‘no’ to the Divine call, he had gone down to Joppa, down into a ship, down into the hold, and at last down into the watery depths; the final descent into the ocean depths would have been his last, had there not been a change of heart before he was cast overboard by the sailors.”(12)

Many there are both Jonahs and Ninevites today, who sink down to the very depths of sin because they are not sufficiently informed of the depths of God’s mercy and love. Perhaps we need a brief look at God’s mercy in order to realize very definitely that His mercy overrules His wrath. Jonah shows us so well how God’s wrath is quickly turned to mercy. Terence Fretheim tells us: “God repented of the evil which He said He would do to them, but only when he saw what they did, how they ‘turned away’ from their evil way.” (cf: Jonah 3,10) (13) Let us check out cases of God’s mercy.


God’s Mercy For All People.

Saint Faustina Kowalska of the Most Blessed Sacrament gives us such a precious description of God’s mercy in her Diary. (CF: https://liturgicalyear.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/divine-mercy-in-my-soul.pdf )

She said:

( 72 ) O Jesus, when I consider the great price of Your Blood, I rejoice at its immensity, for one drop alone would have been enough for the salvation of all sinners. Although sin is an abyss of wickedness and ingratitude, the price paid for us can never be equalled. Therefore, let every soul trust in the Passion of the Lord, and place its hope in His mercy. God will not deny His mercy to anyone. Heaven and earth may change, but God‟s mercy will never be exhausted. Oh, what immense joy burns in my heart when I contemplate Your incomprehensible goodness, O Jesus! I desire to bring all sinners to Your feet that they may glorify Your mercy throughout endless ages.


God’s mercy is ever present, ever active. My memory turns now to the wonderful display of God’s mercy in my daughter’s life, many years ago when she was age twenty-nine. Tammy had overdosed on a bottle of Tylenol pills. She had suicided. Two doctors were soon at her side. One of them declared her dead. The other began to give her cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Tammy told me that as she was going up a tunnel (while she was momentarily dead) she repented, she did like Jonah, she cried out to God, saying: “God, please forgive me! God, please forgive me!” Then she says she met a heavenly being in the tunnel who instructed her to turn around and go back into her body. The prodigal daughter had turned towards her merciful God and received His unconditional love! The scriptures give us a beautiful example of God’s mercy at the eleventh hour.

This is found in Luke 23, 42-43. “Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’ . He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” This is the story of a thief, a sinner hanging on a cross next to Jesus. He was immediately granted mercy, just before he died! We have already seen through the prophet Jonah, how God’s mercy was readily available for Jonah and the Ninevites.

The ‘key’ to unlocking these floodgates of God’s mercy is very simple. All God is looking for is a ‘repentant heart’. The King of Nineweh gives us such an inspiring example of God being ‘merciful’. The King after that he had repented and commanded his people also to repent and turn from their evils ways, said: “Who knows? God may relent and change His mind; He may turn from His fierce anger, so that we do not perish.” (Jon 3,9) The result is that God changed His mind about the calamity that He said He would bring upon them.



Thank God for prophets, and especially for a ‘reluctant prophet’ like Jonah. I believe his message is vitally important for Christians today. Many are being called by God, but several like Jonah are not answering the call. Jonah shows us that when God calls us to be his ‘spokesperson’ , His prophet, that He means business.

God will do whatever is necessary to accomplish His mission of bringing people into His Kingdom, as we saw in Jonah’s case. As I said earlier, God deeply yearns to have an everlasting relationship of ‘love’ with us. However, He does not force Himself on us. He sets before us a ‘choice’. This choice is put before us in Deuteronomy 30, 19-20:

19 I call heaven and earth to witness this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Choose therefore life, that both thou and thy seed may live:

20 And that thou mayst love the Lord thy God, and obey his voice, and adhere to him (for he is thy life, and the length of thy days,) that thou mayst dwell in the land, for which the Lord swore to thy fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that he would give it them.

Robert. B. Salters sums it up so well. He says: “Repentance may provide a way of escape. For the Divine Heart is full of mercy and extends it to all His creatures, even those whom we are want to despise.” (15)



  1. David M Gunn, Narrative in the Hebrew Bible (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1993) 130.
  2. Robert Deffinbaugh, Jonah: The Prodigal Prophet (Biblical Studies Foundation, 1998) 2, Lesson #1. Available from http://www.bible.org/docs/ot/character/jonah/jonah-03.htm
  3. James Limburg, Jonah (Louiseville, Ky: Westminster,John Knox Press, 1993) 25.
  4. Lloyd J Ogilvie, The Communicator’s Commentary: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, 1990) 396.
  5. Andre Neher, The Prophetic Existence (South Brunswick, N.J.: A.S. Barnes, 1969) 166.
  6. Peter Craigue, The Twelve Prophets (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1985) 231.
  7. Robert Deffinbaugh, Jonah: The Prodigal Prophet (Biblical Studies Foundation, 1998) 14.
  8. Lloyd j Ogilvie, The Communicator’s Commentary: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah (Dallas Texas: Word Books, 1990) 414.
  9. Ibid: 403.
  10. Xavier Leon-Dufour, Dictionaire du Nouveau Testament (Paris, France: Editions du Seuil, 1975) 172.
  11. Peter Craigie, The Twelve Prophets (Philadelphia : The Westminster Press, 1985) 237.
  12. Ibid., 227.
  13. Terence E. Fretheim, The Message of Jonah: a theological commentary (Minneapolis, Minn.,: Augsburg Publishing House, 1977) 129.
  14. Divine Mercy In My Soul. (Diary of Saint |Faustina) Notebook #1 (72)
  15. Robert B. Salters, Jonah and Lamentations (Sheffield, England : JSOT Press, 1994) 60.

About Donald

Donald Andre Bruneau is a Metis, Canadian, Traditional Catholic, evangelist, writer, poet, Married 51+ years, pro-LIFE, exposer of Evil, proclaimer of Truth.

, , , , , ,