I like cat naps. When I'm sleepy, if I just lay down for 20 to 30 minutes, I can usually enter into a deep sleep pretty quickly and wake up feeling completely refreshed. However, if my rest during that time is interrupted, I have a hard time getting back to sleep. So I tend to guard my cat naps quite jealously.

One day when I was napping, I heard Peter calling my name. I was annoyed. He was intruding on my much-needed refreshment. I debated ignoring him and pretending to have slept through. In the end, I grudgingly relinquished my bed in favour of seeing what he wanted.

When I got up to find him, he told me he hadn't called me at all. I later wondered if perhaps what I had heard was part of a dream.

When my rest was over and I considered what had happened, I realized how remarkable the story of young Samuel and Eli the elderly priest was.

Young Samuel was also resting in bed when he thought he heard Eli the priest calling his name. His attitude in answering, "Here I am", and running (at least the first time) to Eli demonstrates a remarkable level of humility, submission, and obedience.

Not only did he not fake sleep, but he came running to Eli's voice. His submission and obedience were wholehearted.

The second and third time he thought Eli was calling him, the Bible records that Samuel "got up and came" to Eli. It may be that Samuel's weariness overwhelmed his ability to hurry after the first time. However, his continued obedience and submission time after time point to a deep humility. Surely the temptation to fake sleep would have grown with each frustrating denial that Eli had called him. Yet still he came.

Without these attitudes of submission, obedience, and humility, Samuel would have never learned to recognize the sound of God's voice. In the days ahead, he would become known as a prophet of the Living God. The training he received right from childhood would stand him in good stead for the rest of his life.

Let's turn to another man well known as a prophet of God. His name was Jonah, and today he is known as a rather disobedient prophet. God asked him to go to Nineveh, a wicked city, and give them a message that they were about to be destroyed if they did not repent of their wicked ways.

Jonah hated Nineveh, the capital city of Israel's mortal enemies, the Assyrians. Remember, these were the people who had captured and exiled the inhabitants of Samaria (the capital of Israel's northern kingdom), laid siege to Jerusalem, destroyed dozens of the smaller cities in the southern kingdom of Judah [1], and eventually set up a protection racket whereby the kingdom of Judah paid tribute money to Assyria in exchange for not being destroyed. The Assyrians were well known for their cruelty in the ancient world. [2] Of course, Jonah did not want to be a part of the rescue plan God was hatching. So he ran away from the task God gave him, in the opposite direction. 

Many of us know the rest of the story—of the storm God sent to threaten the ship Jonah was sailing on, of Jonah being thrown into the sea, of the large fish that came and swallowed him and transported him towards Nineveh before spitting him up.

Jonah went to Joppa after God told him to go to Nineveh. Joppa, with its expansive view of the coastline, was an ancient port city in Israel. [3] It’s where you went if you wanted to travel. I find it illuminating to look at a map to understand the dynamics of this story. Here's what I find:

Here's the interesting thing about this story: compared with Nineveh, Tarshish is almost 5 times the travel distance.

This highlights an important spiritual reality. We often expend more effort to disobey God than we would use to obey Him.

As we know from the story of Balaam, a disobedient prophet is the next-door neighbour of a false prophet. Jonah was bringing himself perilously close to being judged by God. The man who made his living as a prophet of God was no longer willing to submit to and obey his Master. As Tim Mackie once wrote, "Jonah thinks he’s running for his life, the sad reality is, he’s running from his life." (emphasis mine) [4]

After some time in the belly of the big fish, Jonah confessed his disobedience. He proceeded to Nineveh, where he began to proclaim the coming judgement of the Lord: "Forty more days, and Nineveh will be overthrown." [5]

The word "overthrown" is haphak, which comes from a root word that can be translated either as "turned over" (i.e., "destroyed", the way Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed), or "turned around" (i.e., "brought to repentance"). [6] Included in God’s brief message were both a warning and a way out.

Though donning sackcloth was a common practice to demonstrate repentance in ancient cultures, fasting for repentance was foreign to the Assyrians and Babylonians. [7] It seems likely that the king of Nineveh did some research into Hebrew traditions of repentance in order to properly demonstrate it before the Hebrew God.

The Ninevite king wanted there to be no misunderstanding of his country’s communal repentance. As is so often the case when we interact with other cultures (or in this case, the God of another culture), the Ninevite king exaggerated his actions to the point of being funny, and perhaps rather dangerous. Not only did the people fast from food, but they were not allowed to drink. Not only did the people fast and wear sackcloth, but so did the animals. I find myself touched by the lengths they went to in order to demonstrate the sincerity of their repentance.

Meanwhile, Jonah (of course) hated the mortal enemies of his people. He happily declared Nineveh's overthrow, perhaps ignoring the lesser-used meaning of haphak: "brought to repentance". The prophet waited gleefully to observe the city's destruction.

Though Jonah had grudgingly confessed his disobedience earlier, his subsequent obedience was also grudging. We know this because when God relented from destroying Nineveh, Jonah was displeased. His attitude was not one of submission to God, but of frustrated revenge. When God subverted his expectations, he complained. "I knew You would do this [and that's why I ran away]!" he said. 

This is not the language an obedient prophet would dare to use with his God. Instead of submitting, we see Jonah trying to dictate to God what was acceptable and unacceptable.

After he was expelled from the big fish, Jonah didn't dare disobey God any longer, but his obedience was in name only. His heart was still full of disobedience. He had confessed, but there was no real repentance there, or he wouldn't have attempted to justify his rebellion. 

When we hear from God, if our hearts are not aligned in submission and obedience to Him, we rob ourselves of the joy that could be ours if only we would humble ourselves before our Master. May we each cultivate hearts like Samuel's, and not hearts like Jonah's!


[1] “Assyrian siege of Jerusalem,” Wikipedia, accessed March 17 2023, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assyrian_siege_of_Jerusalem

[2] See the book of Nahum.

[3] “Jaffa,” Wikipedia, accessed March 17 2023, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaffa

[4] Tim Mackie as quoted in The Meeting House videocast, “Jonah, Jesus, and Us 01: The Man, The Myth, The Legend,” aired August 4, 2019, introductory quotations, minute 2:09.

[5] Jonah 3:4, NASB.

[6] James Bruckner, NIV Application Commentary: Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Jonah (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016), Jonah 3:1-5 entry in electronic resource.

[7] Mark W. Chavalas, Victor H. Matthews, John H. Walton, IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2021), Jonah 3:5-10 entry in electronic resource.

(Picture Source)