More on ministry: Jeremiah and Jonah

This is the first of about three articles in the More on ministry series.

Jeremiah and Jonah provide an interesting comparison and contract when thinking about ministry. Perhaps it is useful to express these in a table.

JeremiahJonah Background What they did Results God's assessment

Jeremiah was appointed as a prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:5). Specifically, he was to declare God's judgement against Jerusalem and Judah, due to the idolatry of their people (Jeremiah 1:15-16).

God promised to protect him, so that he may stand against the whole land (Jeremiah 1:18).

Jonah, son of Amittai, was commissioned by to go to Nineveh and preach God's judgement against it (Jonah 1:2).

However, it appeared that Jonah did not particularly like the commission he was given, and thus tried to flee to Tarsish (Jonah 1:3). Nevertheless, God overruled Jonah's intentions and by 3:3 we see Jonah back on his way to Nineveh.

Given the nature of the message imparted onto him and the response of his audience to the message, Jeremiah struggled greatly with his task. At various places in the book Jeremiah recorded his internal struggles (e.g. Jeremiah 15:17-18; 20:7-18). And yet, he is compelled to proclaim God's word (e.g. Jeremiah 15:16; 20:9; 20:11).

Jonah proclaimed (Jonah 3:4), Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!

We do not know whether that was all he said, or whether that was merely a summary of all that he has said.

The response of the people was, to put simply, sad. I cannot find a reference where someone repented from hearing Jeremiah's message. At various stages he was quite badly mistreated (e.g. Jeremiah 20:1-6; 26; 36-38).

If one measures it only by numbers, Jeremiah is probably one of the more "unsuccessful" prophets.

The entire city repented. Ninevites from the greatest to the least, and all the animals (just to emphasise the point), put on sackcloth and fasted.

God, seeing what has happened, had compassion and withheld judgement (Jonah 3).

On the surface, Jonah's work was amazingly successful.

God consistently kept his promises to Jeremiah. Although mistreated, none of the kings, the false prophets or the people prevailed over him. His pronouncements of judgement were vindicated (Jeremiah 39).

With the benefit of hindsight, Jeremiah's prophesies brought forth the promise of restoration and a new covenant (Jeremiah 30-31), ruled by a righteous branch of David (Jeremiah 23). These were ultimately fulfilled in Christ.

However, God did not appear to be pleased with Jonah and what he did. The reason was Jonah's apparent anger that the Ninevites were spared (Jonah 4:2-3). It appeared that Jonah wanted God to judge, yet even by the end of the book he failed to grasp the mercy of God.

Are our attitudes to ministry consistent with the biblical view?

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