“And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land. And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.” (Jonah 2:10-3:2 KJV)
Free will? When we think of free will, we probably have in the back of our minds passages like Deuteronomy 30:11-19 where God is setting before the entire nation a chance to serve Him or not. A chance at life or destruction. It appears that the nation's outcome is at least in part a function of what they are going to determine to do (or not do). We also may reflect on a passage like Philemon 1:14 where Paul is writing about the return of Onesimus. Paul says very poignantly, “But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.” (Philemon 1:14 KJV) Paul is not looking to force an issue, even if it is a good one worth forcing. He wants the goodness to come from willing hearts. I am sure it would be easy enough to find dozens of examples of this throughout scripture.
We have in the story of Jonah an extremely interesting case. A case that is all but in bold font, highlighted, and underlined. Not only do we have a case where there is a very wicked city slated for sudden destruction because of many unchecked free wills, but we have a prophet of God who is attempting to exercise his own free will to let them die. Jonah has no issue hearing from God. He has no issue understanding that God is likely to have mercy should they repent. Jonah has at this point done his level best to exercise any possible crumb of free will that he may have the liberty to have to step out of this task. His request is seen and flatly denied (see also 1 Peter 2:16).
There is something interesting about the need to have a free will. The more you see of God that you do not like, the more freedom or distance you want. The more you see of God that you do like, the less freedom you are interested in having least you mess something up. However, the inverse tends to happen. The more you see of God that you do not like and you would rather manager yourself, the tighter His grip seems to become on you. The more you see of God that you do like and would gladly surrender to Him, the wider the doors seem to open to you. It would almost seem that the key to obtaining a wider and longer lasting free will is to begin by surrendering yours to His. He may have new things to show you that you never would have otherwise seen. To refuse, a God who loves you enough to die for you first, an opportunity to show you something really new altogether may ultimately be a far lonelier and more painful decision than you are counting on.
“Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:10-11 KJV)