If you went to the mall and asked 100 people, “What’s the story of Jonah all about?”
Most (all?) would answer: “Jonah and the _______” – and they’d be wrong!
First, “whale” is never mentioned in the book at all – “great fish”
Second, neither this fish nor Jonah is principal character in the story – God is! He’s the hero!
The story begins with God. He is the first character in the story and throughout this book God is at work in powerful and wonderful ways. He has a plan – and Jonah, a prophet who lived in the northern part of Israel in the 8th century BC, is given the privilege of playing a central role in that plan. The story begins:
The LORD gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh! Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
1. WHEN GOD COMMANDS, OBEY! 1:1-3
God couldn’t be any clearer. I know there are times when we just aren’t sure what God’s will is. This is not one of those times. How Jonah heard this message, we aren’t told. What we do know is he is very sure what he is called to do.
Nineveh – the capital city of the Assyrian empire – at that time still growing in might and power.
Assyrians and Jews were long-time enemies – attacked Israel again and again
Anthropologists tell us that the A’s were one of the cruelest people ever to live on the face of the earth
Top 3 – Aztecs, A’s, Vikings
When they went to war, they were brutally vicious
Every man they captured they tortured to death
Every child prisoner was killed
Every woman prisoner was taken as a slave
There are records of whole towns who committed mass suicide rather than fall into the hands of the A’s
The A’s practiced child sacrifice, burning babies as an act of worship to their demon gods
Sexual immorality was the way of life
Bottom line – Nineveh was just ripe for judgment. Jonah and everyone else knew it. This message was great news to the prophet and the entire world – and Jonah is the one chosen to pull the trigger. So he takes off immediately, right? Well, yes, but not where you’d expect:
But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the LORD. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the LORD by sailing to Tarshish.
Jonah hightails it in the opposite direction! He pulls a “geographical.”
Joppa = Tel Aviv
Tarshish = probably a fishing village on Atlantic coast of Spain; the farthest western harbor known
He not only ran, he tried to get as far away from Nineveh – and God – as he could! Jonah is no wimp. His revolt is open, direct and without apology.
Instead of going 500 miles NE, he veers off 1,800 miles due West.
Isaiah says to God: “Here I am, send me.”
Jonah says: “There I go! Get some other chump!”
You know, I kinda like Jonah – and that God includes his story in the most precious book we have. He’s real – and he struggles with issues I struggle with:
*What d o you do when you don’t want to do what God wants you to do?
* What do you do when you know what’s right, but that’s just not the path you want to travel?
* What do you do when God’s plans and your plans just don’t match?
* What do you do when you can’t trust God – when you just know that somehow he’s going to rip you off?
* Perhaps the worst struggle of all – has God ever commanded you to do something you resented doing with your entire being?
These are Jonah’s dilemmas. Are they ever yours? There’s a Jonah lurking in the heart of every one of us – times our will is locked in a power struggle with God!
When God commands, obey!
Instead Jonah says “No way!”
And he probably figures that when he stepped on that ship he was finished with God. Not by a longshot! You can run from God, but you can’t hide! God isn’t finished with him yet.
But the LORD hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart.
And there follows an amazing account of how the sailors – who come off as much more noble than Jonah – finally have to chuck the wayward prophet off their ship to save themselves.
The second lesson we learn is:
2. WHEN GOD CORRECTS, PAY ATTENTION 1:4-17
If God cares enough to call you to His work and give you His gifts, then He also cares enough to correct and confront you when you’re headed in the wrong direction. God is willing to be patient with Jonah to a point – until he says, “No! Uh-uh! Not available! I’ll do it my way!”
That’s when the storm hits. Why? To punish Jonah? No! To get him back on track! And though times like this rarely feel good, and we usually do a lot of whining, it’s all about love.
Severe mercy (tell about the book written years ago and how God at times shows His mercy in a way that is difficult to understand and painful to live through)
James 4:6 – Talks about God resisting the proud.
• Military term
• God sets Himself on the field of battle when we are proud. In a very real and horrible sense, our pride pits us against God and on the enemy’s side. It engages us in a battle of wills with the God of the universe. Yikes!
• And God moves onto the battlefield. Why? Not to destroy, but o discipline and get us back on track to that humble state.
• Humility is the place of blessing and grace. And He so wants to bless us. So He’ll perform some “severe mercy” and strive to get us back to a blessable posture – humble dependence.
Here’s what the author of Hebrews had to remind his friends:
Hebrews 12:4b-6 (Message)
So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children?
My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline,
but don’t be crushed by it either.
It’s the child he loves that he disciplines;
the child he embraces, he also corrects.
When God corrects, pay attention! If you’re in a storm right now – don’t run. Don’t even ask to be thrown off the boat. When you think about it, telling the sailors to chuck him overboard was anything but noble. In fact, it was downright cowardly. God wanted his repentance, not his death!
Remember, it’s about love and mercy. God isn’t trying to get Jonah – He is just trying to get him back on track!
But it’s not over yet. It’s time for Jonah to get some alone time; to go on a little, personal retreat:
Now the LORD arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.
Ok, it’s not a Mt. Hermon (a local beautiful retreat center) – but it works. It takes 3 I imagine very intense days before he breaks. Chapter 2 is Jonah’s formal surrender. God has won the power struggle – for now.
3. WHEN GOD GIVES YOU A SECOND CHANCE, TAKE IT 2:1-3:10
Jonah 2:1-2 (Message)
Then Jonah prayed to his God from the belly of the fish. He prayed:
“In trouble, deep trouble, I prayed to God.
He answered me.
From the belly of the grave I cried, ‘Help!’
You heard my cry.
From the very beginning, it’s all about God. Even at our worst, He listens and answers.
Hebrew word for “cry” – not a nice, churchy-type prayer. This comes from the depths of his soul.
Permission and challenge to “cry out”
3 You threw me into ocean’s depths,
into a watery grave…
Who dumped him in the ocean? Not the sailors. God!
4 I said, ‘I’ve been thrown away,
thrown out, out of your sight.
I’ll never again lay eyes
on your Holy Temple.’
Ocean gripped me by the throat.
“Is this the end?” he wonders. “Have I pushed God too far?”
Think about this man, Jonah, for a second. Yes, he comes off as a stubborn man, defiant with an almost thumb-his-nose at God attitude.
But there is something in Him that God cherishes and can use. After all, he is a prophet – a man called to boldly speak God’s truth to often hostile crowds; a man who has heard the voice of God. And he misses that intimacy with God; he doesn’t fear death as much as being separated from His Master.
David feared the same in Psalm 51, his prayer of confession:
“Cast me not away from your presence, O Lord;
take not your Holy Spirit from me.”
It seems this sincere, deep-heart longing for God covers a multitude of sins. It’s why He keeps using people like you and me; people who fail Him again and again.
Jonah’s fear of being abandoned will never be realized
His Father will never let him go
Your Father will never let you go
I was as far down as a body can go,
and the gates were slamming shut behind me forever…
A poetic way of saying “I’ve hit bottom, God.” Finally!
Yet you pulled me up from that grave alive,
O God, my God!
When my life was slipping away,
I remembered God,
And my prayer got through to you…
It’s all God was waiting for – a prayer – to be remembered by this man He not only is sending, but whom He loves! His servant, His son.
God meets us where we’re at! Incarnational principle.
Works for Christians, too!
Yet God is looking for one more thing:
But I’m worshiping you, God,
calling out in thanksgiving!
And I’ll do what I promised I’d do!
Salvation belongs to God!"
Finally! It takes God speaking clearly, a storm, 3 days in a horrid place, but finally he gets it – humble, thankful obedience!
“Ok, God, you win. I’ll do what you asked in the first place. I’m yours!”
Then God spoke to the fish, and it vomited up Jonah on the seashore.
No, you may think this a bit ridiculous, even a funny little fable. I believe it’s true - and it happened as told. This isn’t fiction, it’s good staging!
Mike Warnke’s image of Ninevite surf fisherman fishing away and all of a sudden he looks up and there’s this man with seaweed all over him, bleached white by the gastric juices of the great fish - and he looks at the fisherman and says "Repent!" What would you do? I’d repent!
You see, you can run but you can’t hide from God. He loves you way too much for that! So, when He gives you a second chance, take it! That’s what Jonah did.
Then the LORD spoke to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.”
This time Jonah obeyed the LORD’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all. On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!”
And what happens?
The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they decided to go without food and wear sackcloth to show their sorrow.
Even the king – the most powerful man in the world at that time –sees the light (:6-9). Like Jonah, they get a second chance – and they take it.
And how does God respond to such an amazing turnaround?
When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.
Happy ending – right? You would think so. This is were the music usually breaks out in the movies - everything is fine - end of story. But there’s a chapter 4 – and it begins with a very ticked-off man of God.
4. WHEN GOD FORGIVES, JOIN HIM 4:1-11
This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the LORD about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, LORD! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.”
Up until now, we really have no idea why Jonah so blatantly defied God. A reasonable guess would have been that he was afraid. Remember, these are viciously cruel people he’s telling off. But chapter 4 finally reveals the motives of his heart – and it’s not a pretty sight.
“I knew I couldn’t trust God to follow through and obliterate the Assyrians!”
“I knew I was being used as a tool by which God would love my worst enemy!”
Imagine! “You are so kind and forgiving I had to run away!”
To Jonah, Yahweh’s idea of justice is too liberal. He always gives the criminal too many breaks.
Jonah resented God’s love, a love that looks to spare rater than harm. He thought it was a weakness in God.
Jonah’s idol is retribution. When God doesn’t do what he wants, Jonah blames and attacks God!
“My notion of justice should define reality, even at the cost of denying God the right to do what He wants to do!”
“How dare you act this way toward these horrid people! They don’t deserve it! You can’t do it! And, what’s worse, you’ve made me an accomplice in your love fest and I can’t stand it! So take me now! I can’t live with you or myself!”
Is it hard to believe anyone could so hate a group of people that they’d rather run away from God and even die before they’d give them the slightest chance for mercy?
* Who are your Ninevites?
* “Bait of Satan” (powerful book on forgiveness - I shared here my experience of being set free to forgive as I read this book)
God’s reply is a model of restraint:
The LORD replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”
Jonah knows enough by now not to run from God physically, so he does it emotionally.
Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see what would happen to the city.
He shuts out God and sits there alone and waits. For what?
For Nineveh’s repentance to wear off and God’s eventual judgment?
For God to continue being merciful so Jonah can stay bitter?
We don’t know. But God has other plans for this angry prophet. And, consistent to the end, the Lord remains gracious to Jonah even while being utterly rejected by him. Verses 6-8 are, in essence, a living parable.
God grows a large plant to shade and comfort Jonah
The next morning God sends a worm to kill the plant
That afternoon is a God-arranged scorcher
And Jonah, unable to shake this persistent God of his, yells (:8):
“Death is certainly better than living like this!”
God has his attention:
Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”
”Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!”
Then the LORD said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”
And that’s it! Though we know that, eventually, the Assyrian’s repentance faded and their empire was destroyed, we have no idea what happens next to Jonah.
Does he accept God’s gentle rebuke?
Does he learn his lesson?
Does he let go of his pride and demand for justice and embrace a God of mercy and grace?
* God can perform His purpose through even the most resistant and rebellious of instruments
* Jonah – hate-filled, rebellious, stubborn, defiant – yet used mightily by God
* Are you angry with God? If so, what are you going to do about it? You saw how successful Jonah was with how he dealt with it – can you learn anything from him? (like how not to do it)
* Where is God sending you? To whom?
* Who is so on your hit list that you won’t allow even God to offer them grace and mercy? Who are your Ninevites?
* We often run from the very place God wants us to be!
4:10 – God’s challenging question to Jonah
Prayer in Midland re: Christian Assembly (story about how God taught me that He blesses what is right and good in people and churches - even if I don’t agree with them. His question to me about a church I believed to be in grave error and yet was seeing growth and miracles - "Do you want Me to treat them any differently than I treat you, Mike?" What I learned was that, though I don’t have everything right and often mess up, God blesses what is good and right in my life and ministry and is working on me to correct what is off-base and sinful. I don’t want Him to stop blessing me because I haven’t fully arrived. He won’t stop blessing others because they haven’t fully arrived. A humbling lesson.)
* “Who are you to tell me who I care for or show mercy to?”
Happened to JC all the time. Everyone around him – from the legalistic Pharisees to His very own disciples – telling Him who He should love and help. He would have none of it! He still won’t!
Jonah is not the good guy in this story – far from it. He comes off as the worst of the worst – the non-believing sailors and the vicious Assyrians repent before he does (if he repents at all).
YET GOD STILL USES HIM!!!
And He will continue to use us as well!