Summary: Those who backslide and rebel against God are in for a rough ride, as depicted by the story of Jonah, God’s stubborn prophet. But repentance will set everything right, and put us on course once again.

Backslider On A Bumpy Boat

Text: Jonah 2: 1-2

Intro: The Book of Jonah is considered to be one of the Minor Prophets. It is a relatively short book, containing only four chapters, 48 verses, and 1,321 words. Yet it holds great truths that can readily be applied to Christians of any age.

This little book tells us of a rather reluctant prophet of God, named Jonah. Like many of God’s people, Jonah balked when God’s will didn’t fit in with his way of thinking and his plans. Jonah’s disobedience literally landed him in a very messy situation.

It’s rather interesting to note the fact that the name “Jonah” means, “Dove.” Since the dove is often recognized as a symbol of peace, this idea is in sharp contrast to Jonah’s obvious disobedience to God’s instructions, the results of which were anything but peaceful. The moment Jonah decided to rebel against God’s revealed will, peace was no longer a part of the equation, for the backslider always forfeits their peace. Anytime we backslide on God, we can expect our peace to get dumped overboard, as it were.

The Bible exhorts Christians to, “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts…” (Col.3: 15a). Not only should the peace of God call the shots in our lives, as far as knowing the will of God is concerned, but it should also be the norm in our Christian walk. But the backslider is likely to find himself on a very bumpy boat, enduring a rough journey for which they never bargained. Such was the case with the prophet Jonah.

Theme: The backslider needs to be aware that:


A. Notice The Command That Jonah Was Expected To Follow.

Jonah 1: 1 “Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,

2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.”

NOTE: [1] There are some who view the Book of Jonah as merely an allegory. However, 2 Kings 14: 25 proves that Jonah was a real person, and a prophet of God, “…who ministered in the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C.).” The Lord Jesus viewed Jonah as a historic person, and saw his encounter with the big fish as a type of His death, burial, and resurrection (Matt.12: 41; Luke 11: 32).

[2] Nineveh was one of the chief cities of the kingdom of Assyria, which was an enemy of Israel, and was “…located on the east bank of the Tigris River in Mesopotamia…” God gave Jonah strict instructions to go and “…cry against…” the city of Nineveh; or in other words, inform them of God’s coming judgment (v. 2a). God refers to Nineveh as a “…great city…” (v. 2a), which simply means that it was a “…big city; for it is the number of its inhabitants that is being stressed.” In Jonah 3: 3, we are told that “Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey.” Also, we are told in Jonah 4: 11, that there were more than 120,000 inhabitants in Nineveh.

[3] Genesis 12: 1-3 indicates that God intended the nation of Israel to be a blessing to the Gentiles—the ones through whom all the nations of the earth would come to learn of the one true God. But like Jonah, they disobeyed. It was due to Jonah’s prejudice against the Assyrians that he, at first, refused to go minister to the Ninevites (Jonah 1: 3), for as he would later state: “For I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil” (Jonah 4: 2b).

B. Notice That Jonah Chose To Flee.

Jonah 1: 3 “But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”

NOTE: [1] Jonah sought to run from the presence of God. That statement basically means that though Jonah knew the will of God, he rebelled against it, and sought to distance himself from it. God had told Jonah to go and warn the Ninevites of impending judgment. But due to the fact that the Ninevites were the enemies of Israel, Jonah didn’t believe they deserved God’s mercy. How could Jonah, who was himself a sinner, presume to tell God who did and did not deserve His mercy?

In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India.

So one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.” That usher’s prejudice not only betrayed Jesus but also turned a person away from trusting Him as Savior.

[2] You might think, “How silly for Jonah to think that he could run from the presence of God.” But there are people in our day who will stay out of church because they feel guilty over something that’s been preached or taught. The truth is you can never escape God’s presence. David stated as much when he asked, “…Whither shall I flee from thy presence?” (Ps.139: 7). He said, “If I ascend up into heaven, or descend down into hell, You are there. If I go to the remotest part of the sea, You are there. If I try to hide in the darkness, You still see me. I cannot escape Your presence” (Ps.139: 8-12). The Bible also tells us, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good” (Prov.15: 3).

[3] Notice that the journey of a backslider is a “downward” journey. Jonah, in seeking to run from God’s presence, went “down to Joppa,” and “down into the ship” (v. 3a & c). The life of the Christian is to be an ascending one.

Ps.42: 3 “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?

4 He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart;”

[4] You will notice also that Jonah “paid the fare” (v. 3c) for the ship away from God’s presence. Jonah had already paid the fare for the ship, but the fare for his sin was yet to be exacted. Likewise, anytime we rebel against God, there will be a price to pay. Moses once told Israel, “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Num.32: 23). We would do well to remember that ourselves.

We Are Accountable

Three men who, police say, stole a car in San Jose, California, and drove it to Chico, California, were arrested in Chico when police caught them trying to break into the same car because they had locked the keys inside, or at least thought they had. Chico officer Jose Lara said that he found the keys in one of the men’s pockets.

In another story, Adam Ruiz was arrested in Buffalo, New York, after he showed up at work as a trainee at the same Burger King he allegedly robbed the week before.

As I read these stories, I thought about a verse of Scripture from the Book of Numbers in the Old Testament. In Numbers 32:23 KJV, it says, “…be sure your sin will find you out.” We know the adage that crime does not pay. That is a true statement. But also true is the fact that God holds us accountable for every evil deed we do. You may be sure that your sin will find you out.

[5] Someone has defined rebellion as follows: “Reserving for myself the right to make the final decision” Isaiah speaks of this very idea.

Isa.65: 2 “I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts;”

[6] Dear friends, let me be very clear on this issue, today. On the authority of God’s Word, a child of God cannot live in rebellion against God and not suffer the consequences. Though we all sin from time to time, and though God is merciful and patient with us, if we rebel, and refuse to repent, God will send chastisement sooner or later. If one can live without regard for God’s revealed will in his or her life and not suffer for it, they are not likely God’s children at all. The NLT puts it this way:

Heb.12: 8 “If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all.”

C. Notice That The Circumstances Turned Fierce.

1. Jonah found himself in a terrible storm.

Jonah 1: 4a “But the Lord sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea…”

NOTE: Dear child of God, if you are seeking to obey God and live for Him, you don’t have to fear the storms of life.

Once many years ago, a ship was tossed in a storm. A man was frightened, but he saw a young boy who looked so calm. He asked the boy, “Son, how can you be so calm in this awful storm?”

The little lad replied, “My dad is the captain, and he has never lost a ship at sea.”

O friend, Jesus is our Captain, and He has never lost a ship that was in His charge!

2. Jonah had to face his rebellion and stubbornness.

Jonah 1: 8 “Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; what is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? And of what people art thou?

9 And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.

10 Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.


12c …for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.”

NOTE: Rebellion is a serious matter to God, “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry…” (1 Sam.15: 23a).

3. Jonah found himself in a dangerous situation.

Jonah 1: 11 “Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous.

12 And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.


17 Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”

NOTE: Jonah’s backsliding had literally landed him in a stinking mess. Can you imagine the stench inside the belly of that fish? Chapter two, verse five, tells us that Jonah had weeds wrapped around his head. Just think about the awful smell that there must have been from the partially digested and decomposing fish in this big guy’s belly. This is pretty much the way God sees our sin and rebellion. A couple of days ago, I heard a black preacher say something like this: “You can’t spell Messiah without spelling the word mess. Jesus the Messiah came to die and shed His blood so that the mess of your life could be cleaned up.”


Jonah 1: 12c “…for my sake this great tempest is upon you.”

A. The Ship Was Almost Shattered.

Jonah 1: 4b “…there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.”

B. The Sailors Were Awfully Scared.

Jonah 1: 5a “Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god…”

NOTE: [1] Many spouses and parents have spent numerous days and nights fearing for the life of some backslidden loved one. Too often, the one who should be afraid of God’s judgment is just like Jonah: oblivious to the serious danger they face, due to their rebellion against God. Notice that while the ship’s crew was scared, and struggling against the onslaught of the storm, ole backslidden Jonah was sleeping: “…But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep” (v. 5c).

[2] Notice something found here that is easy to miss. These hardened sailors, who had no doubt seen and endured many storms in their day, were so terrorized by this particular storm that they began to pray to their pantheon of gods for help and mercy. The sad thing about this is that Jonah, the only one on that battered ship who knew the one true God, was too proud to get right with Lord, and too polluted to have any power in prayer. Worse yet, Jonah was the cause of this whole calamity. Rather than slumbering in the ship’s hold, Jonah should have been seeking God to cleanse his sinful heart.

Isa.55: 6 “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:

7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

C. The Shipment Was Abandoned To The Sea.

Jonah 1: 5b “…and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them…”

NOTE: [1] Just think of it: Whoever owned this ship and its cargo was out a lot of money and time, all because of Jonah’s backslidden condition. I’ve had people tell me, “What I do only affects me, and no one else. I’m not hurting anybody but myself.” But such a statement is simply proof that this person has been blinded by the devil. The reason they believe such an idea is because they are self-focused rather than focused on others. They are concerned only about how things affect them, and not about how their actions may affect others.

[2] The idea that one’s actions only hurts one’s self is not only evidence of spiritual blindness, but also, it is just plain false. Try that line on the parents who have spent sleepless nights worried about a wayward child, and see if they believe you. Try out that statement on the wife of a drunkard, who has been beaten and bruised, and the kids who live in fear of their father. See if they will agree with you. Try using that statement on the family of one who has gambled away his or her paycheck, leaving them without the basic essentials, and see how much they agree with you. Beware of rebelling against God, dear Christian; for God’s attempts to effect your repentance may ultimately affect those you love, and/or those who are completely innocent.

Two Roads

One day a boy was born, and the family stood by the bed and said, “Just think, this is America. One day our son could grow up to become president of the United States.”

But one day that boy stood outside a building in Washington, D.C., waiting for President Reagan to emerge. As the president exited the building, John Hinkley pulled out a pistol and started firing. He did not become president; he tried to assassinate the president. The dream had been destroyed that day for the Hinkley family.

Everyone has the potential for good or evil. Following the Lord and His Word leads to a life of blessing to God, to others and to one’s own family. Following one’s feelings almost always leads to a life that defies God, harms others, and shames one’s family.

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is [the] way of death.”


A. Notice Jonah’s Confession.

Jonah 2: 1 “Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish’s belly,

2 And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.


7 When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.


10 And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.”

NOTE: [1] It’s sad to say, but Jonah prayed more out of affliction than out of affection (Jonah 2: 2). Dear child of God, don’t hold on to your sin until God has to afflict you. Get it right with Him immediately. God is gracious and forgiving to His children who turn back to Him in repentance. Listen to what the Scripture says:

1 John 1: 9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

[2] Our sin sickens the heart of God. The lukewarm and sinful church of Laodicea sickened God so much that He said, “…I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Rev.3: 16b). I know that it was ultimately due to God’s command that caused this big fish to spit up Jonah on the shore. But I suspect that this fish was more than ready to vomited up Jonah. If you swallowed a backslidden preacher, you’d want to throw up too. Maybe that big fish felt a lot like this person:

“Don’t be so down in the dumps,” said a sailor to a passenger. “Seasickness never killed anyone.”

Moaned the sick passenger, “Please don’t say that. It’s only the hope of dying that has kept me alive so far!”

B. Notice Jonah’s Compliance.

Jonah 3: 1 “And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time, saying,

2 Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.

3 So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey.”

NOTE: Dear child of God, don’t wait for God to tell you a second time before you obey Him. Delayed obedience is disobedience, plain and simple. It was only by the grace of God that Jonah received a second chance.

C. Notice Nineveh’s Conversion.

Jonah 3: 4 “And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.

5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.

6 For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.

7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:

8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.

9 Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?

10 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.”

NOTE: I find it rather interesting that these heathen Ninevites responded more quickly to God’s call to repentance than did Jonah, one of God’s own prophets. “…My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (James 3: 10b).

Theme: The backslider needs to be aware that: