Summary: God calls us not to do what we want, but what He knows will build His kingdom. The question is, will we do it or run like Jonah?
First Baptist Church
The Prodigal Prophet
July 7, 2002
When I am told to do something I don’t want to do, you know what I do . . . I rebel. I do everything but what I’m supposed to do. I see that all the time with Joshua and Zachary — Joshua go to the bathroom, Joshua get your shoes on, Zachary, come on, let’s go, and it goes on and on. I think most of us can identify with Jonah. He was given an assignment by God, and basically he refused. If you’ve ever been told to do something and refused, then you know what Jonah was going through.
But there is more to the story than meets the eye. If you did word association with most people and said Jonah, they would say whale. But when we think of Jonah and the whale, we’re missing the point of this book. First, it’s not a whale, all we know is that it’s a big fish, and second, and most importantly, Jonah is a story about God’s love for the world. It can be summarized in John 3:17, ‘for God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him." Or hear the words of 2 Peter 3:9, "The Lord is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."
The book of Jonah is the story of God’s plan to reach the world, and one man’s hesitance to be part of that plan. God doesn’t want one person to suffer in hell. If it were up to God, we would all be heaven bound, however, that is a choice we make, according to our faith and our demonstration of that faith.
For the next 4 weeks we are going to take a pretty in-depth look at Jonah, 1 chapter at a time.
Let me say one thing up front, I believe Jonah is a true story. It is not a fable or an allegory. Jonah was a real person from the town of Gath Hepher which was about 4 miles north of Nazareth. In Matthew 12:40 Jesus stressed the fact that Jonah was an actual person by saying, "As Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." II Kings 14:25 tells us that Jonah was a prophet during the days of Jeroboam II. God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, about 40 years before that same nation came into Israel, invaded the land and took thousands of people prisoner to Assyria.
God gave Jonah a very specific message to give to the Ninevites. Jonah was a prophet, so he knew when he heard the voice of God and he knew what to do. But something happened this time. Jonah didn’t do what was expected. Instead of extending God’s grace, Jonah ran.
Unfortunately, there are times when God’s message to us is not what we really want to hear. God may tell us the sickness we want healing from will not come about. Or God may convict us of something we really don’t want to be convicted about. Or He may ask us to do things we don’t want to do. And that’s what happened to Jonah. God told him to go to the people of Nineveh and declare God’s judgement on them because of their wickedness. The Living Bible paraphrases the last part of verse 2 by saying ‘the wickedness of Nineveh was such that it "...smelled to high heaven."’ The Assyrian Empire was well known for its wickedness and cruelty. One of their kings, Ashurbanipal would tear off the lips and hands of his victims. Another Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser, skinned victims alive and made piles of their skulls. Their military would hammer iron rods through prisoners noses or lower lips and lead them away as slaves.
In Jonah’s day the Assyrians were moving into the northern kingdom of Israel. The very place where Jonah lived. Jonah may have personally witnessed some of these attacks. Invasion took place over a period of years, not days and Assyria was heading south through the nation of Israel.
I want you to understand the mind set that Jonah was working with. He viewed these people as brutal savages. He wanted nothing to do with these wicked people. And he knew that if he went to Nineveh and the people repented, God would spare their lives. That was about the worst news in Jonah’s mind. Listen to what Jonah said in verse 2 of chapter 4 after that indeed had come to pass, "I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God Who relents from sending calamity."