Summary: We remember the story of Jonah and the whale; but, what is the rest of the story?
The Rest Of The Story – Jonah 3:1 - 10
Intro: I remember a few years ago there was a feature on the ABC news done by Paul Harvey. It was entitled, “The Rest of the Story.” --- At 8:30am Greenwich Mean Time, on the 20th of January, 2006 a man riding a train in London called authorities to say that he might be hallucinating, but he’d just seen a whale swimming up the Thames. Soon, the whole city was electrified by the news and turning out to see. Sure enough, a northern bottlenose whale had somehow gotten past the Thames Barrier, past Parliament and Big Ben, and as far up the river as Chelsea. No one’s sure why the whale did what it did, or why there’s another whale down near the mouth of the river that didn’t come up with the other one. --- That’s a “whale of a tale; but true.” When we hear or think about Jonah in the Bible, we almost always think of a “big fish” or whale. But I want to tell “the rest of the story.”
I. Scholars unanimously agree that the small book of Jonah is unique among the Book of the 12 Minor Prophets. It tells a story about the prophet rather than his prophecy.
A. The story of Jonah cannot be viewed as historical fact even though a prophet named Jonah is mentioned in I Kings. This story is actually a parable, A story told to teach a lesson.
B. Jonah is called twice by God to go to Nineveh. The first time is the “fish story” and this time tells the story of how Jonah changes his mind and goes. But Jonah’s obedience is not a willing one. Rather it is a temporary, forced compliance. There’s no real change of heart.
C. Jonah changes his mind and goes; but grudgingly. When I was a kid my mom would tell me every Saturday morning that I had to clean my room. I hated doing it so, like Jonah, I would grudgingly do it by shoving stuff under the bed and cramming things in the closet or drawers. Jonah’s conducts himself like a sulking child.
II. Why doesn’t he just go and be done with it? Jonah was unwilling to proclaim God’s judgment upon the people of Nineveh because of his fear that they might repent and thereby be saved from destruction.
A. In the years after the Babylonian Exile, there grew up in Israel a spirit of bitterness and vengefulness toward other lands. Jonah doesn’t want them to turn from their ways. He wants God to destroy them.
B. So, Jonah goes and this is the sermon he preaches to the people of Nineveh, Verse 4 “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” --- He didn’t tell them why or how. His behavior was like what I did in cleaning my room. It looked good on the exterior but it wasn’t what God had in mind.
C. But to his horror, the people of Nineveh have a change of mind. Only their change of mind is genuine. The Ninevites had done more than perform external deeds of penance; they have changed inwardly.
III. Jonah’s worst fear has been realized. The people of Nineveh, his enemies, have had a change of mind and averted the destruction for which he hoped.
A. Read Verse 5 – “The Ninevites believe God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. --- Their change of mind stands in direct contrast to that of Jonah because theirs was genuine and complete and his was not.
B. To add insult to injury, even the king had a change of mind. Read verse 6 – “When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust.”
C, Jonah was beside himself. For, just as he feared, God also had a change of mind. Read verse 10 – “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.” Divine repentance angers Jonah. Jonah does not question the authenticity of Nineveh’s actions; what bothers him is God’s matching response.
Conclu: I said earlier that this story is really a parable which is a story told to illustrate a point. Jonah represents God’s people, us. When God calls us to a specific task, do we go willingly or grudgingly? When we are challenged to change our minds, are we like Jonah or the Ninevites? As we go from this place, we will live and tell “the rest of the story.”