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Jonah

June 3, 2009

Background

I. Jonah, Evangelist Extraordinaire Jonah 1:1-4:10

  1. Jonah Flees                              Jonah 1:1-5
  2. Jonah is Caught                     Jonah 1:6-17
  3. Jonah Submits                      Jonah 2:1-10
  4. Jonah Obeys                         Jonah 3:1-10
  5. Jonah’s Discontent              Jonah 4:1-10

II. Final Thoughts

Background

Jonah was the son of Amittai from Gath-hepher in Zebulum about 2 miles NE
of Nazareth. Prior to his journey to Nineveh, he prophesied the expanding of
Israel’s borders under Jeroboam II [II Kings 14:25]. His name means “dove”,
a picture of peace. So it’s ironic that he was angry with God for not bringing
judgment upon Nineveh.

Jonah prophesied in the years 785-775BC during the reign of Jeroboam II, the
14th of 20 kings of Israel. Jonah prophesied approximately 3/4ths through Israel’s
208 year history. He followed Elisha by about 15 years. Perhaps Jonah was a
member of that school of prophets near the Jordan referred to by Elisha [see
II Kings 2:3, 5, 15]. Jonah was the third prophet to Israel after Elijah and
Elisha. Amos and Hosea followed Jonah 10-20 years later as prophets to Israel
but even then Amos was from the southern kingdom, Judah. Later, Isaiah and Micah,
both from Judah, prophesied to both Israel and Judah.

Israel’s heart was hard and anti-God. They preferred idolatry and the worship
of Baal. Therefore, God’s prophetic activity in Israel is essentially non-existent.
God’s prophets were not seen, heard, or sought out in Israel. Those that stayed
were quiet and others moved south into Judah [II Chron. 11:13-17]. So since
Jonah was unable to prophesy in Israel, God temporarily assigned him to Nineveh.

Many so-called Bible scholars reject Jonah as historical fact. They believe
it is just a story or myth with a moral theme. They do not accept it as worthy
of canonization. The swallowing of Jonah by a big fish is beyond belief even
though there have been other such instances verified. The fact that Jesus used
Jonah as an example to explain His death and resurrection means nothing to these
“scholars” [Luke 11:29-30]. They simply refuse to believe the recorded
miracle. But the miracle of Christ’s death and resurrection is even greater
as is Christ’s virgin birth. They probably don’t believe those miracles either.
They may be “religious” but they do not have faith in Christ. Paul
says in I Cor. 15:13 that without belief in the resurrection there is no basis
for faith or salvation. If one believes in Christ’s death and resurrection for
the forgiveness of sin and salvation, there is no good reason not to believe
Jonah as historical fact.

It’s somewhat ironic that Jonah evangelized Nineveh about 780BC and in 722
BC Assyria laid siege to Samaria and Israel and took them into exile. Assyria’s
repentance was short lived, about 60 years. They returned to their wicked ways
in one generation and were feared by all in their rise as a world power.

Jonah, Evangelist Extraordinaire                         Jonah 1:1-4:

Jonah Flees                                          Jonah 1:1-5

As stated in the Background, Jonah is the son of Amittai and from Gath-hepher
and the tribe of Zebulum. God comes to Jonah requesting he go to Nineveh on
behalf of God to point out their wickedness. Instead of obeying God, Jonah goes
to Joppa and boards a boat to Tarshish on the western edge of the Mediterranean
Sea in Spain. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, a rising power in the world.

After Jonah’s ship is out to sea, a huge storm comes up such that the ship
is on the verge of breaking up. The sailors do all they can to save the ship
and their lives by jettisoning their cargo and calling on their gods. But Jonah
sleeps because, in my opinion, he is mentally and spiritually exhausted. That’s
what disobedience does to a believer, exhausts them mentally and spiritually
[and even physically] such that they are no good to their fellow man or to God.
Think about it. If one is not willingly participating in the Lord’s ministry,
one is either fleeing God in disobedience, is lazy, is not committed, or sin
in ones life has put out the “light”.

Jonah is Caught                                            Jonah 1:6-17

Jonah’s hiding place is discovered and he is requested to call on his God
for help. In the meantime, the shipmates have cast lots and determined Jonah
is the cause. They interrogate Jonah and learn his God is that of the Israelites
who created the heavens and the earth. Jonah reveals he is trying to flee God.
It’s ironic, the shipmates are seeking their gods but Jonah is trying to flee
the Creator God. He is more interested in fleeing God than in saving his life
and the lives of his shipmates. Jonah’s actions defy the principle of his belief.
When cornered, Jonah volunteers that his life must be destroyed if they are
to save theirs. This action went against the belief of the shipmates but finally
they were forced to act on Jonah’s advice, tossing him overboard into the sea.
Immediately the sea became calm.

There are many analogies here but one is that in order for man to be saved,
one man must die. Jonah was forced to give his life that others might live.
This is the supreme sacrifice. Christ did that very same thing for you and me.
The only difference is that Jonah deserved to die; Christ did not.

There is another lesson too. Sometimes we must be caught in our sin to be humbled
enough to repent of our sin. God’s purpose is to expose our sin so that we repent.
That was the purpose of God’s Law, the Ten Commandments. Exposure is painful
but sometimes that is the only way for God to get His message across. When it
happens, express your shame and remember that God’s blessing follows genuine
repentance in the form of forgiveness and purpose.

Note that Jonah’s being caught and his willingness to accept God’s punishment
causes the shipmates to worship God. How genuine their worship was or how changed
their hearts became we do not know. But when faced with a choice, worship the
true God Almighty, the God who controls both natural storms and the storms of
life.

God’s work begins when man acknowledges his sin. God can not forgive what
we refuse to bring to Him. We are to bring our sin and ask His forgiveness.
We are to bring our hearts and ask Him to soften them and make them whole. It’s
called submitting ourselves to God, a subject made clearer in the next Chapter.
Put another way, jump out of your boat of sin into the refreshing waters of
the Lord. Or change your booking from man’s ship to God’s ship. In Jonah’s case,
this is a big fish.

Jonah Submits                                    Jonah 2:1-10

This section could just as easily been titled “Jonah Prays” because
true submission doesn’t happen but by prayer. Jonah’s submission began when
he finally put others ahead of himself in importance and taking his just punishment
by being tossed overboard. At that time, God caught Jonah in His “Jaws
of Mercy” and placed him in the belly of a large fish. God now has Jonah’s
undivided attention. Jonah prays and now has God’s undivided attention.

Jonah’s prayer reflects his changed heart, a heart of submission. He knew
and worshipped God before and was God’s prophet. Now Jonah really understands
who God is; his Creator God, the God Almighty. Jonah calls out of distress [for
he is literally in deep trouble] and God answers. Distress usually moves us
closer to or further away from God. We become better or bitter. Our hearts are
either softened or hardened, repentant or unrepentant, submissive or stubborn.
Distress brings out the real person, who we are, who we respect, and who we
worship. Distress reveals to us what God already knows. Distress reveals
us to others like a picture hanging in God’s Art Gallery of life.

Jonah knows what has happened to him and why. He has disobeyed God and has
tried to flee His Will. He has been caught and knows he is unworthy to live.
Jonah may believe he has lost his chance to live but he hasn’t lost his faith
in God. He has descended close to hell [in fact he thinks he has arrived] but
Jonah still expresses hope in God. Jonah is focusing on God by expressing his
faith, his hope, and his thanksgiving to God. Only God has the power to save
him. So Jonah acknowledges God’s righteous judgment and God’s power of salvation.
Jonah does not jettison God but prays to God. God hears Jonah, forgives Jonah,
saves Jonah, and jettisons Jonah on the beach so he can once again have the
opportunity to obey Him. Jonah repents and God changes his disobedient heart
to one of obedience

Jonah’s situation is considered spectacular and miraculous. Thus far it is
attention getting. But other than it’s special and spectacular circumstances,
each of our lives parallel Jonah’s. We are subject to disobeying and fleeing
God from time to time. We are caught by others and/or ourselves and must acknowledge
we have strayed from God’s Will. We too need to discern God’s discipline in
our lives. But most important, we must remember to express our hope and faith
in God in times of distress that we may know Him better, grow in Him to greater
maturity, and submit to glorifying His Name. Simply stated, that is the Will
of God. We do not welcome distress into our lives but we certainly can benefit
from it by acknowledging our mistakes and asking His forgiveness. God is forgiving
and God is faithful to all who call upon Him.

Jonah Obeys                                              Jonah 3:1-10

God restates His original mission to Jonah and this time Jonah obeys and travels
to Nineveh. Nineveh was estimated to have greater than 120,000 people and being
8 miles in circumference. At least 3 days were required for Jonah to speak to
the inhabitants. Jonah’s message was not one of love and mercy but one of pending
judgment in 40 days. To put this in perspective, we have an Israelite, Jonah,
traveling at least 600 miles into enemy territory to the capital city of Assyria,
Nineveh, to tell them that his God, the Lord God Almighty, will destroy them
in 40 days. The miracle is that Jonah’s message was believed and accepted and
the people repented and humbled themselves. Even the king repented and exchanged
his robe for sackcloth. The king even sent out a decree exhorting the people
to give up their evil ways and call on God in hope that He would have compassion
on them. And God did have compassion on them.

To continue putting this miracle in perspective, consider us sending a missionary
to Baghdad for 3 days to preach that God will destroy them in 40 days because
of their wicked ways. Not only would success be limited, the missionary would
probably be taken into custody and beheaded. That speaks for Jonah’s change
of heart and boldness. And would we Americans change our ways, changes our clothes,
and change who we worship based on our President’s executive order. Obviously,
God had prepared their hearts to receive Jonah and to receive His message. The
change that takes place in Nineveh is a great miracle in which Jonah was privileged
to participate.

Obedience is important but so is the right message if we are to change hearts.
There is a time for the Lord’s message of love and mercy and there is a time
for the Lord’s message of judgment. Use both. Discern which message God wants
you to use in a given situation. Don’t assume. The Lord goes before us and prepares
hearts to receive His special message. Discerning the Lord’s special message
is critical to the missions’ success. Obedience in the absence of fear is also
important. Sometimes we are asked to serve and observe the Lord’s extraordinary
results. Other times we are asked to serve and observe no results. Our responsibility
is to obey and serve, to be faithful. The Lord will take care of the rest. In
Jonah’s situation, he traveled an incredible distance to deliver an incredible
message and observe incredible results. Jonah would not have seen the Lord’s
incredible power had he disobeyed. Let us always serve the Lord looking expectantly
for His miracles.

Jonah’s Discontent                                 Jonah 4:1-10

This final narrative on Jonah’s ministry at Nineveh begs for more detail on
the dialogue between God and Jonah and on Jonah’s mind-set. We are given the
minimum details and left with many unanswered question such as:

  1. Why was Jonah angry at the change of heart of the Ninevites?
  2. Why does Jonah wish judgment on Nineveh?
  3. Why does Jonah question God’s motives?
  4. Why did Jonah even bother to stick around Nineveh?
  5. Why does Jonah seem to second-guess his obedience?
  6. Why does Jonah seem to lose his perspective?

And there are probably more and better questions one could ask concerning this
chapter. Therefore, we must be on guard and focus on what is written instead
of what is not written or we too will lose perspective as did Jonah. This may
be the most important point to make concerning Chapter 4.

Give Jonah some credit. At least he consulted the Lord in his anger in order
to find answers to the questions in his mind and in his heart. This is a very
important lesson for us to remember. When we are displeased about an outcome
and angry, when we are discontent and want to die, when we complain instead
of rejoice, and when we become arrogant and forget our role, let us PRAY and
learn from the Lord.

Actually the discussion between Jonah and the Lord is quite brief and simple.
Assuming this discussion took place over 2 days, there is much quiet time for
Jonah to consider his heart compared to God’s heart. Jonah is still learning
to yield to God. He is still maturing. He may want to die but God still has
plans for him. Simplifying the dialogue, we have:

  1. Jonah is angry and prays to the effect “I knew Nineveh would repent so that is why I disobeyed. I did not want Nineveh to experience Your [God’s] love and compassion”. Jonah says he deserves to die.
  2. God asks Jonah what right he has to be angry over the repentance of Nineveh?
  3. All is quiet as Jonah considers God’s question.
  4. The next day God asks Jonah what right he has to be angry over the disappearing of the vine.
  5. Jonah says he is still angry and wants to die.
  6. The Lord points out that Jonah is more concerned about the vine [himself] than the people of Nineveh.

Our contentment then is all about priorities. Is our priority of “self”
or “others”; is it “self” or God? Are our priorities based
on our pleasure or God’s pleasure? In other words, Jonah has lost his perspective.
He is more self-centered than God-centered. He thinks he knows better than God
what Nineveh’s outcome should be. Arrogance and ego has clouded his vision concerning
God’s Will. Jonah is re-learning that God is sovereign and he is His servant.

One final thought/lesson; bring your concerns to the Lord, listen to Him,
and learn from Him. Remember He is sovereign and we are His servants.

Praise God! Obey God! Serve God and be content.

Final Thoughts

I decided to use the title “Evangelist Extraordinaire” because it
emphasizes the positive aspects of Jonah’s recorded life in Chapter 3. But Chapter
4 leaves us “kinda hanging” and some might prefer the title “Prophet
Ordinaire”. I believe Jonah was given the gift of evangelism, if not for
all his life then certainly for his trip to Nineveh. He could not have been
so successful without the Lord going before him and with him.

We need to recognize one principle and that is God doesn’t need us to do His
Work but He prefers to employ us to do His Work. Why? Working and serving the
Lord enables us to know Him more intimately and to grow to greater understanding
and maturity as His children. Experience is a great teacher and it helps us
put down roots to grow straight and tall and become strong in out faith, withstanding
the storms of life. Without the purpose of serving or working on behalf of the
Lord, we would grow weak and wither away. Essentially that’s what happened to
Israel. They forgot about God, they quit serving Him, and they withered away
and died in exile. This story of Jonah points out the importance of serving
God.

Some would have us believe that the only reason this story is recorded is
so that Jesus could refer to it concerning His death and resurrection. That
may be but let me refer you to Romans 6 [see my chart in A New Testament Commentary]
to see the importance of dying to self in order to serve victoriously. [see
also Romans 12] That’s what happened to Jonah.

In serving victoriously, we must guard against believing it is we who are
getting the results instead of God. God wants all to be saved [II Peter 3:9].
Jonah wanted Nineveh to face judgment. God’s ways are not man’s ways [Isaiah
55:8-9]. Man’s wisdom is foolishness [I Cor. 1:25]. Know your role [Romans 12:3-8].
Serve the Lord diligently and bow before Him in humble adoration with thanksgiving
for what He has done for you and in the lives of others.

In conclusion, Jonah is the story about a man who received the gift of God’s
Grace but failed to comprehend the infinite availability of God’s Grace. Remember,
God’s Grace is available to all.

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