Danielle’s grandparents – Grampy had a sign hung on mantle: “Here lives an old fisherman with the catch of his life.” There’s something about the older generation that is a bit mystical heroicism with all they were able to accomplish: nation building and technological advancements (factories & products, highway system, towns & cities, etc.), military feats in World Wars, but perhaps most admired is their family heritage with many marriages lasting multiple decades and generational impact.
Today, we seem to be losing generational influence with families not living in proximity and the general separation of the family (co-habitation, divorce, redefining marriage, gender confusion, etc.).
In 2019 l have messages on family, but let’s return to a man with the catch of his life…
Jonah: A man who lived inside a great fish… fact or fiction? If you have difficulty believing this then why not
- Creation by spoken word (Gen 1-2).
- Calling Israel into a nation from an aged husband & wife (Abraham & Sarah).
- Egyptian plagues and Israel exodus.
- Incarnation with God becoming human.
- Miracles of Jesus: entire life fulfilling prophecies, transforming water into wine, healing sick & disabled, feeding multitudes, walking on water, and let’s not forget about raising people from the dead – including His own resurrection!
- Acts – 30 years that changed the world.
- Ultimately, Jonah while reads like a fantasy, also has factual details.
- 1:1 “The word of the Lord came to Jonah, son of Amittai” Not, “once upon a time…”
- 1:2-3 Nineveh… Joppa… Tarshish… are all real places with real people in their appropriate context.
- Jesus relates the story of Jonah three day stay in the fish to His own death and burial with resurrection after the three days (Matthew 12:40; 16:4). Jesus links the gospel with something foundational, not fantasy – He was raised literally not metaphorically.
- IF you have trouble believing book as true, punt for now and just focus on the principles that point you to the power and pursuit of God’s grace.
EXAMINE Jonah 1 Running Rebellion
- Name means “dove” but also is close to the Hebrew verb yana, which means “to do someone wrong, vexer.” So, perhaps 1) name meaning is irrelevant, 2) dove implies irony with Jonah not being innocent or peaceful, 3) Jonah is vexed towards God.
- Son of Amittai (cf. 2Kings 14:25). Here we learn that Jonah’s prophetic ministry prophesied Israel’s king Jeroboam of strong military power against its enemies. Jeroboam was an evil king but apparently a good leader to expand Israel’s military borders, under the sovereignty of God. All of this would stand in great irony with a prophet of Israel who spoke well of its government is now being called to preach grace to an enemy nation.
- Lived in Gath-hepher, which was < 5 miles north of Nazareth.
- Prophet during the reign of Jeroboam II (782-753BC); after Elisha but before Amos & Hosea.
- By human standards, Nineveh was a great city. The word gādôl “great” appears 14x in Jonah, each referencing importance to the story. Nineveh is called “great” 4x (Jonah 1:2; 3:2; 3:3; 4:11), reflecting its importance to God.
- Jonah 1:2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh
- Nineveh were unbelievers and undeserving of God’s grace, but more they were a ruthless unjust power.
- Jonah 1:2 “…preach against it, because their evil has come up before me.”
- Nahum 3:1 “Woe to the bloody city, all full of lies and plunder – no end to the prey!”
- Assyrian has as gory and bloodcurdling history as we know. When Nineveh would conquer their enemies, they would cut off their legs and one arm, leaving the other arm and hand so they could shake the victim’s hand in mockery as he was dying. They paraded with decapitated heads and used human skin as a waving flag. Further, they would bury the skinned people alive up to their heads in the sand and pull their tongues out and drive a stake through it… and then at night they’d make them watch Mary Poppins on repeat… ok, maybe I made that last part up, but seriously, the Ninevites were vicious and vile.
- Nineveh is modern day Mosul, Iraq with under Hussein and later ISIS, Christians were commanded to convert to Islam or die.
- Preaching to Nineveh would have been like preaching to London during the American Revolution, or Germany during WWII, or today in Iran or NK.
If we’re honest, we are just like Jonah. We can’t say we’d blame Jonah for not wanting God to grace these sorts of mockers and murderers of Christianity.
God in the book of Jonah
- God’s control (sovereignty).
- Commands Jonah (1:1-2; 3:1-2).
- Controls nations and kings. God allowed Assyria into power as discipline upon Israel. He has the authority and will to bring judgment upon nations as well as allow their repentance (3:10)
- Controls nature. God hurled a great wind storm to pursue Jonah (1:4). God appoints a great fish to swallow Jonah, and later to spit him out (1:17; 2:10). God appoints a plan to shade to grow and shade Jonah (4:6). Likewise, God appointed a worm to destroy the plant and later the sun and wind to scorch Jonah to teach him a lesson that only God is in control and not Jonah (4:6-11).
- We can only control our character, not our circumstances. Trust God is wise and good to use circumstances to bring about what is necessary.
- God’s care
- Jonah is unique among prophets in two ways:
1) Book is more about prophet’s relationship to God than about his prophecies to the people.
2) Prophet Jonah is sent to Gentiles, not Israel or Judah.
- Jonah is unique among prophets in two ways:
1) God’s pursuit of Jonah reminds us of His love for His servants. God cares for the messenger as much as His message. Our work for God is not important than who we are as an individual.
- We are human beings, not human doings. Our life must encounter the grace of God in a very personal way to be effective in sharing that grace with others.
2) Since the book of Jonah is known more for his mistakes than his message, we are able to identify with him – and the rest of the Bible, because it reveals who we are. Unlike other religious texts, the Bible doesn’t hide humanity of our OT or NT examples of faith. They show the true stories of vulnerable and imperfect people intersecting with the grace of God.
- We can be confident in our Bible and immerse ourselves in it to find hope and to help others.
3) God’s grace is greater than your sin and the sins of the world that seem greater to us. Often we compare ourselves to others, thinking “they” are worse off then “me/we.” But, Jonah shows us all our sin is equally offensive to God, yet equally available to repent and find His mercy and grace.
- I am Jonah AND I am Nineveh. We must view others not through our eyes but with the eyes of Jesus who cares for the world that He gave His life for them. Ask God to increase your compassion for the world, especially those who are religiously and racially different than you.
Rebellion is personal against a holy God.
- Jonah 1:2 “their evil has come up before me.”
Nineveh’s actions were not overlooked by God. God is just and must punish sin. Amazingly, before God judged Assyria, He offered them a prophet to preach for their repentance. In Jonah, Nineveh did repent, but it would be shortlived for Assyria would conquer Israel in 722. About a century later (~663-612B.C.), Nahum the prophet will proclaim Nineveh’s doom and Assyria would fall to Babylon (612 B.C.)
Nahum proclaims, “Wasted is Nineveh; who will grieve for her… There is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous. All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you. For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?” (Nah 3:7, 19).
- Jonah 1:3 “But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”
Jonah was called to arise and go to Nineveh, but instead he arose and went the opposite direction to Tarshish. Tarshish is unknown location, but when mentioned in Bible is referenced with ships, believed to be on the outermost western rim of the world. Most scholars believe it’s located in Spain. Therefore, it was a distant place and certainly the opposite direction of where God commanded Jonah.
But even more, Jonah fled from the presence (pânîym/face) of the Lord (Jonah 1:3a, 3b, 10).
Why did Jonah disobey?
- Practical reasons: God’s mission seems unwise. Jonah is a preacher not a soldier. How will Jonah survive in the middle of a frightening and fierce adversary? It doesn’t appear to be good strategy to reach an evil nation with a single individual.
>When problems come, why do we attempt to solve them without including God’s power?
- Ethnic reasons: Jonah identifies himself to the sailors as a “Hebrew” before a God-fearer (Jonah 1:9). Jonah had to lose his identity as an Israelite for his greater identity as a follower of God to define him and be put on display. But for a season, Jonah was unwilling to let go of what he viewed as a precious treasure – an idol of national identity.
> What defines your sense of identity?
- American / Ethnicity (White/Black/Hispanic) / Family (Married/Single/Divorced/Widow/Age/etc.). All these things, while important, should not take priority over our faith identity. So, it’s fine to have and voice opinions on national politics, the value of cultural differences, and the importance or impact of family dynamics, but we should never allow these – or anything else – to become an excuse to delay or disobey God and His mission.
- Theological reasons: God’s mission seems unjust. Nineveh deserves punishment not grace. An earlier prophet, Nahum prophesied Nineveh’s downfall. Jonah couldn’t understand God’s justice and fairness when His people were suffering. How can God be both just and merciful?
Yet, the storyline of the entire Bible tells this tension between God’s justice and mercy, which is ultimately displayed in the cross of Jesus Christ. God is both just and the justifier (Rom 3:26). Only when we grasp the gospel will we be neither callous like the Ninevites nor uncompassionate like the Pharisees; rather we’ll be grace-filled, Spirit-fueled, Christ-like servants of God to an underserving and unsaved world.
How do we respond and live when God doesn’t make sense? Our default mode believes we are wiser than God, and we doubt that God is caring or committed to our good. Somehow, we believe God is in our debt, rather than the reverse. But, this is the same mistake of Adam & Eve, and the rest of humanity. We like to create God in our image rather than the reverse.
You see, the book of Jonah shows us there are two ways to run from God. The first half of the book, Jonah is like the “prodigal son” in the parable of Jesus (Lk 15:11-24). He runs far away and wrecks his life. Yet, the second half of the book, Jonah is like the “older brother” (Lk 15:25-32) in this parable. He obeys the father but berates him for extending extravagant grace. Unless Jonah can see his own sin and see himself in need of God’s mercy, he will never understand God’s salvation. Therefore, Jonah is the “prodigal prophet” who needs to grow in understanding the true grace of God.We can run from God through disobedience or we can run from God by relying on our own measures of fairness rather than faith in His sovereign wisdom and grace. Regardless the distance or differences of Jonah’s running, God is always a step ahead. God’s salvation is ready and waiting on those to “come to their senses” (Lk 15).
- All our sin is personal before the presence/face of God. Whatever your reasons to run from God, you must realize you cannot outrun God and need to place yourself under His will and ways. The contrast of Jonah meeting God is Isaiah saying, “Woe is me… [and once purified, says] Here I am! Send me” (Isa 6:5-8).
Rebellion is progressive without repentance.
Reading Jonah we see the progressive nature of Jonah’s sin against God.
- Jonah 1:3 “Jonah went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord… Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had laid down and was fast asleep.”
Notice the ‘downward’ pattern of Jonah’s life. He went down to Joppa… down into the ship, away from God, and down into the ship and down to sleep. Even Jonah’s sleep was a deep, unconscious sleep. Jonah’s running was his refusal to confront his idols and himself and it turned into a chaotic storm.
Life cancer, if left untreated, sin will progress and permeate the body until its death. We cannot coddle sin. We must confront it and kill it.
- There is always a ship waiting to take us to Tarshish. The enemy’s sole role is to ready ships to remove us from the mission of God.
- What we think is peace in our heart can very well be Satan’s numbing our conscience to foolish decisions that are destroying our soul.
- We can row against God but he’ll keep weight on the stern of the ship to make it turn in circles.
- When we want to run away from God the path will often widen, because the road to God is narrow.
- Repentance is real when we’re willing to be accountable to others. Do you notice Jonah has no friends or community to help him walk with God? Your repentance will be shallow as Jonah if you’re not in community.
Rebellion has public implications.
Jonah’s sin was personal, but it wasn’t private. No sin is private – and no faith is private. Our sin – and our faith – have public implications. Jonah’s rebellion affected several public entities:
- Affects Nineveh with continued evil and judgment; instead of seeking good for the city (cf. Jer 29:4-7).
- Affects sailors in storm. Ironically, the sailors are crying out to God while the prophet is comfortably asleep. Too often God’s people are seeking comfort while the world is crying for help. Until Christians realize we are in the same boat as the world, our problems will continue to go unsolved. Christians are called to be “salt and light.”
- Affects nature: the sea is disrupted, the fish can’t digest food, later a plant dies bc of Jonah. The Fall and our sin makes creation groan (cf. Gen 3:14-19; Rom 8:19-23).
> Like the oxygen mask on airplane, we must breathe spiritually to help others or we can’t help others and we all die. God wants to use you to impact others… but sometimes we’re too apathetic or asleep, rather we should be on constant alert (cf. Mat 24:42).
When God’s people rebel, it is met with reproof.
The storm isn’t there to pay you back for sin, it’s meant to bring you back to the Savior. God pursues us with storms to discipline and refocus the devotion of our heart. When God’s discipline is missing, then that is evidence our relationship with God is absent as well.
There’s a fairy tale of a wicked witch living in a forest cottage. When travelers passed by the witch offered food and lodging. The bed was the most comfortable in all the land, but it was a bed of dark magic. If you were asleep when the sun rose, you would turn into stone. One little girl became the witch’s cottage servant and was disheartened she could not save the wandering travelers… One day wandering woman entered the forest and wanted to stay the night at the witch’s cottage. The servant girl could not bear the thought of this woman becoming trapped and transformed into stone. So, the girl kept placing thorns and thistles in the bed. The woman tossed and turned all night, not being able to sleep. She knew the servant girl was placing these obstructions in her bed and couldn’t help but wonder her motivation. Eventually the woman arose from the bed and cursed the little girl, “How could you be so inhospitable and harm my night’s rest?” The servant girl replied, “The hostility you received would be nothing like the infinite harm a comfortable night’s sleep would have been brought upon you. Those were my thorns and thistles of love.”
God puts thorns and thistles of love in our path to rescue us from drift into darkness and the horrors of hell.
Jonah knew he must sacrifice his life for the sake of sailors (Jonah 1:12).
- Jonah ran from those needing his help, but Jesus ran toward them – his enemies.
- Jonah’s motivation to preach was self-preservation, Jesus sacrificed his life to serve others (Mk 10:45).
Rebellion is telling God you’re unavailable… are you making yourself available to Jesus each day?
Lord, help me/us to be more like Jesus and less like Jonah.
 Douglas Stuart, Word Biblical Commentary, Jonah 1:1.
 Timothy Keller, The Prodigal Prophet, 10-11.
 See Keller, The Prodigal Prophet, pp.43-56.
 Keller, The Prodigal Prophet, pp.6-7, 17-21.
 Same word used of Adam when God caused it of him and created Eve, Gen 2:21.
 Thought inspired from Keller, The Prodigal Prophet, 36-38.
 Quote inspired by J.D. Greear sermon “I Am Jonah” Jonah 1:1-16.
 Adapted from Keller, The Prodigal Prophet, pp. 143-145.