Jonah is a book about the struggles of humanity coming to terms with God’s plan and purpose. It is about the struggles we have in life when the struggles of life become our ways verses God’s ways. Jonah is like many of us, he too struggles with obedience to God.
He was a prophet who was chosen by God to do something that he did not want to do, and he refused to do it. God’s plans didn’t agree with his plans. This is a problem we all face. Jonah had no interest in leaving the comforts of his home and taking a salvation message to a nation that would not listen to him. Truth be told, he really didn’t care if God had annihilated them from the planet. In all honesty, his preference was for God to destroy the city.
Vs 1- 2: Since we have little information about Jonah, we assume he had a good, quiet life. We can assume that he was comfortable and happy in life. Aside from his story in this book he is only mentioned one other time in the OldTestament (2 Kings 14:23 – 29) where he allegedly spoke a prophecy to the King of Judah which helped restore the nations boundaries with Israel. Then one day God showed up with a command to bring a message of judgment and repentance to the wicked city of Nineveh. This was a big ask from God. Jonah determined he was not going to endanger his life by going to this violent city and he certainly was not going to ruin his reputation with the people of Israel by reaching out to this horrible city. So, Jonah does what so many of us do when we don’t want to do something God asks us to do… He ignores God’s call, and he runs. He runs to a city called Tarshish. Why did Jonah run there? Because at the time of this writing Tarshish was known as the westernmost place in the Mediterranean world. This was a common practice for people rebelling against God. They would physically leave the place where God spoke to or met with them and high tail it in the opposite direction. Tarshish was this place for Jonah. Tarshish is anywhere – anywhere but the place where God calls you; in fact, it is the opposite direction a person takes when he turns his back on God’s call and command… Tarshish is the excuse we give for not going.
Twice in Jonah 1:3 it tells us that Jonah flees from the presence of the Lord. This is significant because it emphasizes what Jonah is NOT going to do. He is not going to go to Nineveh; in fact, he is going as far away from the presence of the Lord as possible.
Jonah’s decision to run was rebellion and he was going to go to any extreme to get away from God. Jonah runs to avoid God. Jonah runs to a city and culture where he could be far away from God.
This is what we do when we live in rebellion to God. The first thing a rebellious person does is not only disassociate with God but detaches with places and people who are following Him. People who turn their back on God do not run to be with other believers, no, they go to places where they believe God is not present.
Jonah runs because he did not love the way God loves. Jonah had no love for the people of Nineveh, and he had no desire to see them spared by God. This was the reason Jonah rebelled. He knew God was compassionate and He would spare them if they repented, and He wanted none of that. So, why does Jonah run?
The good news for those in rebellion and sin is… God will pursue you no matter how far you are from him. This is good news for those who are actively running from God. It is good news because it shows God values you, loves you and desires to get you back into a right relationship with him. He will do whatever it takes to get you back. James Bruckner writes in his commentary of Jonah, “The good news is that God pursues (Jonah). God does not let him go but finds him out in order to rescue him.” The truth is no one can ever run from the presence of God and no one can be so rebellious and sinful that God cannot or will not forgive and set you on the right track. Rosemary Nixon also writes in her commentary of Jonah, “Jonah’s contest with God is ill-matched. The account illustrates the impossibility of escaping God’s presence and folly of attempting such a thing.” Resistance to God is futile because when He wants to accomplish something, he will do whatever it takes get it done.
1:17 “Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah.” The key word for me in this passage is “arranged” … some translations say, “prepared”, “provided”, or “sent” and all these words have the same meaning. God ordained or designated this specific fish for this specific task. Many people read the great fish as a judgment against Jonah but fail to see the fish is a sign of God’s mercy. The fish saved the life of Jonah. Had God not arranged for the fish then he would have died at sea and this would be the end of the story; but God lovingly and mercifully pursues and provides safety for him. I am sure Jonah didn’t see it this way (as most of us don’t see God’s mercy in times of rebellion). He now finds himself in the most unpleasant of places (In the belly of the great fish) and soon he will come to the realization of God’s grace and mercy in this situation. This is very common among men and women in rebellion to God.
Vs 1 – Jonah’s in chapter 2 is a bit surprising because he responds in prayer. I would expect to read, “God I didn’t want to do what you called me to do in the first place. I think you got the wrong man to do the job, so I ran as far away from you as possible. Couldn’t you have just left me alone safe and secure in my comfortable life?” This is not what we read at all. This chapter is a prayer of thanksgiving for being saved and delivered. It only took a potential shipwreck, being thrown into the sea, left for dead and a large fish swallowing him to get him to this point. Is Jonah finally getting the big picture here? Well, let’s not be too hasty because there is still a bit of defiance in this man’s heart even after this time of praise.
The situation Jonah is in is like what many of us do when we hit rock bottom. Sometimes it takes extreme measures and even the fear of death to get us to acknowledge Him in our rebellion. When we get to this point, we either respond in anger, bitterness, and blame or we respond in thankfulness, gratitude, and praise.
There is one important ingredient missing in this prayer and it is true repentance. This is where Jonah’s defiance comes into play. Jonah is thankful God spared his life, but the problem is the same rebellious Jonah is still in the belly of the fish. It doesn’t appear that he has a change in heart. He is a man who has reached rock bottom and has nowhere else to go. Even in Jonah’s slight defiance God hears and accepts his prayer for what it is… “Thank you for not letting me die and for keeping me safe, I’ll do whatever you want me to do even though I don’t like it.”
Vs. 1 - 3 –As far as we know Jonah is the only biblical prophet where God repeat himself on what He wants the person to do. I can just imagine God saying, “Ok Jonah, have you learned your lesson? I am going to get this job done and you are going to be the one who accomplishes it. Now, go to Nineveh and tell them of my impending judgment.” In God’s second call He does not remind Jonah of his rebellion, nor does he say, “I saved you so you owe me your obedience; you even said you would do what I want in the belly of the fish, so I am here to collect on your promise.” God does not hold grudges; he does not keep bringing up previous sins once we have confessed them nor does he hold us accountable to the superficial promises we make in order to get out of the mess we have created. He simply and lovingly restates what He has called Jonah to do.
Vs 3: Jonah’s second response is very different from his first response. His response of obedience was out of the fear of not wanting to go through what he just went through. In other words, Jonah learned his lesson the hard way. Doesn’t this usually seem to be the case? God places a call on Jonah’s life and in his sovereignty, He was going to accomplish his will through Jonah. To this point Jonah’s account is about God accomplishing his will regardless of how the prophet did or did not respond to Him. Does this make God a power-hungry dictator who is set out to take away our freedom to choose? No, the opposite is true. God knows what is best for us in all circumstance and He desires that we trust him at His word in our lives. God wants us to trust him exclusively so that our response to him will be obedience regardless the cost.
This brings up the question of why God calls us to do some things that are unconventional and radical? Nearly every time God calls us to do something out of the ordinary it goes against the status quo and challenges the “we have always done it that way” mindset. Yet God calls us to trust Him and to go in faith to accomplish what he has set out to accomplish through us.
God does not beg or negotiate with us. Even with Jonah he doesn’t bargain with him. Despite Jonah’s less than enthusiastic message to the Ninevites God worked a mighty miracle that day. After Jonah’s little excursion at the beach, he sets out for the city of Nineveh. Upon entering the city, he yells out, “In forty days Nineveh will be destroyed!” The Ninevites response is astounding! This desperately wicked and prideful people that were despised by all repented from their evil ways. The Ninevites were anything but compassionate and loving towards anyone who dared speak evil of them. To see the response was repentance is unbelievable, but to also see even the King responds in repentance was literally unheard of.
Vs 5: The Ninevites heard the words of the prophet and fully believed they were receiving a warning from God. They may not have fully understood the judgment, but I am sure they knew it meant complete and utter destruction. They repented in hopes that their lives would be spared. We know that their repentance was genuine as the decree was to fast and put on sackcloth for their sins. These are outward signs of repentance and seeking mercy.
Vs 10: However, it wasn’t just the act of fasting and sackcloth that God saw. He saw their hearts. This is true repentance. The king of Nineveh’s response was unique. He may have been uncertain that God was going to have compassion on them as he says, “Who knows? May God turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger so that we may not perish.” These words of the king imply that he has humbled himself and is truly repentant.
We also read God “changed his mind” which basically means he had compassion or felt sorrow. God’s heart was moved by the people’s response and his response was compassion. Some people have a problem with this but there is no problem because God was just doing what He always does… extending grace and compassion on those who are truly repentant.
Vs 1: Jonah was witness to one of the greatest movements of God in history and his response is displeasure and anger. Instead of rejoicing and thanking God for his wonderful mercy Jonah gets angry because He didn’t destroy the city. Jonah wasn’t just mad; he was furious. This was a problem because he allowed his anger take root in his heart.
Vs 2 - 4: Jonah says, “(This is) why I fled to Tarshish in the first place” which literally means, “I ran as fast as I could, I hurried away, and I took flight”. He intended to get away from God. Jonah is so angry that he asks God to kill him and be done with it. His anger is burning so hot he would rather die than rejoice with God. God asks Jonah, “Is this anger really doing anyone (yourself included) any good?”
The book of Jonah ends on a somber note. There is no closure to this story. It ends with a rebuke from God, and we do not know how Jonah responds to this rebuke. We all would like to believe he came to his senses and repented and got right with God, but we just don’t know. I believe the book ends the way it does because it leaves us with a challenge… How do you respond when God calls you to something you don’t want to do? How is your heart? What is God calling you to do? Is he calling you out of your comfortable life to go to places you wouldn’t normally go? Could that place be right outside this church, across the street, and to the surrounding community?
I am thankful that God in his great love for humanity extends grace and compassion even when we have failed him. It is comforting to know that God shows mercy to the vilest of sinners when they stand before God broken and repentant for their evil ways. As a former person who once declared himself, “Too far gone to be saved” standing up here preaching about the wonderful grace and compassion of God goes to show how God is an awesome God. None of us are too far removed that God can’t reach out and save us.
I don’t know where you are today… Maybe you are in the midst of rebellion with God, maybe you are fighting with him about something happening in your life, maybe you are engaged in full on sin and wickedness, or maybe you think you have done something(s) that you feel you are to far removed from God’s grace and compassion. I want to implore you to remember the God we serve and take to heart this verse…
Psalm 40:1 – 3
I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
and he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
and steadied me as I walked along.
3 He has given me a new song to sing,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
They will put their trust in the Lord.
Jeff has been in full-time ministry for thirty years. He currently serves as Executive Director at Anchor House Ministry at SeaPort Manatee in Palmetto, FL and he is a part-time Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Southside in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored A Lent Devotional (A Spiritual Journey to Lent) an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). All three are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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