It was the plan of our Great God to send a prophet to Nineveh; His plans aren't so easily swayed by a stubborn prophet. It was a 'great' plan of our great God who had to bring a great storm and great tempest to cause great fear. It was then that Jonah was swallowed by a 'great' fish to go preach to that 'great' city Nineveh.
We sometimes go to great lengths to run from the call of God and we justify it in a great many ways. We often have created our own understanding of God; in Jonah's case, a God that wouldn't care about Nineveh. Yet, in these times, God is gracious and patient. We run away in arrogance and pride; often appearing as a petulant child. Yet, we return, humbled and blessed; loved and accepted by our Great God. We end up experiencing great mercies from Him.
Watch for repeating and contrasting use of words in the book of Jonah.
- We see a 'great' city, tempest, storm, fish.
- Jonah went 'down' and then there are several more uses of 'down'.
- We see God calls Jonah to arise twice; twice he arose, once in the wrong direction. The ship's captain called Jonah to 'arise' and there is no indicaiton he did. The king of Ninevey arose once the right way.
- Jonah was called to Ninevey to "cry out" against the wickedness. The captain of the ship told Jonah to cry out. The men of the ship cried out to God while the man of God refused. Jonah finally cried out from the deep. He was called a second time to 'cry out' and he did so. The people of Nineveh cried out in repentance (same word translated 'proclaimed' a fast and 'cry' mightily to God).
Jonah was a prophet during the time of Jereboam II; Jonah had prophesied that the Jereboam would restore the territory of Israel in spite of the wickedness of the king. The Lord saw the bitter affliction of His people and he used and wicked king to bring relief to them (2 Kings 14:25). probably crossed paths with Amos (sheepbreeder, farmer from southern kingdom sent to northern kingdom). Hosea would have been prophecying about the same time.
This book is different from the other minor prophets in that it is nearly all narrative of a story with no prophetic oracles. The book of Jonah reeived the highest certification of authenticity when the Lord used the experiences of Jonah as a sign to the people of that day.
- The 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of the fish was an analogy of the death and resurrection of Jesus after 3 days and 3 nights (Matthew 12:38-41).
- The Ninevites response to Jonah's preaching was used by Jesus as condemnation of many in His generation that failed to believe in Him (Luke 11:32).
God's word came to Jonah; it was a word to get up and go. God had a job for him to do. The man of God should answer, "Here I am Lord, send me!!" But Jonah bolted; he didn't like the assignment and apparently felt he could pass on it. Why wasn't Jonah obedient? We don't know for sure all that was going through his head but we know Nineveh was an Assyrian capital, gentiles and enemies of Israel. Jonah knew God would respond to their repentance in His mercy and kindness. He didn't feel they deserved such a thing. It's not a good thing when God's people begin to decide who's worthy of God's grace and mercy. It's a sign they've forgotten that none are worthy (no not one!).
Fear may have been a huge factor in the decision as well. The Assyrians were ruthless; one ruler famous for tearing off the lips and hands of his victims. Another flayed his victims alive and made great piles of his enemy's skulls.
The great city Nineveh was to the northest; it was a city of violence, immorality and idolatry; they were people who needed to hear of the Lord. Today we might say it would be a great place for a church. Jonah turned left instead of right; he went west to the coast to Joppa. From this seaport he caught a ship to Tarshish. No one is really sure where Tarshish is; its idiomatic for a 'long way away'. Some say Spain while others believe Great Britain.
The trip to Joppa wa a trip 'down'. After paying his fare, to board the ship, he 'went down' again in an effort to escape the presence of the Lord. How far down must one go to escape God's presence? Another asked, "Where can I go from Your Spirit, Lord?" (Psalm 139:7). Jonah had deceived himself into believing he could escape God's presence. How can a prophet be so deceived? Did his patriotism blind him; believing God was the God of Israel only and that He had no right to ask him to go to Nineveh?
The ship set sail to towards the west but a great wind opposed them; a great storm (called God) threatened to break the ship to pieces. These sailors were used to the water and travel by ship, this had to be a serious storm for them to become fearful. Even these unbelievers knew they needed the help of a god and they also had a sense that all they had to do was call to him. At this moment in time, the pagans are seeking god, the man of god is running from God like a pagan. In fact, the man of God, this prophet, was a asleep on the job as men's lives were being threatened.
The unbelieving captain chastised the prophet; he said arise and call on your God. se are similar words used by God telling Jonah to arise and preach (call). Jonah was revealed as the cause of this great storm. He declared his fear of the Lord and testified that He was the creator of the sea and dry land; not those other gods that the sailors were praying to.
The men had a valid question, "Jonah, why have you done this?" Why did he run from the Lord and why involve them? It may be that Jonah thought his running from the Lord and running from what the Lord called him to do was his personal business; he may have thought it had no affect on others. Yet, the lives of everyone on board were at risk because of Jonah. The eternal destiny of the people of Nineveh were certainly in the balance.
I wonder how far Jonah thought he had to run to escape God's presence? He named God as creator of the sea and dry land; yet did he think that Tarshish was beyond God's reach. While Jonah didn't know the answers to these questions, he did know God. So, they sought Jonah's knowledge of God; tell us what to do to you to stop the tempest.
Why must they throw him into the sea, why didn't he just step off the boat? He was the cause of the storm; and within the storm was the sovereign hand of God. Jonah knew he wasn't supposed to be on that ship. God had arranged transportation back to where he belonged.
God obviously cared about this man and had purpose in his life. These sailors thought throwing him overboard might end up worse for them. To throw the man of God over was a death sentence, no one could surive in the open sea, especially in a tempest. So they rowed in an attempt to make land; but this wasn't God's plan. There weren't enough men or oars to thwart the plan of God. The sailors were driven to the point of hopelessness. They acknowledged they were at the mercy of the Lord. They asked God not to kill them when they killed Jonah (by throwing him over).
Throwing Jonah into the sea was the cure to the storm. Jesus uses Jonah's experience as a sign of this own death, burial and resurrection. In light of this, it is an interesting picture that the one man Jonah died (as far as they were concerned); that they might live. The calming of the storm brought these men to repentance and fear of the Lord. They made vows to the Lord; and committed to offering a sacrifice. This sacrifice could not have happened on the ship. The understanding coming from the Midrash was these men threw their idols into the waves, returned to Joppa and went to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the temple.
Where did these men go from here? They certainly had a story to tell their kids and grandkids. It was of the day, the prophet, a man named Jonah came on board their ship.
The 'great fish' may have been something we recognize or it may have been a 'one of a kind' fish prepared by God for Jonah, on that day for one purpose. It was Jonah's transportation back to the calling of God. When Jonah went overboard into the sea, he surely thought he was as good as dead. At some point Jonah made a transition; he went from running from the Lord, hoping he escape to running to the Lord, hoping he wasn't out of reach.
"The belly of the fish is not a happy place to live, but it is a good place to learn."
R. T. Kendall
The spiritual descent of Jonah continued down to the sea, down into the belly of a great fish.
©2017 Doug Ford
Jonah was finally moved to prayer from the belly of the fish. He prayed to 'his God' because the Lord never stopped being his God. As Christians, we know that God said He would never leave us or forsake us. He is there, from the highest to the deepest; from your prayer closet or the belly of a fish, God hears our heartfelt cry to Him. Jonah cried out and the Lord answered.
The inside of a fish must have been a rather misable place to reside for a few days. Sheol is the 'abode of death'; this must have felt like the belly of Sheol itself. Deep in the ocean, deep in the fish, Jonah cried for deliverance. The one who wouldn't listen to God now wants God to listen to him. While it felt like he had been cast far from the sight of God, he proclaimed by faith, in verse 4, that he would look toward the holy tmeple.
Jonah sank in the ocean when he was thrown into the sea. He was tangled in sea weed, the waters of the deep, dark and cold wrapped around him. He went down to the 'moorings of the mountains'. Jonah felt isolated and locked away from life like bars closed behind him forever. Yet, Jonah would be the recipient of God's amazing mercy; his life would be brought up from the pit (v.6). Would Jonah now see the light and be willing to offer the Lord's mercy to the Ninevites?
The Israelites were those who regarded worthless idols and forsook their mercy. Is Jonah speaking of himself here? Had he not created his own idol? A god of his own understanding? A God who didn't care a wit about Ninevey? Jonah hadn't truly grasped the depth and height and breadth of the God's love and mercy. From the belly of a fish, he was seeing it clearer than ever before.
Jonah was delievered from the deep; from the great spirtual depth and from seeming death. At the right place and time, the great fish yarked up onto the dry land. Then the word of God came to him a second time to arise and go preach to Nineveh.
Jonah had traveled through a great adventure and was no closer to God's plan than when he first started. God arranged mercy and salvation; He certainly could have hauled Jonah all the way to Nineveh had He wanted. God could have also sent someone else. But God called and chose Jonah; it was up to Jonah to respond. He had to chose to be obedient; he had to get up and 'go' of this own.
©2017 Doug Ford
The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God can't keep you and the power of God can't use you.
The prophet of God now had a new experience; one he could tell his grandkids. Bigger yet, God's story of dealing with him would be written down for millions to read about across the ages. How would you feel about your worst moments of faith being published? What about that time when God dealt with you, corrected you and brought you to himility? Would you like the whole world to know your name, debate your frame of mind and have Sunday school kids color pictures of you in your worst moments?
Jonah had now been deposited (determined not to say the word yarked!) on the land by the big fish. He must have been a sight. Maybe one of the questions to be considered: "Was the great fish more relieved to be rid of Jonah than Jonah was to get out of the great fish?" It's quite likely they were both glad that event was over and they could move on.
Jonah had to glad to see the light of day again, solid ground, food, water and many other things we take for granted. He is the picture of 'born again'. He has a fresh start, new life, as if brought up from the grave. What would he do with it?
Jonah got a fresh start, the word of the Lord came to him again. A lot had happened in Jonah's life. What a patient and loving God to grant a second chance. He would have been perfectly just and right strike Jonah down and call another. But God spoke to Jonah still, He spoke purpose and direction into His life. This purpose and direction from our unchanging God was consistent with the first direction.
Jonah responded with obedience, he 'arose'. This is the same word used in chapter one in which Jonah arose and went to Joppa to catch a ship. This time he arose and went where God told him.
The Assyrians were known for their cruelty. For this Israelite, going to Nineveh was another death sentence, no different than getting thrown from a ship in the middle of the sea. Although, the Ninevites might be more inclined to make one suffer through a slow death. They skinned people alive, or mounted them on a stake and left them to the mercy of the elements and wild animals. They might cut off their hands, nose and ears. They were known to do all these things and much more. After their enemies were dead, they collected their skull and added to the great heeps of skulls they collected.
Jonah has to be somewhere between repentance and reluctance. He learned his lessons and cried out to God in the fish, yet fear and a poor understanding of God's view of these people affected the heart and attitude of this prophet.
The message from Jonah was that the clock was ticking. The word 'overthrown' is also translated 'changed' or 'turned'. The message was likely that forty days from this proclamation the Nineveh would be changed. That change might be the destruction by judgment of God; or it might be the experience of God's mercy. The change would be determined by how they received and responded to the message. Either way, they would no longer be allowed to continue their wicked ways. God was dealing with them.
In each of these cases, we can see the forty days was a time of 'turning'; some for the better, some not.
The people heard the message and believed. This must have shocked Jonah that they would actually repent. Some believe Jonah's message was particularly powerful because of his appearance after 3 days and 3 nights in a great fish. Possibly, what would one look like? Jonah delivered the message, probably not in a compassionate cry to people he cared for, but out of shear obedience to God. It's possible God used Jonah's appearance to make a point, but it is the power of God's word that touches the heart of men and women.
The greatest to the least chose repentance, desiring God's mercy. They trusted God, believed His word, fasted and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least. The king received word of what was happening. What did he do? He 'arose'; the same word used for Jonah, only it took the prophet two tries to arise and go the right way. The king set aside his robe in a display of humility and put on sackcloth and ashes – a very Jewish thing to do. In doing so he led the people to repentance by making a decree. It was not only okay to listen to this strange Jewish prophet, he commanded them to hear the message and take heed. They were to cry mightily as they turned from their evil and violence.
In our culture, we might ask whose definition of evil and violence we might use to determine right and wrong. There has to be a moral standard for anyone to proclaim good and bad, moral or immoral, righteous or unrighteous. With no standard, a culture could call take what one people say is moral and define it as immoral. They might take one people's bad and decide to redefine it to make it good. The Ninevites seemed to know what the standard was and how to adhere to it. Deep down in every human, we know the moral standard; we know its wrong to kill, steal, blaspheme and commit adultery. This is because God's law is written on our heart. Our culture has become very adept and drowning out the voice of God and ignoring their conscience to redefine wickedness so they might enjoy their sin for a season.
It's interesting that 'God saw' and not that he heard. The words of repentance are easy, but it's the work of repentance that puts the mark of authenticity on it. He saw the works of their repentance and parting from evil and God relented. Disaster and judgment was where theses people were headed. Their actions moved God to change that; their change of direction and lifestyle of wickedness brought change a positive change to their life.
Jonah found this repentance repulsive; these people were undeserving of God's mercy as far as he was concerned. He must be the only preacher in the history of the world who is upset that people heard and responded to his preaching. Of all the prayers he could have prayed, a prayer of justifying his actions and essentially saying, "See, I told you so" doesn't seem like a good idea. It seems as though he should be elated over their receiving of the word and turning from their ways.
Jonah knew God's grace and mercy; this should move us closer to God. How does God's grace, mercy, paitence and kindness cause one to one away from God? The Assyrians didn't deserve repentance; they were enemies of Israel. They were bad people. How could God offer them anything but Judgment?
Jonah's theology is off. He was correct in his knowledge of God, he was incorrect it the application of this knowledge. How does a man who just came back from death, from the belly of a fish, hold so fast to his view of how God should act instead of being willing to learn? Why is it when the goodness of God is extended to us we feel we deserve it, yet to others we's see fit to withhold it if it were up to us.
The conclusion, Jonah's ready for God to take his life. Are you surprised that God didn't just grant his request? Once again, God would have been perfectly just and right in doing so. How was it that death was better than going on in a world where Nineveh was spared?
It's a good time to remember a couple things. First, the Assyrians were enemies of Israel and other prophets were prophecying that the Assyrians would conquer them soon. How could God save their enemies? Weren't the enemies of Israel the enemies of God? Yet, the second thing to remember, there was nothing holy and righteous about the northern kingdom. They were hardly an example of God's people. In fact there was no evidence of God in the northern kingdom. Why did Jonah think Israel was any better than Assyria? God doesn't pick sides, He is His side. Nations pick sides; they choose the God they would follow and right now Israel wasn't following God and Assyria was. From the belly of the whale Jonah said, "Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own mercy." Isn't also true then that those who disregard worshless idols might receive their own mercy?
When God asks you a question, it is an invitation to examine your self and your actions. The 'right' means upright behavior. Is this anger upright behavior? Jonah's words toward the Lord from the belly of the great fish sure sound different from the prophet angry over repentance. Jonah's heart is revealed. Isn't the right answer, "No, Lord, I was wrong to ge angry. All Your ways are right Lord, even if I don't understand them."
Was Jonah not like a petulent child letting God know he was mad, then sulking by himself waiting for God to change his mind and crush the city in judgment. If God had said, "Sorry Jonah!" and destroyed Nineveh, would Jonah have been happy? Was Jonah serving God? Or was Jonah expecting God to serve him?
The word 'prepared' is the same word used regarding the great fish; it too was prepared by God. This plant is an act of mercy by God towards Jonah. It is an unexpected, undeserved and unrequested grace. Jonah was grateful for the plant, but was his gratitude expressed toward God. Does God not offer a multitude of graces of which we fail to thank Him?
22 Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
Just as God prepared a plant and a great fish, he now prepared a worm and then He prepared a hot east wind. Jonah's life seems to be defined by his physical comfort and his emotional joy and contentedness of his situation. When Jonah was no longer happy, he was ready to die.
Once again, I feel as though you have to mention God's long suffering to continue to put up with this selfishness. Jonah's world was all about Jonah. Yet God is patient and attentive to teaching and guiding and bringing about a heart change. We can be grateful to God for this. We all resemble Jonah more times than we care to admit.
To lose the shade was one thing. To experience this east wind was quite another. This wind was famous in the Near East. It was called 'the scorcher'. It was a nonstop, hot wind. It drove the temp up; it was constand and extreme. It affected one physically and emotionally. For Jonah, its as if God is once again reminding him of what its like to be wihout God or be outside His care and mercies. It was a helpless, hopeless, directionless, miserable taste of hell. Jonah might closely identify with the people of Nineveh before God offered them a change.
Nothing's changed. Jonah's attitude is awful and his eyes continue to be on him self only. His joy would return if the plant returned and Nineveh was destroyed. How petty and selfish.
Jonah didn't like life and desired an end when God's grace reigned and offered to those around him. But Jonah also didn't like life and desired an end when God's grace was pulled away. Once again, Jonah seemed to see God's grace for his own personal joy.
Simply put, Jonah had pity on the plant yet had no pity for the people of Nineveh. He seemed to have no concept of God's love for mankind; his understanding was that God loved Israel, even in their apostasy. Jonah saw God as a means of destruction of his enemies. Yet it's God's desire that no man perish; He doesn't want to destroy, He wants to restore. He doesn't want to take life, He offers life.
God will (and does) act in justice against sin, but His great love for every person in the world causes Him to wait patiently, to give graciously, to forgive mercifully, and to accept compassionately even the most unworthy people in the world. To experience the grace of God and not be willing to tell others of His compassion is a tragedy all must avoid. Messengers of God can neither limit the grace of God nor control its distribution, but they can prevent God's grace from having an effect on their own lives.
God's compassion was focused on the 120,000 people; people that didn't know right from left. We should probably understand this ignorance as people that were morally and ethically naïve. They weren't innocent just confused and unable to distinguish the false gods from Almighty God. God's grace and concern is even extended to the livestock.
"I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." (Ex 33:19)
Jonah had created a god of his own understanding; a god who served his anger and selfish desires. In God's love for Jonah, He is trying show Himself as the trure and living God. Remember it was Jonah who said, "Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own mercy."
©2017 Doug Ford
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