Introduction to JONAH
One of my favorite OT prophets is Jonah – We are going to take the next few Sundays to go journeying with Jonah. If you have been with us in the Adult SS OT Survey class, you will know that Jonah is found near the end of the OT. It is one of the so called “minor prophets” – “minor” does not mean it is minor in importance, but simply that it is one of the short books of prophecy. You can read the whole book in about 15 minutes.
The book of J. only has 4 chapters, but it is a very important book. Just as the rest of God’s precious Word, it is a book that contains a message for today. In this book there are important lessons for us individually as well as lessons for nations that turn away from God.
Before we dig into the actual text, I want to give you some important words of introduction to this book:
1. Jonah is a ridiculed book. What I mean is that there are many who would like to destroy the credibility of this book of the Bible. Some of the theories even go as far as claiming that Jonah was not even a real person – was only a mythical character. Many simply dismiss the book of Jonah as an entertaining fairy tale rather than accepting it as an inspired account of a true event.
The obvious reason for these attacks on the book is really quite simple: People who are antagonistic to God and do not want to obey the truth of His Word simply refuse to accept the miraculous. So, if they can make the book of J. out to look like a fairy tale, then its personal message to the reader can be avoided. There are many miraculous incidents in this short little book. Incidents where God intervenes and overrules the normal laws of nature by performing a miraculous act.
If you want to deny that God can perform a miracle any time He wants to, then you have to make Jonah out to be a mythical person playing out a part in an imaginary story. However, there is clear evidence in the rest of the Bible that Jonah was a real-live person who lived at a specific point in history.
· In 2 Kings 14:25 it records a prophecy with was spoken by a real person named Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet.
· The strongest evidence proving that J. was a real person is that JC Himself considered Jonah to be a real person: Luke 11:29-30… Matthew 12:39-41… So, if you choose to reject the historical reliability of the book of J., you are saying that JC didn’t know what He was talking about – or, worse yet, that He was a liar.
Let me say this – don’t get too wrapped up in the foolishness of those who try to undermine the historical account of Jonah that you miss the message that God has for you in this book. Satan loves to get us sidetracked from the message God wants us to hear.
2. Jonah the man:
J. was one of the “pre-captivity” prophets (carried out his ministry before the 10 northern tribes of Israel were carried off into captivity by the Assyrians).
J. was a prophet, but his book is not a prophecy in the strict sense. There is only one short statement that records the actual message he preached (3:4) Rather, it is a personal account of the events in his life. It shows us that the prophets were real people who sometimes struggled with carrying out the tasks that God gave them.
According to 2 Kings 14:25, his home was a place called Gath-hepher. This was a place north of Nazareth in Galilee. (Interesting sidelight: In John 7:52 the Pharisees criticize Jesus by saying: “You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee” – apparently they didn’t know their OT as well as they thought they did because they had forgotten about Jonah the prophet)
Here is the story of Jonah in a nutshell: God tells a Hebrew prophet named Jonah to go and preach a message of judgment to the Assyrians. Jonah was to go to their capitol city, Nineveh and declare this message to a depraved and wicked people. However, Jonah decides he doesn’t like God’s assignment for him so he tried to run from God by taking a ship that was going as far away from Nineveh as possible. God pursues His disobedient prophet by causing a great storm at sea -- J. is thrown overboard – swallowed by a great fish – spit up on dry ground. He finally goes to Nineveh – proclaims God’s impending judgment – waits in eager anticipation for God’s wrath to fall on the wicked city. Instead, God’s judgment is averted when the whole city repents and we see the greatest spiritual revival in recorded history.
· So, what is the Book of Jonah really about? Well, the main thing is not the great fish that swallowed Jonah (mentioned only four times). The main thing is not a great city (named nine times). The main point of the book is not even about a disobedient prophet (mentioned eighteen times). The main thing in the book of Jonah is God. This story is all about God! God is mentioned thirty-eight times in these four short chapters, and if you take God out of the book, the story won’t make sense. The Book of Jonah is about the will and purposes of God. It is also about how we respond to what God calls us to do. It’s also about the holiness of God and the love of God -- and how we share it with others.
3. Essential truths we will learn in our study of Jonah:
· Sin offends the holiness of God and has to be dealt with severely. J. learns this personally when he gets a taste of God’s wrath for disobeying what God had told him to do. Then, Jonah’s message to the people of Nineveh is short, but not very sweet. He simply declares: “Forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown!” J. is not really a model missionary in the message he proclaims – He simply declares God’s coming judgment – he offers no hope for escaping it. The people of N. have to figure that out on their own. The portrayal of God’s judgment in this book reminds us that we are under the wrath of God unless we come to the cross and receive His grace & forgiveness.
· When God gives us a clear call to do something, we have no option but to obey. We will see how stupid it is to ever think that we can turn away from any clear command of God. God will teach J. to obey – isn’t it interesting that we don’t need to be taught to disobey – disobedience comes pretty natural to all of us…
· God’s redeeming grace is for all nations, including those we may view as bitter enemies. Jonah is a missionary book! God loves Jew and Gentile – He always has! God is going to draw out a people for His name from every nation on this earth – even those nations we may view as undeserving or unredeemable. The story of Jonah shows us that God uses believers to carry out His plan to spread the news of God’s hatred of sin and to tell of His grace and compassion to those who repent and turn to Him in faith. The book of Jonah clearly proves that God’s love is not confined to one nation. Even though God has a chosen people for a special purpose, He will never allow Himself to be possessed exclusively by any one group.
· God’s grace cannot be frustrated – He will accomplish His purposes – with us or without us. God uses human instrument to accomplish His purposes here on earth. He has chosen each of us who are truly his children to carry out specific tasks related to His purposes. But, what if we refuse to do our part? Do we have the power to mess up God’s plans by our disobedient actions? No – even if we refuse to do our part, God’s hands are not tied – He will accomplish His purposes – with or without us. Wouldn’t you rather it be “with us”? I would!
· God will not cast us aside if we are faithless – He is the God of the second chance. In Jonah we will see a great illustration of this. If you are God’s child, He will not abandon you – even if you choose to be rebellious and faithless. It is true that you will not be very useful to God while you are being stubborn and rebellious – but the door of repentance is always open. God is the God if the second chance. If He wasn’t, none of us would be alive this moment – for we have all failed God and disobeyed His call many times over. We will see a vivid illustration of God’s mercy, grace and patience in this book.
· Genuine repentance is the only way to avert God’s sure judgment. Frankly, Jonah was not a very compassionate missionary – he didn’t really care if God destroyed the people of N. In fact, his only interest was to find a good high spot where he could watch and see how God would do it. Would God send fire from heaven… or an earthquake to bury them in tons of rubble… Jonah didn’t want to miss it! He wanted to see the people of N. get what they deserved. But the people of N. shocked Jonah by repenting and crying out to God for mercy. If you want to understand how stunning this was, think of some radical, hell-bent Muslim today heading for some crowded marketplace to set a bomb that will blow up a crowd of innocent people – let’s say he is someone who has already killed and maimed thousands of people – he is proud of his atrocities and is on his way to do more – on his way he somehow hears that the true God of heaven is going to strike him down in five minutes – in fact, the person speaking the message is the father and husband of a family he had killed the day before – he respond by falling down on the ground in true repentance and crying out for God’s mercy. God responds by holding back the judgment He had promised. This is exactly the kind of story we will see unfold in Jonah
These essential truths that form the message of the book of Jonah are truths that desperately need to be highlighted in the church today. We live in a world full of hatred and prejudice. Sadly, some of that hatred and prejudice is perpetuated within the church of JC. Within the church today we have voices trying to tell us that Jesus Christ is not the only answer for the sin and evil in this world. Some are insisting that our missionary efforts are not necessary – in fact, they claim that the missionary efforts of the church are actually responsible for adding to injustice and the destroying of cultures in our world. Jonah reminds us that we must call all people to repentance – missionary efforts are at the very core of the Christian gospel.
The book of Jonah shouts for us to recognize our responsibility to bring the message of God’s grace to the nations. We cannot do like Jonah did in identifying faith in God only with national interests. God’s kingdom goes beyond any narrow geographic or ethnic boundaries. He calls us to take His gospel to the nations.
Let’s get into the text today by looking at Jonah’s call: vv.1-2…
“The word of the Lord came” = Notice that the message J. received was from God. Had the message come from some mere man, it would not carry much weight. Because this is a word from God, it is very important and urgent – J. had better listen.
The reason we teach the Bible in this church is because we believe it is God’s Word. If I stand up here and give you my ideas and speculations, then what I am saying is not very important and does not carry much weight. I might be able to come up with some really entertaining and exciting ideas – but if it is not God’s word it is pretty much useless. Our lives are changed into what they should be only as we hear and receive the WOG. Therefore, my goal is to be faithfully presenting to you what God’s word says. And – as we learn together what God’s Word says, we better listen because it is important.
So – right away we see that we have something in common with this OT prophet. Jonah received a word from God – we also have received the WOG – we have it before us in written form. So, we are faced with the same decision that Jonah was faced with: WILL WE OBEY OR REFUSE GOD’S DIRECTIONS?
Cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.
Notice in v. 2 that the instructions were very specific. There was no way J. could misunderstand what God wanted him to do. The instructions are:
- J. is to get up immediately and make whatever travel plans are necessary in order to travel from wherever he was in Israel to the city of Nineveh. Practically speaking he was to prepare for about a 500 mile journey.
- When he arrived, God intended for J. to raise his voice and cry out against the wickedness of that city. Practically speaking, that meant he would simply stand out in public where people could hear him and loudly preach a message of God’s judgment. This is the only recorded instance of an OT prophet being sent to a gentile city to proclaim the word of the Lord.
I’m pretty sure that J. clearly understood the instructions. There was nothing vague or hidden about what God wanted him to do. Sometimes our excuse for not obeying God is that we didn’t know exactly what He wanted us to do. Many times we do find ourselves in a position where the word of the Lord is not completely clear to us. But that is not the case here – J. couldn’t say that God didn’t make the instructions clear enough. His problem is not that he had a hard time understanding the instructions – his problem is that he had a hard time being willing to carry them out.
Now, let’s stop a minute before we go too hard on Jonah. Isn’t it true that we as Christians have also received many clear instructions from the Lord. I know that there are plenty of things in the Bible that are hard to understand. But there are also plenty of things that are crystal clear – there are plenty of instructions in God’s word that are impossible to misunderstand. I always tell people to not to spend all their time worrying about the things in the Bible that are hard to understand – there are plenty of things that are crystal clear to keep us busy for a whole lifetime. Don’t let the things that are hard to understand become an excuse that keeps you from obeying the things that are crystal clear.
We are a lot like Jonah in that, most of the time we know exactly what God wants us to do – we struggle with simple obedience to what He has instructed us to do. God has lit. given us hundreds of instructions in His word which are so clear that a 5 year old child can tell you what they mean. (You even don’t need to know Greek or Hebrew in order to understand what God expects from your life – God has made His instructions pretty accessible)
The is a very obvious life application for us at this point:
Is there some area in your life today in which you are struggling with obedience? …struggling to bring your life into submission to what you know God expects of you?
- You might know what God wants you to do, but you might not feel like doing it – in fact, you might even be enjoying your area of disobedience….
- Simply obey --- it will save you all the heartache J. is going to experience because he tries to sidestep God’s clear instructions here….
- Remember that every act of disobedience has negative consequences… How many times could we have avoided those consequences by simply obeying…?
- John 14:21 “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.”