When I mentioned the book of Jonah what first that comes to mind?
Like many stories from HIStory the book of Jonah causes our creative juices to flow. Artists throughout the ages have depicted this tiny book in several ways but none more than a whale of a tale. Sea monsters, sperm whales, and other giant sea creatures are the usual depictions for the book of Jonah. But frankly I think they may have missed the point. This book is not about a giant whale! Though to be sure a whale plays a part in this book.
And this book isn’t about a city named Nineveh, though to be sure that city is in HIStory and not only in this book. They have found artifacts from it dated back even before 786bc.
To be perfectly honest this book isn’t even about a man named Jonah though once again a man named Jonah does play a predominant role in this book and he may have even written it according to many scholars. But this book isn’t here today because of Jonah’s story. His story was included in it because of HIStory. This book is all about a living relationship with Jesus Christ! The maker of heaven and earth.
The book teaches us about our freewill and divine sovereignty. It is about the invitation given by God, even today, to be change agents in HIStory. Willing change agents or otherwise as we will see. And it tells of the consequences that human choice set in motion.
In this book you can find both divine wrath and amazing grace, the very hallmarks of HIStory, as you follow this man named Jonah who was called by God to bring correction to the inhabitants of Nineveh. And from that point of view it is an extraordinary missionary story.
Today we’ll look at the first chapter and see Jonah receive merciful correction after making a few wrong choices in life. If you have your Bible with you turn to Jonah chapter 1.
(1) The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: (2) “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (3) But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD. (4) Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. (5) All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. (6) The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish.” (7) Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. (8) So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”
(9) He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” (10) This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.) (11) The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” (12) “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (13) Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. (14) Then they cried to the LORD, “O LORD, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O LORD, have done as you pleased.” (15) Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. (16) At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him. (17) But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights. Jonah 1:1-17 (NIV)
This portion of History shows us that with God you are always free to choose. He has given us autonomy when it comes to making choices. We human beings are entirely free to make even really dump choices. We can even choose to ignore God Almighty Himself!
In Deuteronomy 30 we read, “(19) This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live (20) and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him…” Deuteronomy 30:19-20 (NIV) God has given mankind freewill. You are truly free to choose as you will.
As this book begins Jonah is in the ministry. He has already been used of God to deliver a powerful and clearly life altering messages that got King Jeroboam to restore the boundaries of Israel (cf. 2 Kings 14:25). Jonah was living in the limelight because of it. Things were going good in his ministry. And then God sent forth this word to Jonah that he had a new assignment to attend to. A huge assignment!
Jonah was to go and prophesy in a city that historians tell us was more than a half a million people! A huge city in that time! Later in Jonah we find out it takes a person 3 days to go across this sprawling city (cf. Jonah 3:3). So this was a big assignment for the prophet of God’s own choosing! And Jonah was even to tell them that God was royally ticked off with their behavior as of late. This is usually a favorite thing for prophets to do, in fact you find this is as you read through the entire Bible. It’s the usual job of the prophet to bring warnings from God. So you’d think Jonah would be happy to oblige. After-all he’s in the ministry. This wasn’t his first assignment. He was a prophet of God Most High. Frankly there was no higher calling known to man.
But verse 3 tells us that instead of embracing the call, Jonah ran away. He basically said I quit, I’m out of here. Not only am I not going to Nineveh I’m going in the opposite direction just as fast as I can. And he seriously tried to do exactly that.
He took his own money and bought himself passage on a freighter heading 2500 miles in the opposite direction. That would soon prove to be a real waste of money. And you know what? Jonah was absolutely free to make that choice!
You see God has really given every human being this thing called freewill. That just means we have the freedom to choose to ignore even God Almighty. And if we are perfectly honest with ourselves we’d have to admit that you and I have done this on many occasions for even lessor reasons than Jonah.
So why did Jonah do it? Well, after researching Nineveh, part of me can’t blame Jonah for not wanting to go to there. He knew Nineveh’s reputation. Nineveh was known for the cruelty and wickedness that ran rampant in that city.
Nahum, another prophet who actually proclaimed it’s downfall said of Nineveh, “(1) Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims! (2) The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels, galloping horses and jolting chariots! (3) Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears! Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses–” (Nahum 3:1-3 (NIV). This was a pagan city where evil knew no bounds. Killing was done just for sport.
Historians paint graphic images with the idolatry and hideousness of their wickedness running rampant. Even God Himself said, “its wickedness has come up before me” (2) And “ …Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, …Should I not be concerned about that great city?” Jonah 4:11 (NIV)
But Jonah was “a Hebrew that worshipped the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land” (10). That’s what he calls himself in verse 10. A man who worshipped God. And it is clear from not only his actions in this passage but his later discourse with God that Jonah thought he was above the likes of those nasty gentiles. Why should he go and warn them?
Clearly he had little compassion for those whom God had much compassion for. But this too he was free to choose! God had bestowed upon mankind freewill. Jonah was absolutely free to choose to show his prejudice, and his lack of compassion and concern for Nineveh. Which he promptly did by boarding a boat headed in the opposite direction.
And that’s when things got real interesting right?
Have you ever noticed God doesn’t take no for an answer? While it is absolutely true that God gives us the freewill to make choices it is also absolutely true, as clearly seen in this passage, that God does not give us the freedom to determine the consequences of our choices. You are always free to choose but remember He alone determines the consequences of your choice.
You are free to choose to take drugs or abuse alcohol but you are not free to choose the consequences of taking them. That may include marriage breakdown or kidney failure, poverty or homelessness. You are free to choose to ignore the laws regarding drinking and driving but the consequences of doing so are out of your control. You are free to tell your employer to take this job and shove it, but the short or long term consequences of doing so are beyond your control.
I think Jonah certainly got to learn some of that lesson in this passage don’t you? It began with that powerful wind that came up just after they had entered open seas. This was no ordinary storm. Those were hardened sailors in that boat. They had been through storms before but not like this one. This one caused them to get out their idols and pray like never before.
They were so afraid that they started throwing cargo overboard. That cargo was their livelihood! And few things cause man to jettison their livelihood other than a near death experience. That’s what was unfolding before them and they recognized it and were terrified.
But Jonah, we’re told just went below deck and fell asleep. His guilty conscience likely had tired him out completely. Saying no to God has that effect. While God gives strength and power to those who do His will; “there is no peace …for the wicked” (Isaiah 48:22).
Jonah is not a type of our Lord as some might call him. They usually point to the way he slept during the storm, saying he had not a worry in the world. And they compare that to Jesus who also slept peacefully during the storm. But this was in no way like our Lord who after a busy day of miracles and healing the sick went out on the water with His disciples to rest. As they rowed to sea Jesus was found sleeping in the hull of the boat. And when the raging storm threatened their peace Jesus slept through even that stormy blast. But that’s where the similarity ends. Unlike Jonah when Jesus was jarred awake by the frightened disciples Jesus merely rebuked the waves and the storm died.
Even the captain of the boat wanted to know why Jonah was sleeping when they were about to perish. He ordered Jonah to get up and pray to his God!
Funny, isn’t it, that those who show little faith in daily life often get very prayerful when calamity strikes? Yet these men, captain included, were about to learn the difference between false gods made of wood and stone and the God of the Hebrews who made the sea and wind.
As the storm raged on those men in desperation cast lots hoping to determine whose fault it was that they were in peril. And God caused the lots to fall in the right direction. God would make sure they knew who to blame when the lot fell to Jonah.
The sailors demanded to know what he had done to piss off His God so royally. And it was here that Jonah began to do the right thing. He confessed his sin before those men. Admitted that he rebelliously ran away from God’s clear calling. And then Jonah even told them what they could do to remedy the situation. Just get rid of him and the trouble will end.
Euthanasia is what we might call it today. Or maybe death by cop would be a better example? Jonah said, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” … “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (Jonah 1:12 (NIV)
Seriously? God would actually do that? He would actually cause a deadly storm as the consequences of Jonah’s poor albeit free choice? The consequences of his choices could have hurt or killed everyone on that boat? Does God really do that?
And you know how I know? Just look what happened next?
At first they tried to spare Jonah by rowing like crazy. They didn’t want to throw a man into the sea. But when the storm grew and their self-effort failed their only choice left was to follow what the man of God told them to do or they too would suffer the consequences.
So they prayed some more! But did you notice to whom they prayed this time? (cf. Jonah 1:14) It wasn’t to their idols. It was to Jonah’s God. The God he told them that was in charge of the storm. And did you notice what they prayed? They asked for forgiveness for what they were about to do.
You should underline that in your Bible. The raging sea grew calm! The storm immediately ended the moment they obeyed God. And what was the immediate effect of calm seas on those sailors?
“At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him” (Jonah 1:16 (NIV).
Well, would you look at that! They actually began their faith journey at that very moment. And why do you think that you might be asking? Because their actions showed that there was no doubt in their minds that God, Jonah’s God, was the real deal. He really does control the storms in life.
But where did that leave Jonah? Well in the belly of the whale of course.
God had not only chosen the consequences for Jonah’s actions He also provided a way out from what would have been certain death. Any man tossed overboard into the sea stands little chance of being found alive but God in His mercy provided a new and more humbling mode of transport for Jonah.
There is lots of debate about what this fish was. The Hebrew basically says “big fish”. But “Sir Francis Fox, was told by a captain and crew of a whaling ship, that a sailor fell overboard and was swallowed by a sperm whale. The sailor was rescued alive, some twenty-four hours later when the whale was captured and cut open. After being mental deranged for two weeks the sailor recovered. (Tenney, pg45)”
So I wouldn’t rule out a whale. But then again God who instantly calms the seas could have wrapped Jonah in an air bubble and got him safely to dry land. The fact is a fish of some sort was provided by God. How it happened is somewhat a mystery. Why it happened is not a mystery. As I said at the beginning of today’s lesson, this book is not about a whale, a city called Nineveh not even about Jonah.
This was all about Jesus Christ, God incarnate, sovereign Lord of the universe who later would look back at this event and say,
(29) … “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. (30) For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation…The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. Luke 11:29-32 (NIV).
Jesus spoke not so much about the judgement as about the remedy for man’s sinful choices. The miraculous provision of God that saw Jesus die, entombed three days and rise again to new life.
“The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God” (Romans 6:10).
The Bible says, “(19) This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live (20) and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him…” Deuteronomy 30:19-20 (NIV)
Beware of the consequences of your choices today, for it is beyond your control. If God has made it clear to you what you must do, choose to do it His way.
Dig deeper into HIStory: Jonah 1:1-17
- Do you prefer to be on the giving or receiving end of correction?
- Has there ever been a time when you chose not to do what you were told to do? Why didn’t you?
- Has there been a time when being disciplined helped you?
READ Jonah 1:1-17 in several versions if available.
- Who was Jonah and what do we know about him from the OT? (Jonah 1:1; see also 2 Kings 14:25)
- What do we know about Jonah from Jesus? (Matt. 12:39-41; Luke 11:29-32; Matthew 16:4)
- Where and what was Nineveh? (Gen. 10:11; Jonah 3:3, 4:11 )
- Why did God tell Jonah to Nineveh? (Jonah 1:2; Nahum 3:1,7,19; see also Gen 4:10; Gen 6:13; Gen 18:21; Ezr 9:6 Rev. 18:5). What was their sin? Exodus 20
- How did Jonah answer God’s call at first? (Jonah 1:3,10) Why? (Jonah 4:2; Matthew 16:4; Heb. 3:15; James 1:22; Psalm 119:27) see also (Exodus 4:13; 1 Ki 19:3; Jer. 20:7-9; Eze. 3:14; Luke 9:62).
- What did God do about it? (Jonah 1:4) How do we know it was God? (12b,15b) (see also Exodus 10:13,19; Exodus 14:21; 15:10; Num. 11:31; Psalm 107:24-31; Psalm 135:7; Amos 4:13; Matthew 8:24-27)
- What affect did that have on the people in the boat? (Jonah 1:5,7-8 see also 1 Ki 18:26; Isa 44:17-20; Jer. 2:28) Where was Jonah as the storm raged? (Jonah 1:5b,6 ) Was Jonah like Jesus in Mark 4:38; Luke 8:23?
- What right thing did Jonah do in verses 9 and 12? (Luke 13:3; Proverbs 28:13; Rev. 2:5; 1 Jn. 1:9, see also 2 Sam. 24:17; John 11:50)
- What did the sailors do? (Jonah 1:13) Did it work? So then what did they do? (14-15)
- What was the immediate effect of throwing Jonah overboard? (Jonah 1:15b, 16a)
- What happened to Jonah (Jonah 1:17) (see also Hab 3:2)
- How is being swallowed by a big fish God’s grace? (Rev. 3:19; Joel 2:13; Matthew 3:2; Romans 6:23; Romans 10:9-10)
- In what ways has God pursued you?
- Who can you share with this week what you know Jesus has done for you?