TITLE: LESSONS WE CAN LEARN FROM JONAH
Subtitle: How God Prepared A Preacher
In the Book of Jonah, chapter one and verses 1 and 2 we read:
"Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me. But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from being in the presence of the Lord [as His prophet], and went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish [the most remote of the Phoenician trading places then known]. So he paid the appointed fare and went down into the ship, to go with them to Tarshish from being in the presence of the Lord [as His servant and minister]" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
The first two things that we want to see here is that God chose His preacher and commissioned His preacher. Thirdly, God commanded His preacher: to cry out against Nineveh—that is, to proclaim the message of repent or be judged. The city of Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire and their armies had ravaged Israel numerous times. It is said that their warriors were among the most blood thirsty and brutal of that day—seemingly trying to invent new ways to torture their helpless victims. Often they would skin people alive or hoist them up in the air by means of a sharpened stake placed under the rib cage. Perhaps the knowledge of this cruelty will help us to understand the nature of Jonah’s reluctance, because his countrymen had suffered much at the hands of these people.
Jonah did what a lot of men have done and disagreed with God’s call. "Why, God must be joshing me! It’ll be a cold day in the Amazon before I do anything but laugh at their destruction!" So Jonah promptly tried to run from God! Notice that he went down to the seaport town of Joppa in an effort to flee to Tarshish—the most remote spot available to him. It is interesting to note how many times the Bible speaks of someone going down somewhere—anywhere—when they are out of the will of God. "Down to Egypt" is mentioned several times, because Egypt is a picture of the world. Samson went down to Timnath, etc. Men run from God for a variety of reasons: fear, fame, fortune, failure, and sometimes just plain foolishness—but never faith! Jonah ran because of his personal hatred for those to whom he was sent. He knew that God would forgive and save them if they heeded His message of repentance and Jonah would just as soon that they all went to hell! "No, no, a thousand times no—let them all go to hell, because they deserve it," was Jonah’s attitude. Later, after God "persuades" him to go (actually against his will), Jonah winds up pouting and asking God to let him die. His personal feelings were trying very hard to get in God’s way. Apparently Jonah did not realize it, but in God’s sight he was no better—no more righteous—than those whom he hated. I am afraid that many Christians today make the same false assumption. The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 3:10 that, "there is none righteous, no, not one." The word "none" includes all of us, saved and lost alike. The only righteousness that a Christian has is imputed righteousness—that which Jesus Christ gave us of His own. Without His righteousness being "put on our heavenly account," none of us would ever make it to heaven. From this we should see that Jonah’s attitude was completely wrong and none of us should ever be guilty of thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think (Romans 12:3).
Jonah is determined to run away from God’s commandment, but God is infinitely more determined that he is going to obey. A contest of wills with God is no contest! Jonah could have been stopped at any point on his journey to Joppa, but God allowed him to book passage on the Phoenician ship headed for Tarshish. Exhausted, Jonah enters the hold of the ship and falls asleep. While he is sleeping, God arranges for the ship to experience a huge storm—so severe in fact that the sailors are scared to death and the captain wakes Jonah up and admonishes him to pray to his God! The superstitious crew then "cast lots" (we would say "draw straws") to try to determine who was causing all of the bad luck. Jonah was identified as the culprit and they hastily interrogated him in an effort to determine the reason for their ill fortune. To his credit, Jonah admitted that he was trying to be disobedient to his God—running from Him—and the sailors were aghast at his actions. They then asked him what they could do to reverse the situation and weather the storm. I suspect that Jonah’s answer caught them completely off guard, because he told them that they would have to throw him over the side! Well, even these heathen sailors were not quite that heartless, so they tried their best to row the ship toward land. When their efforts proved to be futile and the storm only got worse, they actually wound up praying to Jonah’s God—asking Him to spare them and to forgive them for what they had to do! When all else fails, throw the prophet overboard—so they did! When the storm miraculously stopped raging around them, they were so impressed that they worshipped Jonah’s God and reverently offered up a sacrifice to Him and made the usual vows that men often make when they experience such emotional events. (And then soon forget all about it). It would be very easy to spiritualize their actions and equate them with salvation, but that is highly unlikely.
The next event has been criticized, laughed at, and declared to be impossible—but Jesus Christ Himself referred to this "fish story" as being representative of His own death, burial, and resurrection. Beginning in verse 17 of chapter one we read the following:
"Now the Lord had prepared and appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
Verse 1 of chapter two continues:
"Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly, and said, I cried out of my distress to the Lord, and He heard me; out of the belly of Sheol cried I, and You heard my voice. For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; all Your waves and Your billows passed over me. Then I said, I am cast out of Your presence and Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple. The waters compassed me about, even to [the extinction of] life; the abyss surrounded me, the sea-weeds were wrapped around my head. I went down to the bottoms and the very roots of the mountains; the earth with its bars closed behind me for ever. Yet You have brought up my life from the pit and corruption, O Lord my God. When my soul fainted upon me [crushing me] I earnestly and seriously remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to You into Your holy temple. Those who pay regard to false, useless and worthless idols forsake their own [source of] mercy and loving kindness. But as for me, I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that which I have vowed. Salvation and deliverance belong to the Lord! And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land" (Jonah 2:1-9, Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
The first thing we need to see is that God prepared the fish to swallow Jonah! He could have used a guppy if He had chosen to do so, but it is likely that it was either a whale or a whale shark—either of which can easily swallow a grown man. As a matter of fact, there is a case on record of a whale destroying the whaleboat from which sailors were trying to harpoon it, only to be caught hours later. At least one man was missing from the boat’s crew and was presumed drowned. When they opened the whale’s belly, out rolled the missing sailor! He was bleached white from the acid in the whale’s stomach and insane for several days, but he was still breathing and eventually regained his senses! While this is an interesting incident, it is only given to show that a man can survive for some amount of time inside a sea creature. However, I believe—contrary to the popular notion—Jonah did in fact die! Notice in verse 5 of our amplified text that it speaks of "the extinction of life" and the poetic words of Jonah seem to paint a picture of death and burial and then resurrection from a watery grave. I also believe that the Lord’s using Jonah as an illustration of His own death, burial, and resurrection would tend to add credence to this position. But whatever actually took place, after three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, Jonah was unceremoniously vomited out on dry land. Talk about straightening out a preacher! God enrolled Jonah in "Whale University" and he graduated as a big ball of barf! The words spoken by Jonah while still in the fish was his doctoral dissertation—one that was deemed worthy of the Roa.d. degree—Doctor of applied rotation. Once God turned him around, Jonah hit the road for Nineveh!
One time a farmer sold a mule to his neighbor and it wasn’t very long until the new owner brought the mule back, complaining that he couldn’t plow with it because the mule just would not obey him! "Oh, I’m sorry," said the original owner as he walked over to the barn, "I clean forgot to tell you about that." He reached down and picked up a stick, then whacked the mule across the head with it! Immediately the mule obeyed each and every command given to it. The explanation was that "sometimes you have to get the mule’s attention!" Jonah was a little like the mule because he knew what to do and wasn’t willing to do it until God got his undivided attention.
Then we read in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 3:
"And the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach and cry out to it the preaching that I tell you" (Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary, emphasis mine).
Jonah gets his marching orders again. Aren’t you glad that our Savior is a God of "second chances"? I sure am! If our salvation depended upon instant and complete obedience, none of us would ever make it to heaven. Notice too that God did not allow him to preach "what was in his heart"—no doubt a sermon in which he would have implored God to show no mercy and destroy them all. No, God gives him explicit instructions to preach the exact message given to him—not some book review, not his own opinion, not what Mama or the deacons tell him to preach. Not even what he wants to preach of God’s Word, but strictly the message given to him. "But God, You don’t understand—if I preach that, people will get all upset and not come back!" Praise the Lord! That "two-edged sword" divides and if offends someone, so be it! Many (if not most) preachers have gotten the idea that their primary responsibility is to be popular so the numbers will look good. God’s not impressed with their popularity or the numbers and He is the only One that counts. Those who shy away from declaring the whole counsel of God are on the road to Joppa whether they realize it or not and are making a whale of a mistake. It’s much easier to preach on the love of God and the fruit of the Spirit than it is to skin sheep, but sometimes God insists that we "reprove, rebuke, and exhort…" (2 Timothy 4). If there was ever a time in the history of this nation when repentance and revival were desperately needed, it is now! We are a heathen nation, despite all protestations to the contrary, and any idiot should be able to discern the rapid deterioration of our moral and spiritual fiber. Our children are murdering each other, our military is slaughtering civilians in Yugoslavia, and our government is morally bankrupt—but rose colored glasses insist that "all is well" because the economy is doing fine. God help us! "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved" (Jeremiah 8:20, KJV).
Let’s look at the message that God gave Jonah to preach. It was between 30 and 45 minutes in length, alliterated for emphasis, and ended with a poem. Right? No, it consisted of only eight words in our English translation and was "preached" by a man who certainly did not have his heart in it. He was, quite frankly, forced to do it. In our mind’s eye we can see him entering the large city, fearfully looking over his shoulder and expecting at any moment to be recognized as a Jew and attacked—his hatred exceeded only by his fear. After he had traveled about one third of the distance across the large city, he summoned his courage and began to cry out "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown". Can’t you just imagine some of the comments that would be made if this message were preached to America today? "Boy, what a loser of a sermon! Too short, no story or style! That guy is a waste of time!" But those who would make such comments fail to recognize the supernatural aspect of the message. This was God’s Word to Nineveh and the Assyrian Empire, not Jonah’s, and God’s Word always gets the job done! We preachers ought to be more concerned with what God says than with what we believe will move the hearts of men. A preacher friend of mine has often made the comment that we cannot even create an anxious thought.
Jonah continued across that great city crying out the simple message of repentance and the result is unparalleled in all of human history! The Word of God tells us that from the greatest (the king) down to the least of them, the city believed the message declared by Jonah, repented of their wickedness and humbled themselves before God! Because of their genuine humility and repentance, God stayed His hand of judgment until a later time. Eventually they lapsed back into their old sinful ways and God destroyed them as a nation, but this shows us what God can do in the hearts of men. Even in the hands of a totally reluctant and unenthusiastic individual, God’s message achieved the desired result. On the other hand, the very Word of God preached by the most eloquent and dynamic preachers in the world cannot possibly achieve anything similar, unless the Holy Spirit provides the power. Powerless preaching can and routinely does fill pews and offering plates, but the Bema Seat of Christ will be the standard of measurement—not relative successes as viewed by men.
Finally in chapter four, we find Jonah outside of Nineveh looking back at the city and hoping that what he had seen was just pretense on their part. Maybe just maybe God will discover that they are putting on an act and destroy them anyway. No matter that he has just witnessed a tremendous miracle, his loathing for these people continues to overshadow any trace of compassion within him. Now that his worst fears have been realized and God has actually spared these people, Jonah is angry! But instead of taking his petulant preacher to the woodshed again, God deals with him as if he were a child. Beginning in verse one of chapter four, we read:
"But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, I pray You O Lord, is not this just what I said when I was still in my country? That is why I fled to Tarshish; for I knew that You are a gracious god and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, and [when sinners turn to You and meet Your conditions] You revoke the [sentence of] evil against them. Therefore now, O Lord, I beseech You, take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live. Then said the Lord, Do you do well to be angry? So Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city, and he made a booth there for himself. He sat there under it in the shade till he might see what would become of the city. And the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to deliver him from his evil situation. So Jonah was exceedingly glad [to have the protection] of the gourd. But God prepared a cutworm when the morning dawned the next day, and it smote the gourd so that it withered. And when the sun arose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah so that he fainted, and wished in himself to die and said, It is better for me to die than to live. And God said to Jonah, Do you do well to be angry for the loss of the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die! Then said the Lord, You have had pity on the gourd, for which you have not labored nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons not [yet old enough to] know their right hand from their left, and also many cattle [not accountable for sin]?" (Jonah 4:1-11, Parallel Bible, KJV/Amplified Bible Commentary).
Jonah is acting like a stubborn child, so God treats him like one! One can almost hear God using "baby talk" in His replies to Jonah—"Well bless your widdle heart, are you upset with Me? Here, sit under the shade of this gourd vine. Oops, did the mean old worm kill the vine and that old hot wind cause my baby to faint?" This condescending manner is intended to embarrass Jonah for his childish attitude and at the same time impress upon him the magnitude of God’s grace toward an undeserving people. Jonah’s hatred for them was humanly understandable, considering their savage mistreatment of the Jewish people, but what about the 120,000 innocent children—not to mention helpless animals—that would suffer if God destroyed the city? Our old fallen and depraved nature seldom if ever "sees the big picture", because we are selfish and want our own way in things. God did not owe Jonah an explanation, but graciously and patiently explained His Sovereign will to him after having brought it to pass. Yes, God prepared a preacher by preparing a "great fish", a gourd vine, a cutworm, and a sultry east wind to accomplish His good and perfect will. The fish was all that was required to get the job done—the vine, the worm, and the wind were all for Jonah’s instruction!
If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, but have been very lukewarm in your spiritual walk with Him, you need to immediately ask Him for forgiveness and for renewal. He will instantly forgive you, and fill your heart with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Then, you need to begin a daily walk of prayer and personal Bible Study.
If you have never accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, but have come to realize His reality and the approaching End of the Age, and want to accept His FREE Gift of Eternal Life, you can also do so now, in the privacy of your home. Once you accept Him as Savior, you are spiritually Born Again, and are as assured of Heaven as if you were already there. Then, you can rest assured that the Kingdom of Antichrist will not touch you spiritually. If you would like to become Born Again, turn to our Salvation Page now.
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