Jonah Chapter One
1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
4 But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. 6 The captain came and said to him, “What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.”
7 The sailors said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, “Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” 9 “I am a Hebrew,” he replied. “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.
11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.” 13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
17 But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
One of my favorite bible verses is Romans 8:28 “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God–those whom he has called according to his plan.” The book of Jonah is proof of Romans 6:28. Throughout the four chapters of Jonah, his failures become God’s triumphs.
I’ve often referred to Jonah as the world’s worst prophet. However, the spirit has led me to understand that, in truth, he was one of the most successful of all the prophets … through no fault of his own.
There is a lot of debate about Jonah’s story. Is it to be taken literally or is it an illustrative story? If you believe it is literal, there are some strange, improbable portions that defy logic. However, as Jesus said in Matthew 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Is it literal or an allegory? I don’t know and I don’t care. The lessons taught and learned from the book reveal what is possible when God intervenes in a persons life.
- Observe. God said to Jonah “Go at once to Nineveh”, Go at once. Go now. There is a urgency expressed here.
- “Nineveh, that great city” was an Assyrian city. They were enemies of the Israelites.
- “Cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” The Assyrians weren’t just enemies of Israil, they were enemies of God.
In point number one we can see that God has a timetable. Go at once. God had prepared the Ninevehites to be receptive to Jonah’s message. Much like Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:2b, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” This begs the question, “What happens if His timetable is missed?”
We know that God is a God of second chances. You remember the story of the Israelies fleeing Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, and wandering the desert for forty years, right? Well, the forty years of wandering was a second chance. To start with the Jews went straight to the Promised Land in about six weeks. This was God’s original plan. The land and its people had been made ready by God for the jews to move in and unpack. Forty years later they are given a second chance. But this time they would have to fight for the land.
I look at my own life and wonder how many chances for salvation I had passed up, before turning my will over to God? How many times have you heard. God’s invitation and turned a deaf ear to it? How many times did the people of Noah’s time hear and turn away before God said, “Enough is enough!” God declared way back in Genesis “My Spirit will not put up with humans for such a long time, for they are only mortal flesh. (New Living Translation)
We must understand – listen – listen – this is important – your very eternal life depends upon it – though God is a God of loving forgiveness, and grace, He is also a God of justice. The unrepentent will be cut off from life.
Point number two and three – Nineveh, was an Assyrian city. They were enemies of the Israelites. Why would God warn Israel’s enemies? Why would God warn His enemies? Remember just a couple minutes ago when I said, “God is a God of loving forgiveness, and grace, He is also a God of justice”? That love, grace, and justice extends to all of His children – and we are all of us His children. Remember God the Son said in Matthew 5:44 “But I tell you, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” This is more than Gods will, it is God’s very nature.
God grants us grace upon grace — but — at some point — He will apply justice to those who refuse to accept His grace. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – Romans 3:23
Now back to our story. God told Jonah to go and go now. Well, Joe went alright. He went down and booked passage on a ship headed in the opposite direction — away from Nineveh — and, in Joe’s mind — away from God.
Of course you know why he ran from Nineveh. It was the capital of Israel’s enemies. Joe knew that if he took his ol’ Israeli self to that city and say what God wanted him to say, they would kill him.
Now, about that running from God thing. You and I understand how futile that is, right? God, the creator and sustainer of everything, is everywhere. The psalmest wrote, “Where can I go to get away from your Spirit? Where can I run to get away from you? If I go up to heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in hell, you are there. If I climb upward on the rays of the morning sun or land on the most distant shore of the sea where the sun sets, even there your hand would guide me and your right hand would hold on to me.” – Psalms 139:7-10 That psalm was written many years before Jonah was even born.
Even so, in that age, the belief was that Yahweh was the God of Israel — and only Israel. Other nations had their own gods – false gods with a small g. The general belief was that the great I AM lived in the temple in Jerusalem. He only dealt with other nations if it impacted the land of Israel. Jonah was about to get a lesson in the true universal sovereignty of God.
Joe was asleep in the bottom of the ship and a frightful storm came up. A storm so great that the crew began throwing things overboard to lighten the load and let the ship ride higher and, hopefully, keep the waves from swamping the ship.
Each of them, sailor and passenger began praying to their various small g gods. All except Jonah, who was asleep in the bottom of the ship.
When every thing that could be thrown into the stormy sea, had been thrown overboard, they began looking at each other. Can’t you just imagine that moment when they realized that it was time to start tossing people into the sea? That little light bulb in their mind clicked on and understanding shown in their eyes. Slowly they backed away from each other. Now there was social distancing! Backing as far apart as they could on the small ships deck and all the while keeping eyes on each other. Who would be the forest to go? I’m sure it was the heaviest man that came up with the idea to draw straws or roll the dice.
That’s when Joe, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes, came onto the deck. The dice were cast and Joe lost the roll.
Accepting that the gods had chosen Jonah, various ones of them asked him, “Are you the one who has caused us all this trouble?” “What work do you do?” “Where are you coming from?” “What country and what people-group do you belong to?”
These men were sure that it was Joe’s fault but they wanted to know the “who, what, when, where, and most importantly why?” They didn’t want to be quilt of condemning an innocent man.
Jonah confessed that he was trying to escape from the One True God, creator of sky, earth, and sea; because he didn’t want to do what he had been commanded to do.
After the sailors heard that, they were terrified. So they asked him, “Do you realize what trouble you have caused?” The storm kept getting worse and the waves kept getting bigger. So one of the sailors asked Jonah, “What should we do in order to make the sea become calm?” He replied, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. If you do that, it will become calm. I know that this terrible storm is the result of my not doing what God told me to do.”
Even then the sailors did not want to anger Jonah’s God. Instead, they tried hard to row the ship back to the land. But they could not do that, because the storm continued to get worse.
Now listen closely to this part of the story. This is why I’ve changed my mind about Jonah being the worst prophet.
Then they (all of them) cried out to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.”
Do you see? Do you understand what happened here? These people of various nationalities, prayed to God, the One God, the True God, the All Powerful God. Saying, please do not let us drown because of our causing this man to die. O Yahweh, you have done what you wanted to do. We do not know if this man has sinned or if he has not sinned. But, please, do not consider us guilty of sinning against you, when we cause him to die!”
All of these men prayed to God that he would forgive them for sacrificing Jonah.
Then they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea. When the sea became calm, the sailors became greatly awed at God’s mighty power. So they offered a sacrifice to him, and they strongly promised him that they would do things that would please him.
Does that sound like repentance and conversion to you? It sounds like repentance and conversion to me!
Jonah, having confessed his sin, testified about God Almighty. Because of this, these men witnessed and became believers who promised from that moment on to please God.
Even a weak kneed cowardly person like Jonah can be used of God to expand his kingdom.
Oh yes, at the end of chapter one, Jonah became fish food as the he’s swallowed by a large fish. Want the rest of the story? It’s right there in the book of Jonah.
Here are the take aways from today’s lesson.
- God may call on anyone at anytime
- God has a time table
- God prefers grace to justice
- There is an unknown limit to the number of times grace will be given
- If grace is refused. Justice will be applied.
- You can not run from, or hide from God.
- Good can use either or both our obedience and disobedience.
- Be careful or you may become fish-food.
This bears repeating: God grants us grace upon grace — but — at some point — He will apply justice to those who refuse to accept His grace.
The bad news,
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – Romans 3:23
The good news,
“But to all who believed him (Jesus) and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” – John 1:12
I don’t know what will be your Nineveh. I do know that God has a job for each of his children. When you are given your task,
Turn aside, neither to the right, nor to the left; yet turn your foot away from evil. For the Lord knows the ways that are on the right, and truly, those that are on the left are perverse. But he himself will make your courses straight. Then your journey will advance in peace. – Proverbs 4:27
©2021 Thomas E Williams