As we begin let’s take a look at some facts about Jonah. He was the fifth of twelve minor prophets and took care of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Second Kings 14 gives us proof that Jonah was a successful prophet by recording his prophecy during the reign of Jeroboam II. He predicted a great expansion of Israel’s territory, which was confirmed in a short amount of time. Jesus even speaks of Jonah: “but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Mathew 12:40
The book begins with a specific word for Jonah: “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it.” God could not be clearer on what he wanted Jonah to do. There was only one problem - Jonah did not want to comply. The people of Nineveh were archenemies of Israel. They were known for their barbarism and harsh ways. As we all know the children of Israel did not exactly have the perfect record. They had been defeated, delivered into the enemy’s hands, and suffered numerous times because of their rebellion. Yet, every time God’s people repented, He had mercy on them. Because Jonah intimately knew his God, he knew his character “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” Jonah 4:2 Jonah knew there was a chance God could extend his mercy to these people and it was appalling to him. Although God had extended mercy to the Israelites time after time, his hate and animosity for these people clouded his vision. He was in essence trying to control who received God’s grace. Before we judge Jonah harshly for his disobedience, and lack of compassion let’s ask ourselves this question: “Has God ever stirred our heart to do something, and we said no by doing nothing, or running the other way?”
Jonah took the first boat to Tarshish. Why Tarshish? Why not just stay in Israel? Jonah went to Tarshish because it was completely in the opposite direction of the Lord’s command. God’s presence dwelled in the Temple of his land, so Jonah was trying to put as much distant between him and the Lord as possible. Did Jonah know he couldn’t escape God? Of course he did - he was a prophet. Sometimes our minds and our hearts can be miles from each other. Sometime we cling to the old saying “out of sight-out of mind.” The only problem is if God has called us to it, He will not allow peace until it is accomplished.
As we know, the great storm started to brew and the sailors began to panic. Where was Jonah? He was asleep in the hull of the boat. So pagan sailors who did not know the Lord began to beg “the man of God” to pray to save them all. What is wrong with this picture? Do you think Jonah knew why the storm was brewing? Of course he did. So when they begin to ask questions, Jonah confessed, “I am Hebrew, and I fear the Lord of heaven that made the sea and dry land.” He also confesses he is running from the Lord. So Jonah was crossing a sea, which he just stated His God controls in order to escape that same God. His statements and his actions do not match up. When God calls us to yield we think we can escape God by distance, but Psalm 139 reminds us:
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
Jonah’s sleep here can represent the lackadaisical Christian attitude we have. We want to say how selfish of Jonah to be asleep while putting all these people in danger. Why is he not more concerned, more compassionate? Where is his love for his God and people? We too are on a ship that has high winds and huge waves – it’s called life. Everyday there are people struggling around us, yet we do nothing. There are lost people going to hell, but we do not share our faith. There are marriages ending in divorce in our own churches, yet we think it is none of our business. The truth is we may not be on an actual boat, but much of the time we are asleep in our Christian walk.
The next thing is that Jonah told the sailors to pick him up and hurl him into the sea. I find this interesting. Why doesn’t he just throw himself overboard if he knows the problem? Why make these poor sailors, in their mind, “kill” him by drowning him? Reluctantly, they hurled him over, and instantly they knew who God was because the winds and waves calmed. The fear the sailors had started out with over the storm has now been converted into a reverent fear of worshiping God with vows and sacrifices. I think Jonah’s heart was why he asked them to throw him overboard. I think that although he knew what was right, he was deathly afraid of the consequences. God was either going to allow him to die, or he was going to Nineveh, and I think both options seemed equal horrendous to him.
Where are you today? Are you on the run from God? Do you have on running shoes? Are you sleeping on your Christian watch? Does anger and bitterness cloud your judgment when it comes to others? We have a couple weeks to go but here is a little spoiler- God always gets His way!