Jonah 2:1-2 “Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly.
And he said:“I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction,
And He answered me.
“Out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
And You heard my voice.
What can be said about Jonah that has not already been learned?
I remember as a child in Sunday School listening to the teacher illustrate the story of Jonah on a flannel graph. The amazing way that God redirected a wayward prophet back into His intended purpose was stuff of legend.
As a child, it’s easy to hear the story of a great fish swallowing Jonah and imagining it like the story of Pinocchio. Jonah was relegated to a Disney film that depicted Geppetto, the poor woodworker who had created the wooden puppet, who had fallen into dire straits, having been swallowed by a whale while looking for his lost creation.
Walt Disney seemed to find a way to catre to a generation that had some biblical knowledge and then interjected his own ideas into the mix and formed a film that became beloved for generations.
I recently was able to partake of a pathways training program that focuses on an inductive approach to correctly disseminating scripture and teaching pastors both domestic and internationally how to do the same.
The initial class focused on the book of Jonah.
As an adult, I have learned(and am still learning), how to read and understand scripture correctly. I realized long ago that I needed to put away childish thinking and grow deeper in knowledge and wisdom. Pathways has been one such program that helps people move from a simple, rudimentary understanding of scripture into a realm that may just open your eyes and see what you may have missed in the past.
Jonah 1:1,2 “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”
In exploring the word ‘Arise’, the command in Hebrew is for Jonah to simply, “Get up, get going!”
It seems half the battle in being obedient to God’s commands is that first step. We can make all kinds of excuses for why it’s not a good time to go, we might be asking for a couple more signs like Gideon did with the fleece, or we may just be fearful at the prospect of what God is placing before us.
The second command was to go.
Now, I’m violating the Pathways process by not just focusing on the observable portion of the text, but for the sake of this format, I’m digging a little deeper.
The term ‘go’ comes from the root word halak which gives the idea of nurturing, loving and caring. It literally means the way to walk or the way to behave. Often associated with how to live by God’s laws, the idea of going forth in righteousness(obedience to God’s commands) cannot be understated here.
It’s important to remember, when God calls us to ‘go’, God has already gone before us. Just as Jesus encouraged His disciples to walk in righteousness, He first walked the talk and showed us the way. Wherever God calls us, it becomes a process of following Him into the call and not us paving some new road.
John 13:36 “Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.”
Today, those who have the Spirit of Christ through Salvation can now follow. Peter was weak at Jesus’ trial and yet after the Spirit of God was given at Pentecost, the strength and power of God in His disciples fueled by God’s authority raised them into a position they could not attain on their own.
The command God gave Jonah was to preach against the wickedness of Nineveh. Jonah’s rebellion against God’s command is a story for the ages. The fish that swallowed Jonah was not a whale as Disney portrayed, whales don’t dwell on the bottom of the sea.
We see for Jonah that all God required of him was to deliver His message of judgement and yet Jonah’s rebellion against God’s character of love and compassion became too much for him to cope with. The Ninevites were a people he despised, the moment God called, Jonah rebelled.
After God’s command, the steady descent of Jonah began to transpire. He went ‘down to Joppa’ that he might flee to Tarshish, a pathway that lead completely opposite of the way he was to go. After he boarded the ship, he went down into the hull to sleep. Then, when God hurled the storm against the sea, and the ship found itself in despair, the sailors hurled Jonah down into the waters, where the fish finished the wayward descent into the depths of sea.
Rebellion against God leads only down, and for those who continue in rebellion the final destination becomes the farthest depth that despair leads; for the rebellious it leads into Hell.
Job 17:15,16 “Where then is my hope?
As for my hope, who can see it?
Will they go down to the gates of Sheol?
Shall we have rest together in the dust?”
After Jonah’s prayer of repentance in Jonah 2, God commanded the fish to vomit him onto the shore. Once Jonah had regained his life again, the message was repeated.
Jonah 3:1,2 “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.””
When the second command was issued, Jonah was ready to obey.
The Result of the Message
When God speaks, God speaks a specific Word.
Today, the Word God speaks is specifically found in the Bible. We would do well to recognize the power of God’s Word when delivered into the ears of the lost. The Word of God is powerful, it cuts through the haze of indifference and penetrates into the heart of man. Any deviation from God’s Word is only man’s pride getting in the way and we must remember, God’s Word is enough.
Have you ever attempted to relate God’s Word without staying true to the message? It often leaves the door open to other interpretations, it gives way for excuses in action, and leaves it’s listeners without the authority by which they were intended to be confronted with.
Jonah 3:5-6 “So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.”
Notice the effects of the message, the people first began to turn in repentance then the King also turned. The reminder to us is that no matter how evil a ruler may be, God can affect a country with the hope that it will also affect it’s leadership.
Change starts with God’s command and progresses into obedience.
Sackcloth and ashes was very symbolic in nature. When sackcloth was worn, which was worn as a token of mourning by the Israelites, it was a sign of submission (1 Kings 20:31–32), or of grief and self-humiliation (2 Kings 19:1), and was occasionally worn by the Prophets.
When someone sat in ashes it was often a reminder of devastation, terror and sorrow. … It was a symbol of sorrow for sins.
What was the result of the Ninevites humble submission and repentance?
Jonah 3:10 “Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.”
God desires to show compassion, it is in His nature. For all who heed His call, the offer of mercy and grace is extended.
How will they know if we don’t tell them, how can they hear if we don’t go?
God’s Sovereignty vs. Man’s Agenda
As the story progresses we begin to see the reason why Jonah fled as he did.
Jonah 4:1-2 “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm”
Jonah did not want God to spare the people of Nineveh. The bitterness of Jonah was such that he despaired even to his own life. Jonah thought his life wasn’t worth living because this people would continue on and the continued theme of Jonah despairing to life was repeated once again.
What does God do for Jonah in the midst of his anger?—He first asked him a question.
Jonah 4:4 “Then the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
The object lesson of God then followed the question.
Jonah 4:6-8 “And the Lord God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
Do you see how God’s compassion in which He first showed to the Ninevites was the same compassion he was trying to teach Jonah?
Jonah 4:9 “Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
Jonah’s response was as before “it’s right for me to be angry, even to death”.
Jonah 4:10-11 “But the Lord said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?
God’s agenda is not for mankind’s destruction. He desires compassion, mercy, and grace.
As Jonah was called to take God’s message to the Ninevites, we are called to carry God’s message to the world.
The gospel reveals God’s purpose for mankind at Creation, it reveals man’s fall into sin, and Jesus Christ’s redemption at the cross of Calvary.
To those who accept and believe, the restoration of God’s people is working by way of the Holy Spirit in their lives all towards a glorious reunion in Heaven with God once again.
Mark 16:15 “And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
The call of administering the gospel is for all who believe.
How will you respond when the opportunity presents itself? Do you have a bias toward those to whom God has called you? Do you find it difficult to have compassion on a people that have not earned the right to God’s mercy?
Nobody can earn God’s mercy, including the mercy that we have received.
God’s call will continue to pursue you, even if you initially reject Him. His love and compassion is such that He care as much for the servant as He does for those to whom the servant has been sent.
When you hear God’s voice…don’t delay. Just go and see His Salvation.