The God of Jonah

by LA UBF   03/08/2009     0 reads


The God of Jonah���

The God of Jonah

Jonah 1:1-4:11

Key Verse 4:10,11

But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?"

In the passage for today, God trained and used Jonah to help the people of Nineveh repent and be saved from destruction. Through the passage, may God bless us to meet with the God of Jonah, so that through this fellowship with Him we too would grow as useful servants for all the campus students in this great city of Los Angeles and beyond. 

I. The Lord runs after Jonah (1:1-17)

First, the Prophet Jonah. Who was Jonah? He was a Hebrew. He worshiped God, the maker of heaven and earth (1:9). He was also the prophet who ministered in Northern Israel (2 Kings 14:25). As a prophet, he received the privilege to have access to the word of God (1:1).  In order to save the world, God established the Israelites as a kingdom of priests. Among the Israelites, Jonah was the prophet who took charge of the word of God. Jonah was a walking Bible in his day. The world looked to him for spiritual help. In our days, God calls Christians and uses them as 'walking Bibles.’ We are 'moving Bible houses,' so to speak. As a moving Bible house, each of us has the blessed mission to serve God's words to his flock daily. 

Second, God's command to Jonah. Look at v. 2. "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." God's command was for him to 'go.' God's servant must be a 'ready-to-go' man at all times. In the military, whenever the commander-in-chief says, "Go," the soldiers must pick up their weapons and "go." When Jesus rose again and appeared to the disciples, Jesus commanded them, "Go into all the world and preach..." (Mark 16:15). Going is essential in saving souls. When God says, "Go," we must rise up and go to our sheep's place. 

To whom shall Jonah go? The Lord commanded him to go to the great city of Nineveh! Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria. In the days of Jonah, the Assyrian Empire was emerging as a superpower nation. God always has his eyes on the superpower nation. In the days of Joseph, God sent Joseph to help the superpower nation of Egypt with the gospel message (Genesis 45:5). In the days of Daniel, God called Daniel as a Bible teacher for the people in the superpower nation of Babylon. In the days of Jesus, God sent Paul to Rome to help people within the Roman Empire to repent and be saved. Likewise, in the days of Jonah, God sent Jonah to Nineveh to help the people within the Assyrian Empire to repent and be saved from destruction. 

What should Jonah preach? Look at v. 2 again. "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." This message is not pleasant to preach. As God's servants, we are called to serve not only sweet messages, but also hard messages. Because the world is evil, we will most likely be called to preach 'against' the audience we are sent to. "Preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." God gave Jonah a hard message to serve.

Third, Jonah's rebellion. How did Jonah respond to God's command? Let us read vs. 3-16 responsively. Jonah didn't like God's command. He ran away from God. In his rebellion, he played hide and seek. Perhaps, like Isaiah, when he was called to serve God as a prophet, he must have said to God, "Lord, here I am. Please send me! If I do not go, who else would go?" But now he was running away from the Lord, earnestly hoping that God would change his mind and send someone else. 

Look at v. 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." He knew that he was at fault. Yet he didn't want to obey God's command. He knew that God was chasing after him. Yet he simply did not like the command, so he did not want to even think about it. He hated it so much that he would rather die than obey the command. "Pick me up and throw me into the sea!" In essence he is saying, "Lord, I would rather die than go and preach against the great city!" 

Fourth, God provided a big fish for Jonah. In great reluctance, the crew members threw Jonah overboard. Now Jonah was bound to become food for the fish in the Mediterranean Sea. Then what happened to Jonah? Look at v. 17. "But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights." Jonah wanted to die, but God did not allow him to die. God provided a big fish and commanded the fish to take care of him. 

This event shows that the life of God's servant is in the hands of God. Livingstone, the famous British missionary who served in the African jungles, left one famous statement: man will never die until God's mission for him is done. From God who provided Jonah with a big fish, we learn that man's mission is more important than man's life. Therefore, we should not worry about our life. We must struggle to serve the mission no matter what happens to us. We must take up Apostle Paul's attitude when he said in Acts 20:24, "...I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace."

II. The Lord Answers Jonah's Prayer (2:1-10)

The life inside the fish was no fun at all. In fact, it was terrible. He felt distressed, tumbling like a pair of socks in a laundry machine. He felt dizzy. He could hardly breathe. He drank so much salt water that his stomach began to swell like a frog in a pond. Like a man riding a roller coaster at Magic Mountain, he plunged down to the roots of the mountains underneath the sea and then rose up again to the surface of the sea. The biggest problem was that, although he wanted to die, he could not die. He had no control over his life. The life inside the fish was surely bitterer than death itself. And Jonah later described his life inside the fish as 'the life in the depths of the grave.' The expression, 'depths of the grave,' shows that he virtually died and was buried. He became a dead person, drinking the foul soup of death. 

In distress, what did he do? Look at v. 1. There, at the end of the rope, he cried out to the Lord for help. How much did he pray? Look at v. 7. "When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple." He prayed until his prayer rose to the throne of God. At first he must have said, "Lord, if you save me, I would go and preach." But still there was no answer. He repeated the same prayer more earnestly than ever. Still there was no answer. Finally, what did he say? Look at v. 9. "But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD." The Israelites do not use the word 'vow' lightly. Yet, the Prophet Jonah used the word 'vow.' He made a 'vow' to go and preach. He said, "Lord, I will go and preach as you commanded. I am serious. I will go even singing a joyful song, 'O Zion haste, thy mission high fulfilling, to tell to all the world that God is Light...'"  In this way, Jonah sincerely prayed to God that if God only saved him, he would go to Nineveh and preach the message. How did the Lord bless his message? Look at v. 10. "And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land." From the Lord who saved Jonah from the depths of grave, we learn two things:

First, the Lord gave Jonah a second chance to fulfill the mission from God. God could have abandoned Jonah so that he would decay in the stomach of a fish or end up as ground beef between the teeth of a shark. But God gracefully spared him. Jonah wanted to commit suicide, but God did not allow him to do so, for his mission was not yet done. Furthermore, the Ninevites were yet to be saved. Often times, we forget God's purpose for our life. Then, in our own selfish desires, we run away from God, going the opposite direction. Then we end up in a terrible place like the stomach of a big fish. Then we come to remember God and cry out to him. Then the Lord always hears our prayer and gracefully saves us, so that with many thanks we could offer our bodies to save lost souls. 

Second, through training, God molded Jonah into a useful servant of God. Before the training inside the fish, Jonah was a stiff-necked person. But, after the training, he became a very obedient person. In the past, his mouth was full of complaints, but now his mouth was full of thanksgiving. Furthermore, through training, he overcame the fear of death.  Through his training, he learned the resurrection faith. He experienced the power of God who can raise the dead from the grave. In short, after the training, he shook off the fear of death. He was ready to go and brave any hardship including martyrdom. 

III. The Lord sends Jonah to Nineveh (3:1-10)

First, "Proclaim the message I give you!" Look at vs. 1,2. "Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.’" God did not alter the message. He gave Jonah the same message as before. Here, the expression, "the message I give you," is very important. God's servant should not mix his own ideas with God's message. God's servant must deliver God's message. To us, the command, 'Proclaim the message I give you,' directs us to serve God's words, so that people would repent of their sins and fit their standards of life to God's standards of life. As Bible teachers, we must not fit the word of God to people, but fit people to the word of God. 

Second, a call for repentance. Look at vs. 3,4. "Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city--a visit required three days. On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned."" His message was simple. "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.’" This message was suggestive of many messages. Essentially, this message calls for an immediate repentance. God could have destroyed the wicked Ninevites immediately by sending great disasters like an earthquake of 9.0 magnitude. But God did not do that. God granted them the grace period of 40 more days. Between the words 'forty more days' and 'Nineveh will be overturned,' there is the hidden message calling the Ninevites to repent. God has the same message to fallen men in each generation. God never punishes man's wickedness without giving man a sufficient opportunity to repent. In each generation, God calls people to repent by sending his servants to them with the gospel message. 

Third, the repentance of the Ninevites. How did the Ninevites respond to the message? Let us read vs. 5-9 responsively. Ninevites, although they were violent people, believed God. The people in Sodom and Gomorrah did not. When Lot's sons-in-law heard from Lot the message of God's impending judgment, they thought that their father-in-law was joking. The Ninevites could have treated Jonah as an insane person and ignored his message. However, they 'believed' Jonah's words as God's message. They declared a fast among all of them, including cattle. It was a nationwide repentance. Like one man they all repented, from the King in the royal box to the dogs and cows in the field. And their repentance was not superficial. They sincerely repented. In great terror and fear of God's judgment upon them, they gave up their evil ways and violence. Furthermore, they believed in God who is slow to anger and quick to show compassion. Look at v. 9. "Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish." 

The Ninevites set a good example of repentance. In Luke 11:32 Jesus said, "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." From a biblical point of view, a great man is not the man who never sins or who commits sins in lesser amount than others, but the man who quickly repents. Abraham is great, not because he did not make any mistakes, but because whenever God rebuked him, he quickly repented. King David is great, not because his sin was lighter than others' sins; the sins he committed were of mega-size sin including first degree murder. Yet, when God’s servant rebuked him, he quickly repented. The Apostle Peter is considered to be one of the greatest leaders in God's redemptive history, not because he never sinned, but because, despite his many mistakes, he was quick to repent. 

Why should we repent? We must repent because repentance is our job. No one, not even God, can repent on our behalf. Repentance belongs to man and salvation belongs to God. No matter how seriously God wants to save us, unless we repent of our sins, even God cannot save us from eternal condemnation.

Fourth, God forgave the repentant Ninevites. Look at v. 10. "When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened." This passage reminds us of Exodus 34:6, where Moses, the man of God and the giver of the law said, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness..." Because of his compassionate heart, God never despises a broken and contrite heart (cf. Psalms 51:17). When we sin greatly, and God's servants rebuke us sharply, we easily despair. But what the Lord did to the repentant Ninevites motivates us not to despair or feel condemned, but to repent of our own wicked ways and come back to him for his forgiveness.

IV. The Lord addresses Jonah's anger (4:1-11)

Chapter 4 is the epilogue of Jonah. In this part, the Lord addresses Jonah's anger. Let us read vs. 1-3. "But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, ‘O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’" Probably Jonah thought that the Ninevites were hopeless cases. Or probably he thought that God was too generous in dealing with notorious sinners like the Ninevites. But in God no one is born 'hopeless.' When one repents, everyone can enjoy God's blessing of sin-forgiveness. So the Lord replied, "Have you any right to be angry?" 

Yet Jonah did not accept the message. He was still angry. In anger, he began to demonstrate against God. Look at v. 5. Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. This demonstration is called a 'sit-in' demonstration. He put up a picket sign saying, "Down to Nineveh! Down to Nineveh!" 

In vs. 6-8, God trained Jonah so that the self-righteous prophet would understand God's heart of compassion. Let us read this part responsively. Probably by that time, Jonah must have been exhausted to the point of death. He did not eat for three days and three nights. The mission journey also drained his strength. Now, as he protested against God's leniency, the scorching sun blazing down on his forehead made him grow faint. While he was in the stomach of the big fish, his stomach swelled like that of a fat frog. But now because of severe dehydration, his stomach became like a flat tire. Once again he felt like dying. But the physical exhaustion was not much of the problem. His mental anguish hurt him the most. So, when God asked him second time, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?" he talked back to God, "I do, I am angry enough to die." In fact, he said, "Lord, I don't understand you because you changed your mind so quickly. It's unfair!"

What, then, did God say to him? Let us read vs. 10,11. "But the LORD said, 'You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?'" This passage teaches us two things:

First, God's servant must serve God's mission, not for the sake of himself, but for the sake of the lost. Jonah was not called to feed his pride or satisfy his own sense of justice. God did not pick up Jonah to make Jonah feel good about himself. God picked up and used Jonah to promote the interest of the Ninevites. In the same way, God sends us to his flock, not for the sake of ourselves, but for the sake of his flock. When we forget this fact, we are condemned to fall into the "Jonah's Anger" syndrome. 

Second, God is the God of concern. The word 'concern' or 'concerned' means 'being mindful.' We usually think that, having finished his creation work, God is enjoying a long vacation in God's kingdom doing nothing. 

But this is not true. God is mindful of all peoples on earth, especially those who are spiritually ignorant. The Ninevites were ignorant. They could not tell even their right hand from their left. In this way, to God, all are blind sheep. So God's heart is always broken; therefore it is quite natural that God is greatly concerned about the physical and spiritual well being of all peoples on earth. 

It is in this concern that God called us as his servants. When we know that God is the God of concern, being concerned about ignorant sheep, then we can discern God's broken heart, obey God's command to serve his word, not reluctantly, but with many thanksgiving, not in a self-righteous attitude, but with a very humble and earnest attitude. Then, when one sheep repents as the Ninevites did, we can be greatly joyful rather than being angry like Jonah (Lk 15:10). 

One word: The God of Jonah


1. What Bible verse shows that Jonah preferred to die than to go to Nineveh? ___________

2. What Bible verse shows that Jonah preferred to live and serve the mission than to die? ____________

3. Why did Jonah at one time want to die than to serve the mission and yet at another become thankful for the opportunity to serve the mission? _________________________________________    


4. Why did Jonah at one time go for the mission with joy but at another regret that he had served the mission? __________________________________________________

5. Jonah stayed inside the fish for _______________.

6. Read Matthew 12:39. What does “the sign of Jonah” mean? 

The end