WRONG WAY JONAH

Jonah 1

This short book has only four chapters and forty-eight verses. It documents history’s greatest revival as in a single day the population of a whole city repented! Never before or since was such a work done for God with a Gentile people on foreign soil. The message that made the difference was all about the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

What a great story! It tells of several “great” things: a great city, wind, tempest, fish, and kindness. But it is about much more than a great fish, or a great city, or even about a disobedient prophet. It is about God – His will, His Word, and His work in the heart of His reluctant servant.

God spoke many times in the book. His voice commanded the winds, the whale, the worm, and a whole city, and they all obeyed. But when the word of the Lord came to Jonah, he disobeyed. Is that why this is one of two books ending with a question mark (the other is Nahum). That’s how Jonah’s life ends. We know little about him – just a few details and a question mark. Some saints are like that. They say they are saved, but way they live looks like a question mark.

So God chose to work with a very reluctant instrument. He uses us in spite of our weaknesses, but first He must change us. The Lord spoke of “the sign of Jonah,” and “the preaching of Jonah.” First the man, then his ministry. Only when God has done a work in the man, can He use the man to do His work.

THE BACKGROUND
The Assyrians were vicious, cruel, distant, wicked, and condemned. But they were also the objects of God’s amazing grace and love.

a) The City Nineveh
The Bible calls Nineveh a “great city.” It was “great” because of:

(i) Its History, going back to Genesis 10. 6000 years of recorded history.

(ii) Its Magnificence. The city’s circumference was 90 km. Its high walls could take three chariots. Irrigation canals fed from the nearby Tigris river fed the farms. It was the economic centre of the world.

(iii) Its Population. 120,000 children – likely ½ million people.

(iv) Its Wickedness. God said “their wickedness is come up before me.” Their religion was sex-centred, cruel, filthy, and under the judgment of God. Jonah could agree with that. He had no love or sympathy for the millions there going to hell. How different from the Lord who wept over Jerusalem’s impending destruction.

b) The Prophet Jonah
Jonah lived in Gath-hepher, near Nazareth. His father was “Amittai,” meaning Truth, so as the son of truth Jonah had a good beginning. He is mentioned in both OT and NT – hence he is a significant figure.

2 Kings 14:23-27 says Jonah had earlier foretold the recapture of Israel’s territories from the Assyrians, so he was already famous in his day. Peace and prosperity had come, and Jonah would have been alarmed at any revival of hated Assyria.

The name Jonah means “dove.” The Lord said we should be “Harmless as doves.” When Noah’s dove returned, it announced good news of peace and new life. Jonah’s name should have spelt peace and harmlessness. Instead, he endangered himself, his crew, and the whole population of Nineveh.

1. HOW GOD CALLED JONAH
“The Word of the Lord came to Jonah” (1:1). Why Jonah? God could have used angels, but His way is for man to evangelise man. We, not angels, are ambassadors, and have been given the ministry of reconciliation.

a) The Need
“Cry against it.” The world population is still exploding. It is well past the 5 billion mark, and every hour adds 10,000 new people. Of these, 2/3 will never have enough to eat, 3/5 will never learn to read, 2/3 will never hear the gospel.

b) The Privilege
Jonah forgot it was a great privilege to be a prophet, to hear God’s Word, and know God’s will. That’s why he resigned from his office, and fled to Tarshish. Moses, Elijah, and Jeremiah also felt like resigning, but God wouldn’t let them. It is in doing God’s will that we grow in grace and become more like Christ.

2. HOW JONAH RESPONDED
“Arise and go to Nineveh.” Jonah rose up, but instead of finding an east-bound camel, he found a west-bound boat going to Tarshish.

At Joppa Jonah found the right ship, and had the right amount of money for the fare. Did these circumstances give a false sense of security? God allowed it to happen and said nothing. The big lesson was still ahead.

a) The Plan
“Jonah rose up to flee from the presence of the Lord.” In running from God’s call, he also ran from His presence. Two things happened to Jonah that day:

(i) He left the presence of the Lord. That’s where communion, guidance, blessing, protection, and joy are found. James says 4:6 says as we draw nigh to God, He will draw nigh to us. He “gives more grace” and promises for every tempest or temptation.

There is a place of quiet rest, Near to the heart of God,
A place where sin cannot molest, Near to the heart of God,
O Jesus, blest Redeemer, Sent from the heart of God,
Hold us who wait before Thee, Near to the heart of God.

(ii) He headed toward the arms of the enemy where there is no protection, guidance, joy or blessing. That’s where we find Cain the murderer, Judas the traitor, and Gehazi the liar, who all “went out.”

At least Jonah had a reason. He knew God would forgive Nineveh’s their sin, and he did not want that to happen. Many of God’s people have run for less. Our prayer should be, “Lord, keep me faithful to Him till He come!”

b) The Pathway
(i) Jonah “went down” – down to Joppa, down into the ship, and down into the side of the ship.” Disobedience is always down. Three times Judges 14 says “Samson went down to Timnath.” “Down” is a Satan word. “Cast thyself down…” “Fall down and worship me.” “Come down from the cross.” Either we are going up, or we are going down.

(ii) Jonah “went with” them to Tarshish (1:3). Once our fellowship with God is broken, we quickly line up with the world. It was when Judas “stood with them” he kissed his master. Peter “stood with them” and denied Him.

c) The Price
“He paid the fare…” Jonah likely asked, “How much?” but had no idea of the real cost. It cost him peace of mind, testimony, trials and tempests, and storms. Jonah lost:

(i) His Contact with God (1:4). “The Lord sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest” (1:4). God now spoke to Jonah, not through his words, but through His works – the sea, the wind, the rain, the thunder. Everything in nature obeyed Him. God even spoke through the pagan sailors! The only one not listening was Jonah!

(ii) His Passion for the World . “What meanest thou, O sleeper?” (1:6). Asleep to his call and disaster about him, Jonah was unconcerned. The only man on board who knew the problem and its solution slept on.

Today’s world has lost its spiritual compass, and is torn apart by drugs, drink, and immorality. Two thirds will never hear the Gospel. How many in Nineveh died and went to hell because Jonah slept? Yet we are too busy, too tired, or too afraid to act.

(iii) His Power in Prayer. “Call on your God!” (1:5). How could he when he was not on speaking terms with Him?

(iv) His Testimony for God. “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord” (1:9). When he told them of his relationship with God, his life and conduct belied his profession. The sailors did more for Jonah, than he was willing to do for them.

(v) His Sense of Purpose. As a Jew, Jonah should have brought blessing instead a burden. As a prophet he had no message for them from God. Twice Abraham troubled people because he lied. So did Isaac and Aachan. Now Jonah imperils a boatload of sailors. They unloaded the cargo and rowed hard, but when there is a disobedient Jonah on board with unconfessed sin, then family, friends, and fellowship all suffer.

THE CONCLUSION
The rest of the book tells how a disobedient prophet became a beautiful type of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus (Mat 12:40). Jonah’s death alone could save the sailors. The guilty one must die if the storm of God’s judgment was to be stilled.

Jonah got what he wanted, and ran from presence of the Lord, but lost what he had. Spurgeon said, “God never allows his children to sin successfully.”

Story of Robt Robinson who was saved under Whitfield, and wrote the hymn. He later went back into life of sin. “I am the author of that hymn. I would give 1000 pounds to regain the years I have lost.”

Come, thou fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.
Streams of mercy never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.
O to grace how great a debtor, Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let that grace, Lord, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the Lord I love,
Yet Thou, Lord, hast deigned to seal it, With Thy Spirit from above.

THE PENITENT PROPHET

Jonah 2

Chapter 2 shows how God in mercy retrained and reused His disobedient servant. Chapter 1 showed him with his face away from God. Now we see his face toward God, as the penitent prophet turns to the One he had offended, and cries out in vows of renewal.

God responded by giving His servant a brand new beginning. Isn’t God good to give second chances! When Jonah survived inside the fish, he realised God had given him a life he didn’t deserve (God’s grace) instead of the death he did deserve (God’s mercy).

Chapter 2 is a Psalm of praise. There is no petition in it, just thanksgiving (2:2-6), contrition (2:7-8), and rededication (2:9). Jonah’s prayer quotes widely from the Psalms drawing on at least nine different Psalms (Psalm 3, 5, 18, 31, 42, 69, 77, 116, and 120). His soul was saturated with the Scriptures, and he turned in his mind to God’s Word in time of trouble. Happy indeed the man who has his mind full of the Word of God at times of extremity.

“The Sign of Jonah the Prophet”
When the Jews asked for a sign in Mat 12:39-41, the Lord replied, “There shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

Jonah’s three-day experience inside the fish was a vivid picture of Christ’s “death, burial, and resurrection.” The Lord called it “the sign of the prophet Jonah.” The Ninevites were called on to believe the man who had passed through death, burial, and resurrection. That is still the Gospel message, calling men to believe the One who was delivered for our sins and raised again for our justification. That is still God’s only sign to man.

But Jonah’s submarine sojourn has much else to teach us. It accurately reflects our own experience, as we wander away from God through disobedience, and then feel His chastising hand as He manipulates what and where we are to bring us back to Himself.

1. JONAH PRAYED (2:1-2)
“Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly” (2:1).

a) The Place of Jonah’s Prayer
“The fish’s belly.” What a place for prayer! Sometimes we have to be “swallowed” by the circumstances of life before we will turn to the Lord.

b) The Problem of Jonah’s Prayer
“ I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice” (2:2).

People ask, “Why doesn’t the Lord speak to me?” Actually, He did speak in 1:1, but Jonah did not like what he heard and responded by fleeing from the presence of the Lord (1:3). He did not ask God about it or pray because he did not want to pray. He knew real prayer would link him with God’s will, which would mean living differently and bring things into his life he didn’t want. Perhaps our difficulty praying is because we don’t want to pray. If so, we should be honest and ask Him for His help to accept His perfect will for us.

c) The Passion of Jonah’s Prayer
“I cried for help from the depth of Sheol.” Jonah, in great distress and very close to death, “cried out… unto the Lord.”

Jonah cried because he was in distress, and danger. On the deck of the ship he had watched carelessly as the sailors called on their gods. But now he was experiencing what the sailors experienced in the storm. He felt he was perishing. As he sank into the depths, God reminded him of what the people of Nineveh were going through in their sinful condition – helpless and hopeless.

We also know we should pray because we delight in God, and want to praise and thank Him. But we pray most earnestly in times of distress and danger.

d) The Purpose of Jonah’s Prayer (2:3)
“For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.”

“You cast me…your waves…” Jonah acknowledged that God had been in control and disciplining him. How we respond to discipline determines how much we benefit from it. Heb 12:5-11 says we can despise it and fight (12:5), we can be discouraged and faint (12:5), we can resist and invite stronger discipline (12:9), or we can submit and mature (12:7). God’s discipline was proof that Jonah was his child.

Jonah had been previously been used of God and had a good track record. God had commissioned him to go to Nineveh, but he went in the other direction. See how God deals with His servant:

(i) In Wisdom. In His wisdom God allowed Jonah to follow his choice. He knew what lay ahead, and that only these events would restore him.

(ii) In Grace. In His grace he brought Jonah back to usefulness.

Do we remember those turning points in our lives when we yielded totally and had the joy of being used by Him. We need to go back to those times, listen to Him again, and respond to His call. He doesn’t want us to wait until we are in such extremity and distress before we listen.

2. JONAH LOOKED (2:4)
“Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.”

a) His Fear
“Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight.” Jonah felt God would no longer see his need or answer his prayer. True, if we persistently disobey God He will not hear us. Micah warned, “they will cry to the Lord, but He will not hear them” (Micah 3:4). But what that verse means is He would not give them what they asked for.

“The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God” (2:5,6).

“Compassed…enclosed…wrapped about.” There is terror in these verses Jonah was at the point of death. Nothing could save him. The sea-weeds that wrapped around his head all added to the certainty that he was going to die.

(i) His Depths. “I went down to the bottom of the mountains.” The word for bottom means “extremity.” Beneath the Mediterranean Sea, and inside the huge fish, Jonah knew nothing could help. He was down as far as it was possible to go. No submarine could be sent to locate him. Technology, counselling, friends, money, would all be useless. There was only one thing to do – throw himself on the mercy of God. At times we, too, like Jonah must turn to and trust the Lord.

(ii) His Despair. It was like being in prison, with “bars” that were far too strong for him to open. Perhaps we feel there are “bars” around our lives. Financial, family, health, or work-related bars that keep us inside the prison of our circumstances. It may be that you don’t like who you are and are just – depressed.

It was when Jonah got to the bottom of his life that he finally began to pray. If you are at or near the end, it’s time to pray. As we will see, God does hear us, no matter what has happened; or what we have done. In fact, God still had His plan for Jonah. It wasn’t what Jonah wanted, but it was God’s will for his life, and it involved bringing life and blessing to thousands of people. And that depended 100% on Jonah’s willingness to obey his God.

b) His Faith
“I will look again toward thy holy temple.” Jonah looked towards God’s holy temple and prayed. When Solomon dedicated the temple, he prayed that if God’s people sinned, and turned towards the temple, He would hear and forgive (1 Ki 8:38). Jonah by faith looked towards the dwelling place of God. That is still the place from which God hears and forgives the “Jonahs” of this world.

3. JONAH REMEMBERED (2:7)
“When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.”

a) Why He Remembered
Jonah was desperate. His disobedience was drawing him to death. Shortly before, he didn’t care, and actually wanted to die. But now that he was dying, he discovered he didn’t want to die after all. So he called out to the Lord in prayer.

The world is full of people who have rejected and forgotten the Lord. He is their Creator, their Saviour. They are dying, and on a path leading to disease or disaster. Even if we escape such things, the aging process will not be avoided. Our circumstances are not as extreme as Jonah’s, but if we are outside the will of God, we are in just as much danger as him. Our only hope is to remember the Lord and turn to Him.

b) What He Remembered
“When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD.” This was Jehovah, the covenant God. As Jonah by faith looked towards that holy temple and asked God to deliver him, God kept His promise and answered his call. God was not far away.

4. JONAH VOWED (2:9)
“But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.”

a) His Repentance
“They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.” “Those who regard vain idols, forsake their faithfulness” (NIV).

“Idols” are whatever is a substitute for God. We trust our idols – things that take up our time. Here is a call to “forsake (our) faithfulness,” our commitment to them. God only asks for us to be faithful to Him.

“Lying vanities,” lit “empty nothings.” Jonah admitted that idols had robbed him of God’s blessing. One such idol was his intense patriotism, which had prevented him from obeying God. The fact that suffering and self-ruin result from self-will had now become Jonah’s personal experience. He had forsaken God and walked the same paths as idolaters.

“forsake their own mercy.” Those who cling to idols “forfeit the grace that could be theirs.”

a) His Resolve
“I will pay that which I have vowed.” This was Jonah’s surrender. He had been running from God and His call on his life, but now he was willing to place God’s will ahead of his own. He had reached the bottom, not only in the Sea, but he had reached the end of his objections and would follow the Lord. In his extremity he had made a vow to God – “Lord get me out of here.” Like us! Jonah kept his word, paid his vow.

b) His Realisation
“Salvation is of the LORD.” This is the last lesson proud man consents to learn. Jonah was powerless to help himself – the Lord must intervene if he was to be saved. Only when Jonah got to the point of acknowledging that salvation is of the Lord could the Lord deliver him.

Jonah had been afraid for his people, concerned that if the Assyrians of Nineveh were spared, Israel might be destroyed by them. So he took matters into his own hands and went in the opposite direction from the will of God. But now he recognises God’s will as supreme, and realized the only hope for Assyrians, Israel, and for all others, is to recognize that “salvation is from the Lord.”

Jonah’s Deliverance (2:10)
“And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.”

a) The Difference Sin Makes
To the sailors Jonah was like a piece of dangerous cargo to be thrown overboard. Now the whale treats him like a stomach upset. How disobedience cheapen us!

b) The Difference God Makes
God has purposes in what He allows and what He does. He sees the future and He knows our needs, better than we do. The ultimate outcome of Jonah’s life and yours will be precisely what it should be – if we let Him.

From a human perspective, it was impossible for Jonah to be once again on his way to Nineveh, or even alive. People say it’s not humanly possible. True! But all things are possible with God. Just as Jonah was delivered, so can we, at just the right time and in the power of God.

“A GREATER THAN JONAH IS HERE”
Mat 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-32

Mat 12:38 Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee.
Mat 12:39 But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah:
Mat 12:40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Mat 12:41 The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here.

Jonah was both a sign to compare and a statement to contrast with Christ both in his person and work. “The sign of the prophet Jonah” and his experience of death, burial, and resurrection (i.e. his “work”) was stated by the Lord Himself to be a clear type of His own “work” in His death burial and resurrection.

In stating “a greater than Jonah is here,” the Lord contrasted the perfections of His own person with the many personal imperfections of Jonah as a servant of God.

So, “the sign of the prophet Jonah” referred to his work; the “greater than Jonah” reference refers to the Lord’s personal perfections contrasted with Jonah’s many

JONAH – A TYPE OF CHRIST (His “Work”)
1. Both were sent on a mission.
Jonah – “the word of the Lord came to Jonah” (1:1)
Christ – “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (Isa 12:8).

2. Both had to undertake a journey
Jonah – “Arise, go to Nineveh.”
Christ – “Out of the ivory palaces, into a world of woe.”

3. Both were to bring the word of God
Jonah – “Cry against Nineveh, for their wickedness is come up before me.”
Christ – He is the Word.

4. Both died, were buried, and rose again
Jonah – this was “the sign of Jonah.”
Christ – “Christ died, that He was buried, and that he rose again the third day.”

5. Both personally were “a sign”
Jonah – as the dead and resurrected prophet.
Christ – as the dead and living Saviour.

6. Both brought blessing to those who didn’t deserve it
Jonah – brought forgiveness to Nineveh
Christ – reconciled us to God, bringing grace and truth.
7. Both saw of the travail of their soul
Jonah – the world’s greatest revival
Christ – “the travail of his soul an be satisfied.”

GREATER THAN JONAH (His “Person”)
1. His Person was Greater
Jonah was a mere man.
Jesus was God.

2. His Mission was Greater
Jonah only ministered to one city
Jesus gave His life for the world.

3. His Message was Greater
Jonah’s message was of the wrath of God.
Jesus’ message was of grace, salvation, life

4. His Obedience was Greater
Jonah disobeyed and had to be chastened.
Christ obeyed. Fully fulfilled His Father’s will.

5. His Willingness was Greater
Jonah was unwilling to go. Journey involved discipline, correction,
Christ – “Always those things that please my Father.”

6. His Journey was Greater
Jonah – a short journey to Nineveh.
Christ – had to undertake a great journey. Eternity to time; heaven to earth. Phil 2.

7. His Love was Greater
Jonah – uncaring, wanted only destruction of Nineveh.
Christ – “so loved the world.”

8. His Death was Greater
Jonah – did not really die, merely a picture. For his own sin
Christ – did really die, and for sins of others.

9. His Burial was Greater
Jonah did not – his “grave” was the belly of the fish.
Christ – did die

10. His Resurrection was Greater
Jonah – vomited up.
Christ – took own life again, rising from the dead in his own power.

11. His “Satisfaction” was Greater
Jonah – saw of the travail of His soul, and was dissatisfied.
Christ – saw of the travail of His soul, and was satisfied.

SECOND CHANCE JONAH

Jonah 3

Standing on the shore, Jonah was a very relieved man. He was glad to be out of the fish, and doubtless the fish was equally glad to be rid of prophet. He was also a changed man. Only a few days before he had been self-assured (make his own decision), self-sufficient (money in his pocket to control his circumstances), and self-willed (determined to follow his own will).

We don’t know where the fish vomited out Jonah, but wherever it was, the Lord was there. He is more concerned about His workers than their work, for if the workers are what they ought to be, then his work will be what it ought to be. When Jonah was rebelling in chapter 1, God never left him. He controlled the storm, prepared the fish, and rescued Jonah from the sea.

The book is all about God delivering people when they cry to Him. He delivered the sailors when they cried (1:14), Jonah when he cried (2:10), and the people of Nineveh when they cried (3:10). The words, “Salvation is of the Lord,” still rang in Jonah’s heart.

1. THE PROPHET (3:1-2)
“And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.”

God’s program was still on track, and He relaunched Jonah for the task of saving Nineveh. “Jonah, isn’t it dangerous to go to Nineveh?” “Yes, but more dangerous not to!”

a) The Commission
Now God spoke again and recommissioned His servant. He had turned his back on God’s Word, and God had had to deal with him, but now that He had confessed his sins and turned again to God, He could again speak to him through His Word.

b) The Chance
“The second time.” The Christian life is a series of new beginnings. When we fall, Satan wants us to believe our ministry is ended, there is no hope for recovery. But God is the God of second chances (3:1). See Abraham in Egypt; Jacob lying to his father; Moses killing an Egyptian; Peter denying his Lord. God in grace forgives our sin; but God in His government sees that we reap what we sow.

c) The City
“An exceeding great city of three days’ journey.” Four times Nineveh is called “a great city.” It was great in history, founded by Noah’s great-grandson, Nimrod (Gen10:8-10); in size (some ½ million people); in splendour; in power with armies feared everywhere. It was also great in sin with its cruelty and violence known everywhere. They impaled victims on sharp poles while still alive, leaving them to die in the hot sun. They killed children, to avoid having to care for them.

To this great city God sent Jonah. It would take him a month to travel to Nineveh. God gave his servant a daunting task, but also gave him the message to speak. Jonah would learn that the will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you, and the power of God can’t use you.

God later told Paul re wicked Corinth, “I have much people in this city.” Like Jonah we see the sinners, God sees the saints.

2. THE PROPHECY (3:3-4)
How could one man confront thousands of people, claiming to be a messenger from God? It was mission impossible, dangerous, and apparently hopeless.

a) His Warning
“Yet forty days… overthrown.” Eventually Jonah arrived at Nineveh, entered the gates, and began to preach. His message was brief, just eight words (only five in Hebrew), no padding, jokes, or stories. It was also blunt – full of doom and gloom (he did not even promise salvation if they repented). It was also blessed, leading to revival. He simply held up the sandglass of forty days and preached judgement to come.

In Scripture, the number forty is associated with probation. The spies explored the land for forty days. Israel was tested in the wilderness for forty years. Goliath taunted Israel for forty days. Now the Lord gave Nineveh forty days to repent. It was God’s deadline – compare Gen 6:3, “Yet shall his days be an hundred and twenty years.”

b) His Words
This was God’s “preaching that I bid thee” (3:2). The outcome was that the people “believed God” (3:5). Jonah may have been a sign, but he preached in such a way that the people’s eyes were turned to God, not to himself. It came across to the hearers as the Word of God. They didn’t believe Jonah – they believed God.

What else did Jonah tell them. About the living God? Their idolatry? The fish? We only know he obeyed God and preached his God-given message. God did the rest.

c) His Witness
Jonah’s most eloquent message was himself – a living epistle known and read by all men (2 Cor 3:2). He himself was “a sign” to Nineveh (Mat 12:39; Lk 11:30). The evidence of what God had done in his life was evident to all. Was his appearance altered? We only know Jonah was an unmistakeable sign from God. Nineveh’s response will condemn Jerusalem in the judgement, for she repented at the preaching of God’s Gospel, whereas Jerusalem did not.

Jonah spoke with authority. Having been through death, and burial he was living in the power of a resurrection life. The only glimmer of hope he offered was that God had punished him, and then pardoned him. In that alone, the people saw a glimmer of hope.

3. THE PROOF (3:5-10)
“So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them” (3:5).

God gave forty days grace, but they didn’t even need that long. History’s biggest revival was characterized by:

a) Faith (3:5)
After one day’s preaching most of a million people “believed God.” Paul says that Abraham “believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Rom 4:11,3). If he was saved when he “believed God,” why should not the people of Nineveh?

b) Fasting
“For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes” (3:6,7).

What an astonishing demonstration of national repentance. The people, led by the king, humbled themselves, fasting, and wearing sackcloth, and crying “mightily” to God, i.e. urgently – a matter of life and death.

(i) Fasting said No to Appetite. Repentance always means a “fasting,” a No to self, and appetites desires that rob us of God’s presence. Lust of the flesh.

(ii) Sackcloth said No to Appearance. Clothes are externals, telling of rank, fiancé, and profession. Sackcloth makes level. It tells of grief for sin. Lust of the eyes.

(iii) Ashes said no to Ambition. All in which they had gloried, suddenly became their shame and loss in the light of God. Ashes speak of fire that consumes. To repent in ashes means I admit I am only fit for fire. Note there is no mention of dust. Dust speaks of death, for unto dust we return. To repent in dust means I admit I must die in Time, but to repent in ashes means I must burn in eternity. The pride of life.

c) Fear
Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? (3:9). Like the sailors in the storm, they did not want to perish. But they had no assurance that they would be saved, and in their fear they cried to God.

d) Forgiveness (3:10)
“And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did [it] not” (3:10)

(i) Reality. “The people of Nineveh believed God…and God saw their works” (3:5,10). As with Abraham and Rahab, their works did not save them, but they pointed to the reality of their faith. Even the animals were affected – further evidence of how genuine the people were. True repentance shows.

(ii) Repentance. What does it mean that “God repented”? God does not change, but He graciously gave men the opportunity to change. Jonah, God, and Nineveh all repented in this story! God “repenting” is an anthropomorphism – attributing human thoughts and feelings to God. It is also seen in Genesis 6. The word for repentance in the OT is nacham, “to grieve, to pity, and it means God was grieved at man’s condition, and in pity offered them His salvation.

GOD’S UNANSWERED LAST QUESTION

Jonah 4

Had the book ended at 3:10, Jonah would have been considered the greatest of all prophets. He repeatedly preached a single short sermon with overwhelming results. Thousands repented. But God, who doesn’t look on outward appearances and results, knew the heart and motives of his successful servant, and found him wanting.

That’s why we have chapter 4, which reveals God’s love to an undeserving people, and closes with the challenge to reflect that love in a world likewise headed for inevitable judgment. Like Jonah, the message entrusted to us is the only one that can make a difference.

1. GOD’S CHARACTER (4:1-4)
“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry” (4:1).

Instead of rejoicing at Nineveh’s repentance and revival, Jonah was angry because God did not judge the city. Nineveh could now be used it as an instrument to chasten Israel. He was saying to God, “I knew it all the time. That’s why I ran away!”

Perhaps two things about Jonah stand out in this passage:

a) His Problems
(i) His Fear of Failure. Jonah’s reputation was in danger. The imminent doom he had prophesied had not come and soon he would be branded as a false prophet. His own nation at home would see him as a traitor who was the means of saving the enemy. His pride was getting in the way of his usefulness for God.

(ii) His Lack of Love. Jonah’s disobedience indicated a serious lack of love for the Lord (“If you love me….”) He also lacked love for the people of Nineveh. Lack of love for the Lord means a lack of love for His people, dangerously close to the state of the Ephesian church in Revelation 2 which had left their first love.

b) His Prayer (4:2,3)
“And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil” (4:3).

Jonah’s second prayer was very different from his first. He prayed his best prayer in the worst place; and his worst prayer in the best place where God was working. His first prayer came form a broken heart; his second prayer from a hard, angry, heart. His first prayer asked God to save him; the second asked God to take his life. His prayer tells us:

(i) About Himself. “Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish” (4:2). Note the repeated “I” and “me.” With his desires denied, Jonah just wanted to give up and die. “It is better for me.” Not “better for God,” or “better for Nineveh,” but “better for me.” Like Elijah, the public victory was eclipsed in personal depression. Elijah, standing before the Lord, could boldly face king Ahab. But once he chose to stand alone, he could not stand before a woman.

(ii) About His God. “I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.” Jonah served a God of grace, mercy, patience, and kindness, but didn’t want others to know about Him. His theology was perfect, but it stayed in his head, and never touched his heart. He could have taught the people of Nineveh so much about his God.

2. GOD COMFORTED JONAH (4:5-8)
“So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city” (4:5).

Jonah, acting independently of God, turned his back on Nineveh and went to the east side of the city. There he made a shack out of sticks and leaves to wait and see what would happen. The booth likely evoked memories of the Feast of Tabernacles, when the nation thanked God for the harvest, and set its face to the future. Jonah built his booth and waited for the harvest. What would it be? Life-giving forgiveness, or the blood-red wine of judgement?

a) The Gourd – God’s Goodness (4:5)
“And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd” (4:6).

The Lord caused a gourd to grow and provide shade. Its large leaves grew quickly, and made Jonah “exceeding glad.” He forgot about dying and began to relax. Significantly, this first recorded note of joy was all about his own comfort. There is never much joy when we are disobedient.

b) The Worm – God’s Severity (4:7)
“But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live” (4:7,8).

The next morning everything seemed to go wrong! The shady shrub was dead, the sun beat down, and a dry hot east wind sapped his remaining strength and patience. Jonah again decided it was time to give up and die. The developing situation highlighted the gap between the thinking of God and the thinking of Jonah. We challenge our own hearts by asking where we fit in.

(i) God’s Concerns. These were eternal, focused on the spiritual welfare of the people. He was also interested in His servant, and by turning up the discomfort level, as he did previously in the sea, reminded him of what it was like to be lost, hopeless, and miserable.

(ii) Jonah’s Concerns. These were material. He would dispense with anything that reduced his comfort level, and maximise anything that maintained a trouble-free environment. That meant plenty of gourds to protect him from the sun’s heat, and a nice cool breeze. Poor Jonah! What mood swings, from being exceeding glad to being exceedingly angry (4:1). Like a dangerous fever chart, his life was full of ups and downs.

(iii) Our Concerns. A simple test of our concern is: “What makes me happy?” “What makes me angry?” “What makes me want to give up?” Double-minded Jonah one moment preached God’s Word, and the next disobeyed it. The gourd and the hungry worm would teach him the difference between the temporal and the eternal. How often our happiness depends on material things. Like Jonah we can get more upset over a garden shrub than the millions heading to a lost eternity. Such concerns challenge our own commitment and obedience to God.

3. GOD INSTRUCTED JONAH (4:9-11)
“Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night.” (4:10).

Jonah still one more lesson to learn. Chapter 1 taught the lesson of God’s providence, that you can’t run away from God. Chapter 2 taught the lesson of God’s pardon, that He forgives those who call on Him. Chapter 3 taught the lesson of God’s power, as so many repented. Chapter 4 will not teach the lesson of God’s pity, that God loves lost sinners. His servants must also have compassion. Incredibly Jonah brought a whole city to faith in the Lord, yet had no love for those to whom he preached!

The final words of the book pit the material against the eternal. What is more important – living people, or a shade? Too often we also are occupied with material comforts and pleasure, and have no vision of a lost and dying world.

a) The Greatest Thing About the City
Nineveh was a great city – its size, wealth, history, and culture. But the greatest thing about Nineveh was its need of God’s forgiveness. Here was a huge population all under the judgment of God, with the sands of opportunity running out. The 120,000 children indicate that the population must have been about ½ million.

b) The Saddest Thing About the Prophet
Jonah pitied the gourd that brought him comfort, but had no pity for those who would live eternally apart from God.

Jeremiah and Jesus both looked on the city and wept over it. Paul looked at Athens, and was greatly distressed. Jonah looked at Nineveh but seethed with anger. We need the love of Christ to constrain us, and to recognise the danger of leaving our first love.

c) The Final Question
“And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six-score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” (4:11).

Jonah and Nahum are the only Bible books ending with a question. Both have to do with Nineveh. Nahum ends with a question about God’s punishment of Nineveh, while Jonah ends with a question about God’s pity for Nineveh.

Did Jonah yield to God’s loving entreaty and seek God’s face in repentance? God was willing to spare Nineveh, but in order to do that, he would not spare His own Son. The real issues is not how Jonah answered – it is as to how we answer. Do we show the love of Christ, to that people without God are lost, and how do we show it?

Likewise, God says to us, “And should not I spare… your family, your city, your friends, your colleagues?” God has a heart to spare undeserving sinners, but needs obedient “prophet” with a desire to please Him, with a love for those who are perishing, and willing to transmit His message. That is why this book ends with a questions mark.

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