The story of Jonah is so much more than a kid’s story; it has a direct, powerful message for our generation; and we are quick to ignore it or downplay its importance altogether. So, we are about to dig deeper into this story than most of us have ever gone, and see what God intended for us to learn from this incredible, true story. There are several important lessons that we really need to pull from the story, so we will just begin at the beginning. Jonah 1:1-3. Jonah lived in Gath-hepher, and Nineveh was more than 500 miles east of his hometown. Jonah traveled south to a sea port of Jerusalem called Joppa, to charter a ship that could take him to Tarshish. Why Tarshish? Because it was about 2500 miles west, over the Mediterranean Sea, on the coast of Spain; at the end of the known world, in Jonah's day; in the direction farthest from Nineveh. We so often see Jonah in such a bad light here, and his rebellion against God is bad, absolutely... But we have to get a good understanding of the situation before we can truly understand his resistance fully. The Assyrians were one of the leading powers of the world in Jonah's time (790-750BC, roughly); they were a warrior race, who were ferocious and cruel with those they conquered. Jonah had reasons for fearing, and hating, the Assyrians. (So, which was his motive for running away?)He was a prophet that knew and trusted God's ability to protect. His refusal to go to the Assyrians was not one of fear, as we will see, but of pure hatred and prejudice against the Ninevites for all they'd done.
Jonah 1:4-6: Jonah was the whole reason for the storm endangering everyone, and yet he was the one sound asleep, with no idea of the trouble he caused. Point #1: Starts with an honest question to ask yourself at this point: Is there an area of your life that you are purposefully holding onto, against God's Will and Word? Has He called you to forgive someone or something? Has he called you to stop rebelling against Him in some sin you have accepted in life? Has He called you to give up control of your life to Him in some area and you refuse? How many of us, in our conscious rebellion against what we know we should do for God, have brought problems to everyone around us? And we go to bed every night, contented in our selfish world, not even aware of the trouble we are causing; thinking we are getting away with something, till the storm overtakes us. Point #2: None of these men had a clue of Who the real God is in this world! About who could really be of any help. They were all grasping blindly for something to help them (their gods). Jonah, was the only one with the Truth, but, he was so wrapped up in his world of selfishness, that he would not be faithful enough to be of any help to those around him. We are in a world that is sinking; surrounded by people that are calling out, and reaching out, to all the wrong things for help...many out of total ignorance of who God really is. Are you so stuck in having your way in life that you are of no help?
Jonah 1:7-16: Even though Jonah knew God was resisting him, he was the only one that refused to pray, because he would rather die, than give in to God. He literally chose being thrown overboard, rather than repentance. Point #3: Sometimes we can get so bitter, so self-justified in our wrong views that we literally, consciously say, "Well, I really don't care what You say, this is what I'm doing, come what may.” These men on the ship showed more reverence and fear for God than Jonah; they still tried to save this man's life; and they feared and worshipped Jehovah God; but, in the end, Jonah had to go overboard.
Jonah 1:17 (Never, does this story give hint that it is symbolic or allegorical; and Jesus, Himself, spoke about this story as fact: Matthew 12:39-40). The Hebrew word used is, "dag" which could be anything living in the sea, mammal or fish (whale, shark, large fish, etc.) Could this even be possible? 1) Blue whales, sperm whales, even great whites and whale sharks are able to swallow a full sized man alive. 2) whales have multi-chambered stomachs, of which the first chamber does not have digestive juices; sharks have such slow metabolisms that a body could survive three days without deterioration. Some whales have very large cranial cavities, with nasal sinus' where a man could be for days with no digestive juices, and with an air supply. 3) Just as Jesus died and was resurrected, Jonah may have died and resurrected. 4) God supernaturally, "prepared" a fish, and God could, supernaturally, "preserve" Jonah. Finally... It was here in the dark, disgusting despair of a fish's innards that Jonah's spirit was at last broken and he prayed to his God. Jonah 2:1-10. How despairing would you feel? Deep under the dark sea, in the middle of nowhere, inside of a fish? If Jonah had just given in to God and released his anger and rebellion earlier, he would most probably have been given a "Pass" on the whale ride. (Special Note: Only in recent times has man even discovered there are mountains on the ocean floor. Ancients thought it to be, "bowl-shaped”.) Lastly here, notice that even though Jonah had been rebellious and blind in one area. He knew God intimately enough to trust His mercy and deliverance as he prayed, even there as a sinner. We need to learn this kind of faith in God's mercy. (Much like David)
Sometime after being spit back onto the shore, Jonah was given a second chance by God, as He called him to Nineveh again. This time he finally went. Jonah 3:3: A day's journey was thought to be about 20 miles in biblical times, so the city was possibly 60 miles round journey; with a population of at least 600,000. This was probably one of the largest cities of the world in those days. The Assyrians were powerful & intelligent, yet proud and barbaric. Jonah went a day's journey into the city and began to preach to them; and the amazing thing is, they listened. Don't underemphasize the miracle of 600,000 violent people of another religion and culture believing a single man? The people began to believe, and put on sackcloth and fast; then the king heard what was happening and joined in the fasting. (The king even made a royal command that all people and animals fast and pray to the Lord.) Jonah 3:7-9. Why did all those people listen to one simple Hebrew prophet? Many of the Assyrians in those days worshipped the, "fish god" Dagon and his female counterpart the, fish-goddess" named Nanshe. Is God not awesome? Does He not have such creativity? Think about this: Many Assyrians are worshipping a fish-god; Jonah is, "birthed" onto the shores of Assyria from the mouth of a great fish; possibly even altered in appearance from his unusual mode of travel; coming to the center of their biggest city, straight from the mouth of the fish; standing beside of fish-god statues, saying, "repent”. Think it's my idea that the Ninevites saw Jonah's arrival in a fish as their determining sign? Listen to Jesus' own Words! Luke 11:30: God has a way of using methods to touch the culture He is reaching. (Like the plagues brought to the Egyptians) Look what happened next: Jonah 3:10: This is such a powerful proof that the God of the OT, is the same God of mercy and love in the NT. God had mercy on a pagan, violent, bloodthirsty nation; because He knew they were acting in ignorance, and they would turn to Him. And for Jonah—what a mission accomplished.
Jonah 4:1-3: What was Jonah's response? "Somebody just shoot me, please." He was furious that God would spare these people. He was so quick to ask for, and EXPECT God to give him undeserved mercy when in the belly of the fish in rebellion, yet, now so quick to be angry at God for mercy on others who don't even know Him. Do you ask and hope for mercy from God over and over, until you just know you don't deserve it sometimes; yet, do you still have trouble asking for, and showing mercy, on behalf of others who hurt you? How many of us here have felt like certain people, because of the awful way they live, were undeserving of your help? How many people have we simply prayed God would, "Take care of" for our sake, rather than change them and save their souls? How many people do we consciously or unconsciously see as "enemies of God and Christians"? These were powerful people, who were a major enemy to Jonah at this time; but, God wanted to show healing.
We do not have the right to decide who the, "Enemies of God" may be because we cannot judge the heart of a man; we are told to simply love our enemies, and love those who hate us and use us. Do you pray for those mean to you?
Jonah 4:5: Jonah no doubt, would have been welcomed in the city that he called to repentance; but, he chose to go out of the city in anger and hatred- and lived alone in the blazing heat, alone, outside the city. He put himself in a position of self-inflicted solitude and misery because of his hatred towards someone else. Are you in a lonely place emotionally, because you choose to be? Are you miserable and isolated because you can't let the anger go, & forgiveness come? Jonah 4:6-8: God says, "If you want to complain, I'll give you something to complain about." Jonah could have done something about his uncomfortable situation; he didn't have to be out there; but, 1) he refused, because of prideful unforgiveness 2) was this uncomfortable situation so bad that he should want to die? (I mean, he lived 3 days in a fish!): No it wasn't—but here's the issue: When you are full of hatred and unforgiveness towards people or God, that unresolved situation becomes so, "all consuming"; that every little thing in life becomes, "the end of the world"… If you find yourself, obsessing, getting angry, and hopeless over every-little-thing-that happens in your life, it is time to take a very serious look at yourself; because you probably need a big heart check. Are you mad at God? Mad at others? Mad at your unfair situation? Does everything set you off and ruin your mood? You'd better get a proper focus on things in God's Love again, or you will be consumed by unforgiveness & pride.
Jonah 4:9-11: God makes Jonah see he is completely consumed by things that are not even his to control, because they don't suit his selfish ways; while hundreds of thousands of God's own creations of love are lost and dying, and he couldn’t care less (could even be selfishly happy about it). We often see the world from Jonah's point of view. Most of our prayers are about how life needs to be easier and more blessed; most of our frustration is because we didn't get our way, not because we couldn't help someone, or we let God down. Much of our time is spent with attitude towards others, instead of love. We often sit in anger over our terrible position in life, while we are watching the world die in front of us; and we don't care. We often run from everything God wants us to do; not because we don't believe in God; not even because we are lazy by nature; but, because we really don't care about the people God is calling us to—they are not worth it; they are worth it to him! (when will we get serious?) To help Jonah get past his near-sighted apathy, God prepared a great storm, a great fish, a worm, and a hot east wind. What will He have to prepare for your life to wake you up? The worst threat you will ever face in your spiritual journey is simply yourself! No one else; understand that! Find forgiveness for those who've wronged you and seek healing for them from a God. It's not your job to hurt them, or condemn them. Understand that the lost people around you are more important to God, than keeping your little world perfect and cozy. (And devote yourself to what's important to Him!)