Today we are kicking off a four week study on the book of Jonah. Jonah is an interesting book because it has come under fire for not being believable. Most people know the story of Jonah like they know the story of Noah’s flood. Everyone has heard of a guy named Jonah who was swallowed by a fish. Since being swallowed by a fish and living to tell about it is a pretty fantastic story many have relegated Jonah to just that, a story, not a historical event. Many take the book as a myth and that nothing in the book actually happened. As we go through this four week study we will note the many reasons why we must accept the events in Jonah has actual historical events. The first piece of evidence we must consider is that Jonah the prophet is not only mentioned in this book in the scriptures.
23 In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, began to reign in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years. 24 And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. 25 He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher. (2 Kings 14:23–25 ESV)
Notice that Jonah is a real person who prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II. This puts the time of Jonah’s prophetic ministry between 782-753 BC. If we do not accept the historical life of Jonah based on 2 Kings 14:25 then we cannot accept anything in the scriptures as historically true and the whole Bible must therefore be discarded. The scriptures do not present Jonah as a fairy tale but as an actual man who was a prophet whom God dealt with in amazing ways.
The Call (1:1-3)
The word of the Lord comes to Jonah giving him the mission to go to the great city of Ninevah and preach against it because its evil has come up before the Lord. Ninevah was the capital city of Assyria, which during the time of Jonah was the world power. Unexpectedly, Jonah does not obey God’s command to go preach to the city of Ninevah. Rather, Jonah goes to Joppa to get on a ship going to Tarshish. It is accepted by most that Tarshish was likely a city in Spain. What Jonah does is equivalent to God telling us to go the New York City only to get on a plane in Miami and flying to San Diego. Everything about Jonah’s movement shows he is going to opposite direction. Going to Joppa is the opposite direction of Ninevah and going to Spain is going as far from Ninevah as a person could go at that time. The scriptures are emphasizing that Jonah is going the wrong way by naming Jonah’s destination, Tarshish, three times in one verse.
Twice the verse tells us what Jonah is doing. Jonah is going away from the presence of the Lord. The idiom has led to some confusion. Some think that Jonah thought he could run away from God. But Jonah is a prophet of God and knows that God is rules over all the earth. Jonah is not thinking that by running away that he is going to a place where God is not. Rather, going away from the presence of the Lord is a way of saying that Jonah has quit his prophetic work. To stand before the presence of the Lord meant that you were acting in the official capacity of prophet (1 Kings 17:1; 18:15; Jeremiah 15:19). Therefore, Jonah is declaring his unwillingness to serve God. Jonah is quitting his prophetic office. Going to Tarshish likely indicates that he is desiring to go where God’s people are not (cf. Isaiah 66:19).
Jonah was placed in a moment of decision. Will he obey the voice of the Lord or not? Will Jonah follow his desires or will he follow God’s will? All of us attempt to flee from the presence of the Lord as Jonah did. We do not get on a boat and try to move to the far reaches of the earth. However, in heart and in spirit we make the same declaration. We decide to ignore God. We think that God will not see what we are doing. We act like God will leave us alone if we ignore him. We do the exact same thing. We may come to services, but we have no interest in listening to God’s word and letting God’s word change our lives. We have quit on God. Some make this declaration more pronounced by no longer coming to services. When it comes to our desires and God’s will we often choose our will. Sometimes our will matches God’s will so we think we are obeying God when we are still obeying our desires. We read Jonah and wonder how he could act in such rebellion yet we act with the same degree of rebellion when the word of God falls on deaf ears and stony hearts.
God’s Corrective Hand (1:4-6)
Verse 3 began with the words, “But Jonah.” Verse 4 begins with the words, “But the Lord.” The Lord is not going to leave Jonah alone. God brings up a great wind causing a violent storm on the sea. The storm was so violent that the ship was about to break apart and the mariners were pitching their cargo overboard. When you have seasoned, professional mariners fearing for their lives, then you know the severity of the situation.
God can use events in our lives to try to wake us up from our spiritual blindness and spiritual lethargy. We read in many places in the scriptures that Satan can use things in this life to try to pull us away from God, especially seen in the book of Job. God can use things to try to wake us up to cause us to seek after him.
5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:5–6 ESV)
26 He will pray to God, and God will delight in him. That man will see His face with a shout of joy, and God will restore his righteousness to him. 27 He will look at men and say, “I have sinned and perverted what was right; yet I did not get what I deserved. 28 He redeemed my soul from going down to the Pit, and I will continue to see the light.” 29 God certainly does all these things two or three times to a man 30 in order to turn him back from the Pit, so he may shine with the light of life. (Job 33:26–30 HCSB)
What we are seeing with Jonah is not God’s wrath but God’s mercy. God is trying to awaken Jonah from his spiritual rebellion and foolishness. Often we are like Jonah. We are asleep in the boat. The whole crew is panicking, aware of the danger. Jonah is asleep, not aware at all of the danger. We think we are safe in our rebellion, unaware of the spiritual danger we are in. Further, we fail to recognize the harm we are causing others in our rebellion. The lives of every person on this vessel is in danger because of Jonah’s rebellion. How often we fail to see the damage we are causing in the lives of others because of our sins! Further, we so easily forget that much of our suffering comes from the sins of others.
Stubborn Against God (1:7-16)
Jonah’s full blown stubbornness against God is fascinating. The storm is about to kill everyone as the boat is about to break apart. Jonah admits that these things are happening because of his disobedience to the Lord. Jonah’s solution is his death. I don’t know that we read the story and understand what Jonah is saying that he must do. When he tells the mariners to throw him overboard, they are going to throw of him overboard to his death. To be thrown overboard in a powerful storm is to drown in the sea. There is no reason to think that God is going to deliver him. With this in mind, isn’t it interesting that this is Jonah’s solution? Jonah does not decide to pray to God for deliverance. Jonah does not turn in repentance to the Lord. Jonah does not confess his sins to the Lord. Jonah does not tell the captain to turn back to Joppa. Jonah’s answer is simply to throw him to his death. This is why we see the mariners trying another way in verse 13. They row hard to try to get to land but they are unsuccessful. Jonah is done with God. Jonah is stubborn against the Lord. God is mercifully trying to save Jonah’s eternal soul who has given up on God completely. Jonah’s answer is to be cast into the sea to his death.
It is sad to see the spiritual condition of this rebellious prophet. It is also sad to see us in the same spiritual condition of rebellion. God is trying to save us. God has sent his Son to redeem us from our slavery to sin and set us free from our sins. God has given us the lifeboat to avoid the eternal punishment due to each of us for our rebellion. What is our response? Often we just dig in our heels like a stubborn mule and refuse the salvation God is offering. We would rather sink to our spiritual death than receive the grace and mercy of our Lord. We would rather remain in our spiritual prison cell then come out into the sunlight of freedom in Christ. We read Jonah and wonder what is wrong with him. We should look at ourselves and wonder what is wrong with us! Why are we stubbornly choosing our desires rather than choosing life in Christ? Our rebellion is destroying ourselves and destroying others around us, yet we still refuse to choose the Lord. We stay in spiritual blindness and remain cold in heart. In doing so we are choosing the destruction of our lives and destruction of our eternal souls. What a poor choice we are making! God is trying to save and we keep swimming back into danger.
Parents correct their children to save them from destruction. We tell our children not to go into the street because they will be hit by a car. The child rebels because the parent is being oppressive and will not give us our freedom. We want to play in the street even though it is to our peril. God is not trying to constrain us or limit our freedom. God is giving us his laws and correcting us to save us from destruction. Yet like rebellious children we want to run back into danger not understanding that God is trying to protect us. God’s word is for our good so that we can have life now and eternal life to come. What choice will you make? Will we continue to stubbornly resist God, pretending to be a Christian, but choosing our will and desires? Or will we submit to the hand of God that is trying to warn us and bring our souls back from destruction? God is trying to save you. Will you let him or will you push back into danger?