A talk that I did on the book of Jonah :)
We’re going to go through the Book of Jonah today, growing up I always think that Jonah is really about the man and the big whale, I always thought that it’s another Pinnochio story! But after reading it again, I find that we can learn a lot from this man and his journey of faith, but ultimately, we’re going to see what we can learn from the God of this man, so let’s pray to God so that we can understand His word and that His spirit will soften our heart.
Friends have you ever disobey someone’s command and do exactly the opposite thing? I believe each one of us has done it before. When I was small, I was 4 years old, I was still slim trust me. I asked my mother (by coincidence it’s also Yenli’s mother) for a pocket money. She gave me some money, 500 rupiah, which was a lot of money back then. She told me to save the money in my piggy bank. I agreed, I told her I want to save the money. So I went out and head to the shop next door to buy some snack with the money I just acquired. This would have been my first rebellion against my parent, All I remember was that my mother was so upset with me when she found out as I was caught red-handed with a snack in my hand right when I said I was going to save the money.
If you have read Jonah before, you might have remembered that Jonah did the same disobedience by being the runaway prophet, but before we go into the details of the passage today, let’s look on the background context of Jonah.
Historical context of Jonah
There is no time and era that’s mentioned in the book of Jonah, but his name is mentioned in another book in the bible, in the books of 2 Kings chapter 14 verse 23
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, kwhich he made Israel to sin. 25 lHe restored the border of Israel mfrom Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of nthe Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant oJonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was frompGath-hepher. 26 For the LORD qsaw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter, rfor there was none left, bond or free, and there was none to help Israel. 27 sBut the LORD had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.
From there we know that Jonah is a prophet who is active during the time of King Jeroboam II which is around 782–753 BC.
And this is the time when because of the Israelite’s sinfulness, they were fighting for the throne between David’s descendant and Jeroboam the First. Kingdom of Israel is divided into two, one part is the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the other one the Kingdom of Judah where the descendant of David reign. The northern Kingdom’s capital is in Samaria, while Kingdom of Judah’s capital is Jerusalem.
Jonah lives around this Era, an era where his land is torn with civil war. Sin rules in the lives of Israelites, their existence is prolonged only by the mercy of God. And the danger from neighbouring countries is always there. He is from this area Gath-Hepher, in the Galilee area a few miles north of Nazareth.
The Word of The Lord Came to Jonah
And then one day, the word of the LORD came to him, and the LORD says “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me”
The LORD’s command was clear it consists of three parts:
- Arise Jonah,
- go to Nineveh
- Call out against Nineveh, for their evil has come up before Him
But! We can see the word but in the next verse. Did Jonah go to Nineveh?
No, Jonah rose (well to be fair he did the first part of the command, he rose up) to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went to Joppa and rode a ship to Tarshish.
Friends, we can see that this is not one of Google Map’s mistake, It’s not like Jonah was trying to go to Nineveh and just got misdirected. Tarshish is way in the west and possibly Spain at that time. Nineveh is on the east, but Jonah went to the west to Tarshish instead! And think about it, He didn’t really need to go to the port in Joppa to go to Nineveh! He should travel by land not by sea! Jonah intentionally went against God’s word, he disobeyed God and he was running away from the presence of the LORD.
Why Jonah Run away
Why did Jonah ran away and goes against God’s command? Its nit because he didmt understand, god s cmman was dlear. Let’s see where God is telling Jonah to go and let’s examine why Jonah failed on the second part of the command. Now Nineveh is a great city. According to the bible it’s three days journey in breadth, and there are about 120,000 people living in there.
The problem is not where Nineveh is, Jonah wasn’t running away from north because it’s winter or because he had to choose mountain or beach, he was running away because what Nineveh is and what God is telling Him to do. Nineveh is the capital of Assyrian Empire.
Assyrian Empire and The Kingdom of Israel are not buddy-buddy, Assyria was the enemy of Kingdom of Israel. Assyria was hungry to expand their kingdom beyond their border, in the history we can see that the empire later on conquered Kingdom of Israel and even expanded to beyond Egypt. Assyria was the most powerful state in the world at that time and Nineveh was their capital. You can compare Nineveh and Assyria with Rome of the Roman Empire or New York of USA today. But even worse for jonah this is the capital of a country that’s hostile to your country.
So we can maybe start to understand Jonah’s feeling a bit, there is a sense of nationalism, he was probably thinking:
“Why should I go over to the capital of my people’s enemy, and even warn them about the destruction that is going to happen??”
“Wouldn’t it better that if they got destroyed? After all they are not hebrew, they deserve it.”
“They are not israeleite, why should god give mercy to gentiles?”
But here we see that Jonah failed to understand God’s compassionate character. It wasn’t really his right to decide whether God should forgive Nineveh or not. Wouldn’t it be God’s right? Since He is the creator, he has the right to destroy Nineveh. But God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He told Jonah to call out against them so that they might be warned and they might repent and be saved. But Jonah have no compassion on them, and he chose to go away and run away to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
Friends when we’re reading this we might be laughing a bit, “Ha, running away from the presence of the Lord? How can you? Yet sometimes we know don’t we, there are times when we do run away from God, Jonah’s reaction to God’s command is so relatable and all too familiar since we know that sometimes we as Christians do that as well.
It’s not because we don’t understand God’s command, like Jonah we understand God’s command but we choose to flee, and we choose to go to the opposite direction. Can we run away from God then?
Of course not! Let’s look at verse 4 – “But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.” You can’t run away from God, you can try to run but you certainly can’t hide from God, for God is sovereign,and where is Jonah? He was fast asleep in the inner part of the ship!!
The captain was shocked that there is someone sleeping even when death is lurking nearby. So he said “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” Jonah might realise that this is the second time he heard the word “Arise”
Imagine if you’re Jonah, you already heard God telling you to do something then you ran away because you don’t want to do it, then suddenly someone told you to call out to God because otherwise you’ll perish! And ironically, the one who told Jonah to call out to the LORD was a gentile, a non believer!
Jonah And The Mariners
From this passage we are introduced to another group of characters, which is the mariners, we’ll find contrasting difference between Jonah and them.
So the people on the boat, they gather, after calling out to their gods and it didn’t work, they then cast lot to find out who’s responsible for this danger. And the lot fell on Jonah. Of course this is very different from lottery, Jonah would be exceedingly glad if he won the lottery, but this is a different kind of lot obviously, they were trying to see who is the cause of this mighty tempest.
So the mariners interrogated Jonah asking him :
- On whose account this evil has come upon us
- What is your occupation?
- Where do you come from?
- What is your country?
- Of what people are you?
And Jonah answered answer proudly that he is a Hebrew. Hebrew people are the descendants of Abraham, it’s another word for Israelites or Jews. And that he fears the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land. And he told them that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD.
And the mariners were exceedingly afraid when he mentioned this particular God that Jonah had offend.
The mariners were not believer of God, each one had their own god as it was mentioned in verse 5.
But they know…they needed to fear this LORD the God of Heaven, Yahweh who took the hebrews out of egypt. Yahweh who helped Israel to win the promised land. Yahweh the God of Abraham. Yahweh the God of David and Solomon. They know how great is the LORD. They know that they need to be afraid.
Especially when they know that Jonah is fleeing away from the presence of the LORD, they know that Jonah is guilty and they’re now on the same boat with him, LITERALLY!
Then they said to Jonah, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” Verse 11.
Guys at this point, if we’re thinking rationally, Jonah just need to say
“Well…point the ship’s direction to Nineveh. God wanted me to call the people of Nineveh to repent, so let’s go there.” Done, no more running away from God? Right? Surely God will forgive Jonah after that!
But no, Jonah said “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.”
Jonah hardened his heart, for him, it’s better that he’s thrown to the sea, rather than for him to go to Nineveh and tell them to repent.
He doesn’t value the lives of his enemy! It’s better that I die think Jonah.
On the contrary the mariners, instead of throwing Jonah straightaway, (after all even Jonah himself didn’t mind) they tried their best to avoid that option. They rowed hard to get back to safety, they rowed and rowed, perhaps they don’t need to sacrifice this hebrew guy, but they could not…
And forcedly, they called out to the LORD that they might not be blamed for this, and they threw Jonah away into the sea.
The Merciful God
“And the sea ceased from its raging” the mariners were delivered from their doom by the mercy of God.
But not only that the mariners were saved from physical harm, you can see that the mariners showed that they actually fear the LORD in the end. v 16 “Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.”
Jonah was disobeying God, but in the end God actually used that event to bring back the mariners to worship Him in the end. It’s amazing isn’t it?
But how about Jonah? He disobeyed God, so he doesn’t deserve the mercy from God. But how merciful God is! He appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah so that he won’t drown in the deep into the heart of the seas. And more about that on next week.
The greater call out
Brothers and sister in Christ, from the story of Jonah we can learn about God’s character.
God is a merciful God who doesn’t wish to see mankind to perish.
“a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench”
And we can see that his salvation plan was not only for Jonah, Israel, Nineveh, but for all the nations.
For we know that God sent his one and only son on a greater mission than Jonah. God sent his son Jesus to call out not only to Nineveh but against nations to repent and to believe in Him so that they can be forgiven.
God sent his own son to die for our sins and evil.
Such is our merciful God. He doesn’t wish that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
Now friends if we now know the character of God what should be our response? We’re on the last point:
In this life we have two ways to live, one
- to keep living the way you are, keep living without acknowledging God.
- The other way is to live for God with Jesus as your King.
Friends if you feel that you fall on the first category. Our God is merciful, he loves you, and he wants you to repent and accept this grace. To the point that He is willing to send His son Jesus to die for you. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts anymore. Hear God calling you out for your sins and wants you to come to Him. Stop running away from God and know that he’s gracious enough to take you back. If you haven’t responded to his call, respond now, for the danger is imminent. And if you hear today’s passage now, it means God is calling you out again.
And for us who think that we’re already following God, who thinks that we’re already on God’s side already. Isn’t Jonah such a great reminder for us?
From the passage we can see the differences between Jonah and the mariners
Despite their different faith and background, they had different attitude and action. Jonah even though he was the one who “Feared” the Lord, didn’t behave like someone who would Fear the Lord, while the mariners who didn’t Fear the Lord, ended up fearing the Lord. Jonah had no compassion of His LORD, while ironically the mariners had similar compassion with The LORD.
There are times when we acknowledge Him but not living under His’s rule. This is what Jonah did, he claimed that he feared the Lord, but his action doesn’t show that he feared the LORD. He didn’t respect God’s mercy for the Nineveh, he didn’t respect God’s mercy to the undeserving. The same goes with us today. We can easily claim “I am a christian and I fear the Lord, Jesus Christ who died for me and my sin and is now my king.” But not really living for him at all.
“Yes on friday and sunday I’ll be a good christian, I’ll go to church, I’ll go to bible study. But the rest of the time, it is my life!, Jesus is not really my king.”
Aren’t there times when we know God wants you to share the gospel to that enemy of yours but you feel that person doesn’t deserve it? There are times when we play God, and we pick and choose who God should give His mercy to.
Aren’t there times when we know that making a certain decision that we make will make us further from God but we do it anyway?
Yes I know I shouldn’t date someone who doesn’t believe in God but oh well, we do it anyway.
Yes I know I shouldn’t pursue this job because it will make me super busy and I won’t have any time for God, but oh well, we do it anyway.
Friends this is another way of running away from God, this little rebellion of ours, our very own Tarsish! We hide our life away from God so that He can’t use it for His glory!
Friends, if this is you, I want us to remember our old state, when we were undeserving, Christ died for us. This life we are living has been bought by His mercy. This seconds we’re living are meant to be used for His glory. Sobrothers and sisters in Christ, let us not run away anymore, our God is gracious and he will take us back, so let’s give our life for Him, and live it for Him.