Today: [Jonah 1] Jonah Becomes Fish Food. In our chapter, we are introduced to Jonah the prophet. He is sent to a wicked city but refuses to go. He knows that if they repent by his preaching they will be spared, and Jonah wants to see Nineveh destroyed. In attempting to flee Jonah runs headlong into the tempestuous insistence of God that he must obey and go to Nineveh. As a result, he goes completely overboard and is swallowed up by God’s sovereignty to be delivered to the very place where he didn’t want to go. How about you? This may describe your life and in it, an opportunity for you to surrender to what you have been fighting against in God.
[Jon 1:1-17 KJV] 1 Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. 3 But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. 4 But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken. 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that [were] in the ship into the sea, to lighten [it] of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep. 6 So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not. 7 And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil [is] upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah. 8 Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil [is] upon us; What [is] thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what [is] thy country? and of what people [art] thou? 9 And he said unto them, I [am] an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry [land]. 10 Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. 11 Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous. 12 And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest [is] upon you. 13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring [it] to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them. 14 Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee. 15 So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging. 16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows. 17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
The book of Jonah is written, like Amos primarily to the northern kingdom of Israel about the same time period, during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 BC). It is an account of the of the exasperating experience of the prophet Jonah when he is faced with the fact that God loves all peoples, even the enemies of the people of God. While it is a book covering events in the life of Jonah, there is no explicit mention of just who wrote the book. IT has similarities to narratives about Elijah and Elisha, therefore some thought suggests it came from the same prophetic circles. In other words, it covers events in the life of Jonah during the 8th century BC, but it may have been written much later, even after the exile of the southern kingdom to Babylon. The book of Jonah is also an example of how many of the prophets in the Old Testament not only prophesied to their own people but extended their ministries to other nations as well.
Many have questioned the historicity of this book, suggesting that it is merely a fictional short story, or parable made up out of the author’s imagination, primarily because of the account of Jonah’s being swallowed by a fish and surviving, which offended the analytical thinking of western minds, that automatically doubt or explain away the miraculous. There is no such indication, however in the book itself. It is presented as a matter of fact accounting of actual events in the life of Jonah as he contends with God over the fate of the city of Nineveh.
In vs. 1-2 the word of the Lord comes to Jonah commanding him to God to Nineveh and cry against it for its wickedness. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the nation that will soon invade and completely subjugate the northern kingdom and take the 10 tribes into captivity from whence they shall never return. Here again is an example of God dealing not just with individuals but with nations and specifically in our chapter with cities. In contemporary Christian thought we generally hold that all persons small or great will stand before God and give an account for themselves, but imagine if you will after all individuals have been dealt with regarding their personal lives, that then cities would be brought before God by their populations to give an account of their communities before His judgment bar. Would you be held to be a part of the solution or part of the problem in terms of the conduct and character of your city?
Jonah, for reasons that become clear in the narrative, instead of willingly going to Nineveh, flees from the presence of God taking a ship to Tarshish. Why did Jonah flee? What did he think, or what did he know about God that would cause him to be repelled by the thought of speaking to this city regarding its great wickedness? God doesn’t tell Jonah what will be done to Nineveh but it becomes apparent that Jonah realizes if God is going to send a prophet to this wicked city, it was for one purpose – to spare them, if they repent, and Jonah simply didn’t want that to happen. Jonah wanted the city and its inhabitants to be wiped out in hopes of sparing his own people from the invasion to come.
Jonah then, takes shipping to Tarshish to flee from the Lord, but the Lord sends a storm against the ship to impede its way. The mariners, alarmed over the prospects of their imminent destruction each cried out to whatever gods they believed in to spare them, as they throw cargo overboard to lighten the vessel in the heaving sea. Amazingly, during all this Jonah is fast asleep, till he is awakened with the news that they are all about to die. Now, there are several things to notice here – God sent the storm. As in the cast when Joshua was defeated at Ai after the great victory at Jericho, so it is here. Someone is out of God’s will, therefore things are not going well. In Joshua’s case, Achan was discovered to have stolen the Babylonian garment and wedge of gold. In the storm, Jonah admits that it is he that is out of the will of God and bids the sailors to throw him overboard after casting lots to discover him. Therefore, we see the following:
- God sent the storm.
- Jonah was asleep
- The Crew cast lots
These three things were all caused by and control by God in terms of what happens next. Regarding the storm that God sent, I thought Satan was the prince of the power of the air? Be that as it may, God gets involved in things that are otherwise held to be under the sway of the enemy. He doesn’t do this to destroy Jonah, or the sailors but to bring Jonah back into conformity with God’s will. We also see that Jonah’s disobedience, like Achan’s at Ai, put other men’s lives in jeopardy. The other amazing thing is that as bad as the storm was, Jonah is fast asleep. This reminds us of the sleep that God caused to fall on Adam in the beginning. God wanted Jonah not to be aware of what is happening until the right moment. Sometimes God may keep you in the dark about what is happening around you until the proper time. Jeremiah accused God of deceiving him regarding his own prophesies. There are moment when God will allow you to walk into a situation without letting you know ahead of time what is about to happen. Finally, when the crew of the ship cast lots to figure out who was at fault for the calamity, God got involved and caused the lot to fall upon Jonah. Many times Christians say God doesn’t use casting of lots or putting out a fleece as Gideon did, but that clearly is not the case. Sometimes, when the will of God need to be known, He will clearly get involved in some random process to indicate what we need to know.
Having been brought to the end of himself, Jonah (v. 12) instructs the terrified crew to through him overboard in order to spare them from the storm. At first the men refuse, and try with all their might to bring the ship to land but cannot. How interesting that pagan idolaters have such compassion upon Jonah, when Jonah has absolutely no compassion for the men, women and children of Nineveh. Finally, exhausted and seeing no alternative the men through Jonah overboard, and as he slips beneath the billows, ostensibly to drown, the sea becomes calm. Does our story end there? For the sailors, it does. This is where the narrative of those who don’t know God ends, but for those of us walking in relationship to the Father, there is an extension of the story, as God works to give Jonah a second change. As Jonah surrenders to the waves, God prepared a great fish to come and swallow Jonah up alive, to spare his life and deliver him to the shores of Nineveh to accomplish the mission God had commanded him.
What about your own life? Many times, people know that God has placed a call on their lives, or commanded them to be in a particular place, or to be involved with a specific people, but they refuse, either in obstinacy or in doubtful disputation over what God really wants from them. Often, we respond in a passive aggressive manner, assuming if we don’t know (or are willfully ignorant) then we aren’t accountable to do what God says. What has God commanded you to do? What calling do you know lies upon your life that you have been running from? Learn the lesson of the prophet Jonah and repent now, before a storm comes against you not from the devil but from God himself to bring you into conformity to His will.
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