The book of Jonah
Reference to the life of Jonah can be found in 2 kings 14:25 and Matthew 12:39-41. In the latter chapter Jesus himself referred to the story of Jonah. The life and adventure of Jonah makes very interesting reading.
Nineveh was no doubt an ancient city (Genesis 10:11-12). They were a powerful people and wicked people. Sin was the order of the day.
The book of Jonah is quite unique in that it centres on the prophet Jonah rather than his message or the people he was sent to. His life should make interesting study to any student of the scriptures.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah. What a privilege! We must never forget that it is a privilege to hear from the Lord.
Jonah's response to the call of God was to take off in the opposite direction. His determination to avoid doing God's will led him to extremes. He actually paid to get away from God's presence (verse 3). What a fruitless effort. Yet somehow Jonah really believed that he could get away from the Lord.
Paying to get away from the Lord might sound funny but it's not that uncommon. We always pay the price of disobedience. How often have we put our time and effort into other things simply to avoid obeying the Lord's prompting in our heart? It's worth remembering, the next time you are tempted to disobey the Lord, that disobedience costs.
Jonah never really had a chance of getting away from God. Walking away from the Lord's presence (at least in Jonah's case) was merely an act of defiance and disobedience. Cain had attempted a similar thing (Genesis 4:16) and so did satan (Job 1:12). The reality is that no matter where we go, or what we do, we cannot escape the ever-present eye of the Lord (Psalm 139:7-12). We may try to deny His presence or even His existence, completely ignore Him and shut him out from our day to day activities, but our deeds, activities and prayers are always open to him.
Jonah 1: 4-6
Jonah slept through the storm while the others called on their "gods". Those calling on the gods of this world know no better and need our help and guidance. But how often are we, like Jonah, sleeping?
Jonah's ability to sleep should come as no surprise. He had obviously hardened his heart against doing God's will. His choice of the lowest part of the ship as the place for his slumber highlights his determination to get as far away from the Lord as possible.
How often have we hardened our hearts to the will of God? We live in the mist of people heading to hell, and yet never find time to give them a decent chance of hearing the gospel. Simply giving out a gospel tract in could change their destiny.
It took the captain of the ship to wake Jonah. How often has it been the world that prompts us to take action? Sometimes it's while we are compromising our stand as Christians that someone challenges our Christian belief.
Jonah's seemingly remarkable calm (or should we say slumber) in the mist of a storm should not be mistaken as faith, but rather as the condition of a backslider. He had successfully cut himself off from the activities of God around him. The consequence of his actions is obvious. Several souls could have perished. His disobedience was having a far-reaching effect. Disobedience and backsliding always do.
Jonah's sleep can only be a picture of the "spiritual sleep" many believers are engaged in today (Romans 13: 11-14). Spiritual sleep is being so unconscious of the leading of the Holy Spirit that we allow works of darkness, sin and the lure of our flesh to take us away from God's will without even realising it. We become oblivious to the desire of God. We enter into spiritual sleep when we become so wrapped up and concerned with the affairs of this world, that spiritual things (and by that we mean the things of God) have no priority in our lives any more.
Jonah 1: 7-17
Casting of lots was a common means of discovering "the cause of a matter". Jonah knew he was the cause of their dilemma but kept quiet until discovered. He must have thought he really could escape from God. Do we ever bury our heads in the sand hoping that our wrong will never be discovered? All wrong doings are eventually exposed. A salient point worth remembering.
Jonah was asked several penetrating questions (verse 7). His ambitions of keeping his identity and wrong doing secret were completely gone now. Sometimes God will expose us publicly if we refuse to get right with Him in private. Frightening!
Jonah eventually came to terms with the gravity of his disobedience and made restitution. He offered to be thrown into the sea to save the men's life (verse 12). We can't accuse him of lacking courage and compassion. His earlier disobedience had simply overruled them. It's amazing what depths of sin disobedience can lead us into.
The men (God bless them) ignored Jonah and attempted rowing harder rowing to overcome the obstacle of the storm. What sacrifice! How fruitless. Obedience is better than sacrifice. They had good intentions and tender hearts. They were doing all they could to avoid throwing a fellow man overboard. But they had no ideal what they were up against. Finally the fear of losing their own lives made them ask for forgiveness before reluctantly throwing Jonah overboard. This resulted in the raging storm ceasing. Notice that there obedience eventually lead to their offering a sacrifice to God.
Obedience is always better than sacrifice. Sometimes obedience might look foolish, but if it's God's desire it will work out well.
Jonah 2: 1-10
Jonah was now as far away from God as possible. He prayed. Praying always brings us back into the presence of God . Distance is never a barrier. God is always waiting for us. His mercy never ceases.
Jonah's prayer begins with a rehearsal of the past events. This is always a good place to start. Are you finding prayer difficult? Why not make it easy for yourself. Simply turn your prayer time into sessions of talking to God. Tell Him how you feel and what you have been through in the past few hours or days. Pour out your heart to Him and he will pour His back to you.
No doubt Jonah's prayer was also a confession of his faults. He was repenting. True repentance involves our confessing known sins to God and turning away from them. Jonah's heart was now right with God.
In verse nine we see him entering into a time of thanksgiving. This was a sacrifice of praise. It was not a result of his present circumstances or blessing from God but rather the product of a grateful and obedient heart happy to serve the Lord. Real thanksgiving is never fuelled by our circumstances but rather by a grateful heart. We worship God for who He is, not what He does. This is what the scriptures call the sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:151-16).
Paul and Silas are good examples of people who offered the sacrifice of praise to God (Acts 16:23-34). Their predicament was a result of obedience. Despite their hardship praise was offered to God. Note that this eventually led to the salvation of a whole household.
In all the above cases note that it was the conditions of the people's hearts that resulted in the mercy of God. Singing praises in itself does not accomplish much, it's praise from a right heart that moves heaven. Hence Jonah was delivered from the fish.
Jonah 3: 1-10
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. He didn't deserve to be used by God yet God used him. Our serving God is not a right but rather a privilege. A fact we should never forget.
Jonah entered the city of Nineveh proclaiming its destruction. Notice his message does not include any appeal for them to repent (verse 4). Whether this was purposely omitted or never included by God is not clear. Would you trust Jonah to include it?
The responses of the people to the message definitely shocked and disappointed Jonah (3:10, 4:1). The people of Nineveh believed God and repented. The King decreed a fast throughout Nineveh. Even the animals were included.
We should never conclude that people would not respond to the preaching of the gospel. Indeed one of the several reasons why we Christians often find it hard to share our faith with others is fear that they will not be interested. How wrong can we be? It is our job to preach the gospel and God's to save souls. Let's keep to our side of the deal and God will keep His. Outward appearances of evil sometimes hide inward desires for a turn around.
God wanted to touch the people of Nineveh. Jonah's message was simply His means of doing it. God knew their hearts. He knew they would repent if given the chance. It's evident from the passage that they repented almost immediately they heard God's word. What willing hearts were hidden behind those actions of theirs.
Jonah 4: 1-11
Jonah never ceases to puzzle and entertain us. He is so real. Most prophets would rejoice at people repenting. Not Jonah. He became exceedingly displeased. What's even more amusing is that he accuses God of being "gracious, merciful, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness". This is ironic considering the fact that Jonah would still be in the fish if not for these qualities of God. Hence we see the root of all Jonah's problems. He had unconsciously taken the mercy of God as something that should apply to him, and maybe people like him, only.
Jonah had already passed judgement on the people of Nineveh. He had concluded that they did not desire nor deserve God's mercy. He had completely overlooked the fact that he himself was a product of the mercy of God. Have you ever fallen into the same mistake as Jonah? Have you ever concluded that some people are not worthy of the mercy of God?
Jonah had a real attitude problem. He is one of those people who make up their minds about something and find it difficult to change. This kind of attitude borders closely on pride. Jonah offered to die rather than see Nineveh spared (verse 3). He went to sit outside the city watching to see what would become of it. It's as if he were daring God to show them mercy after all the effort he (Jonah) had put in to see their hasty destruction.
The story of Jonah closes with God using a beautiful life example to get the truth across to Jonah. God prepares a plant to give Jonah shade from the harsh weather. Jonah was very grateful (verse 6). This alone reveals a lot to us about Jonah. At one time he is exceedingly angry (verse 1) and another very grateful (verse 6). His moods seem to swing from one extreme to another quite rapidly. It's fair to say that Jonah was a very emotional person.
Our emotions can often affect our judgement negatively. When God uses a worm to destroys the plant we see Jonah take yet another extreme mood swing, becoming angry (and probably depressed) to the point of desiring to die (verse 9).
God then points out to Jonah the contradictions in his judgements. The death of a plant had caused Jonah such anger while the destruction of a whole city had been his desire.
Jonah's emotions had definitely clouded his judgement. God used a living drama to point this out to him.
What things are clouding your judgements and walk with God. Jonah might seem a funny character, but he is a good reflection of us today