Category Archives: Jonah

Jonah: The Preacher Who Hoped He Wouldn’t Succeed

Jonah is a unique book in many ways. It is the only recorded account of God sending a Jewish prophet to preach to a foreign country. Jonah is the only prophetic book that is chiefly about the prophet instead of the prophet’s message. Jonah is the only Minor Prophet in narrative form. Jonah is the only Minor Prophet mentioned by Jesus and the only Old Testament character that Jesus likens to Himself (cf. Matt 12:39-41; Luke 11:29-31). Finally, and most amazingly, Jonah is the only preacher who hoped he wouldn’t succeed!

We know little of the prophet except for the book bearing his name and one other reference (2 Kings 14:23-25) in the reign of Jeroboam II, who ruled Israel from 793-753 B.C. Since Assyria is the target audience of Jonah’s mission, it is assumed that Assyria must have been in turmoil to so readily repent due to Jonah’s preaching. Had Assyria been at the height of power, it is assumed that her arrogance would have precluded her from responding favorably to God’s message. A period of such Assyrian weakness matching Jeroboam II’s reign would date the book around 760 B.C. But precisely dating the book is only “educated guessing.”

While liberal scholars see the story of Jonah as “allegory” or “parabolic” teaching, there is nothing in the narrative to suggest it is to be understood figuratively. It appears the author intended his book as an historical record of actual events. Further, the Jews never hesitated to include Jonah in the canon of Old Testament Scripture. Why would they willingly accept a book that emphasized mercy to an inveterate enemy of both Israel and Judah, unless it was considered historically accurate? Even more to the point, Jesus likened Jonah’s “three days and three nights” in the belly of the great fish as being true of the Son of Man being “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt 12:40). If Jonah’s incident was “fictional,” then, pray tell, why Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is not equally “fictional”? Jesus also stated that the men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah (Matt 12:41). If the citizens of Nineveh never repented because of Jonah’s preaching, Jesus’ statements regarding them are “untrue” and His reproach to His contemporaries based on Jonah’s story quite unfounded!

The account of the great fish swallowing Jonah alive, holding him within its gut for three days, and disgorging him onto land while not killing him in the process has led countless liberal scholars to explain it away by any means possible! Most of these scholars have adopted the allegorical/parabolic approach to the book. Others explain it by natural-istic means, citing references throughout history to men swallowed alive by whales and sharks and disgorged virtually unharmed. Jack P. Lewis has rightly stated: “The continuous debate over whether there are fish in the Mediterranean that could swallow a man is actually beside the point since it is said that the Lord prepared the fish” (Minor Prophets, p. 40). If we will let God be God, then nothing is too hard for the Lord to do (Jer 32:17).

The target audience of Jonah’s story is the Jews themselves. They would have shared his prejudice against the Gentiles, especially an enemy like Assyria. Even in New Testament days this “separation” from the Gentiles is clearly portrayed in Cornelius’ conversion and aftermath at Jerusalem in Acts 10-11, the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, and the hypocrisy of Peter and Barnabas in regard to not eating with their Gentile brethren in Galatians 2. If there is one overreaching lesson from the book, it is this: “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16a), and “desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4). (1) Jonah’s story compellingly rebukes our parochial tendencies to only love “some” people (same color, nationality, or socio-economic standing). (2) And we too often care only for what affects us personally (just like Jonah caring for the plant shielding him from the burning sun), while caring not at all for the teeming millions perishing in their sins!

The true and living God of the Bible is sovereign over all mankind – Assyrian, Israelite, or American. No one can run away from Him. And all men will give account of their deeds to Him one day (cf. 2 Cor 5:10; Rev 20:12).

I close with this statement from the article on “Jonah, Book of” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1982): “In its abrupt end, the reader is suddenly addressed by the word of God: it is no longer a simple story about Jonah, but one about the reader himself… In the final analysis, it is the prophet himself who is judged and, through him, those who read his story.” — By Chuck Durham, Biblical Insights, 2012

God’s Pointed Question

When studying the book of Jonah, we often focus upon the actions of Jonah as he runs away from God (chapter one), then runs toward God (chapter two), runs with God (chapter three), and finally runs ahead of God (chapter four). There are numerous sermons and articles that could be produced from this book, often called “the gospel of the Old Testament.” No doubt, a very important lesson we learn is the “type and antitype” Jesus taught when He compared His upcoming death, burial, and resurrection with Jonah’s being swallowed up and three days later, and released by the great fish (Matt. 12:40). In this article, however, I want us to focus upon Jonah 4:11, and make some applications to ourselves as we begin a new yea.

God’s Pointed Question

The book of Jonah ends with God’s pointed question: “And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” (Jon. 4:11). This question ends the book of Jonah rather abruptly. Remember that the fourth chapter of Jonah records Jonah running ahead of God as he becomes angry when he sees God showering His abundant mercy upon the penitent people of Nineveh (Jon. 3:10-4:2). Yet, this was what God intended the whole time! He wanted these folks to repent while there was still a chance for them (II Pet. 3:9)!

When we understand the historical background of Jonah, perhaps we can see why someone like Jonah would run away from God’s commands, and then be angry when the people repented. Yet, he should have been happy to see these people repenting and humbly turning to their creator (Jon. 3:7-9). Sadly, Jonah did not want this to happen. He said, “O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil” (Jon. 4:2). Therefore, God “prepared” a gourd, a worm, and an east wind (just as He “prepared a great fish,” Jon. 1:17) in order to teach Jonah a valuable lesson about true love. As well, this teaches us upon whom God bestows His highest honor (Jon. 4:6-8, 11).

Jonah’s Problem

The problem with Jonah was that he was focused upon the wrong things during this time! This is evident as we read the book of Jonah and see that the only time in this entire book when it was recorded that he was “exceeding glad” was while sitting under the gourd (Jon. 4:6)! He was not happy with an important event like seeing the population of a city the size of Nineveh turn to the Lord (Jon. 4:1)! The only thing that pleased him was the gourd! Therefore, God asked him the question from Jonah 4:11 that we cited above.

God let Jonah know that his mindset was wrong. In Jonah 4:11, God leaves Jonah sitting beside a wilted gourd in the hot sun, to ponder the love, grace, mercy, patience, and kindness of God for the lost. Jonah readily confessed that God was merciful and loving (Jon. 4:2). Yet, he was upset when God took the opportunity to exercise His love, kindness, mercy, and patience toward Nineveh. So, God let him “sit and stew” for a while on the eastern side of Nineveh (Jon. 4:5, 9-11)! In like manner, perhaps it would be good for each of us to sit under Jonah’s wilted gourd for a while and contemplate the truth of God and His character!

Applications We Can Make To Ourselves In 2016

God’s love, grace, mercy, kindness, and patience have not wavered in the passing years since Jonah was alive. All of these wonderful attributes of God continue to this good day! In the Bible, we read, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Jesus is consistent and constant, and ever-faithful to us. This is true for the Father as well! In fact, the sentiment of Jonah 4:2, “…thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.” is expressed in the greatest degree when we read of the love God expressed for this world in sending His Son to die upon the cross for our salvation (Jn. 3:16). Truly, no greater sacrifice was given, no greater gift was offered, and no greater degree of love was expressed than when the Son of God was sent to Calvary (Rom. 5:8).

Knowing that Christ died to save sinners (Lk. 19:10; I Tim. 1:15), and that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), it is apparent that those of us who are saved from our sins need to now go out and look for other lost souls so that they can be saved, too (Mk. 16:15-16; Heb. 5:12-14; II Tim. 2:2)!

It is a fine thing to appreciate and thank God for His many spiritual blessings, those “gourds” that have come from God and provide us with comfort and hope in this life (Eph. 1:3). Yet, let us not lose focus as Christians to the point that we become complacent, or become lazy toward the lost souls who need saving! Let us not be like Jonah, and display an attitude where we decide who is and is not worthy of salvation.

If we follow in the footsteps of Christ in 2016 (I Pet. 2:21), we will be looking out for lost souls (Lk. 19:10), and show true love for their souls. This is the love that motivates us to teach them the truth, just as someone showed proper love toward our souls and taught us the truth (Matt. 7:13-14).

God spared Nineveh for a reason. In like manner, He spares us for a reason, today (Rom. 2:4; II Pet. 3:9). Let us therefore, thank God for the love, grace, mercy, kindness, and patience He shows to us on a daily basis, allowing us to be saved today. Let us also be ready to show others the way to salvation in 2016.

— By Jarrod Jacobs

Jonah’s Salvation Message — Repent, Not Penance — The Guy Nobody Missed

Jonah’s Salvation Message:

You know the story of Jonah; he tried to run from God’s command to preach to Nineveh, the capitol of the Assyrian nation.  Running from God was futile.  The Lord caused a great storm in the Mediterranean Sea to prevent the ship Jonah was on from making any progress.  Ultimately Jonah was thrown into the sea and was swallowed by a large fish prepared especially for Jonah.  For three days he lived, frightened out of his wits, inside of the great beast and he prayed fervently that his life would be spared.  God heard Jonah’s prayers and caused the fish to spit him up on dry land with a renewed message to go preach to Nineveh.  This time Jonah complied with God’s will and the result was remarkable.  There are a few things about The Lord’s message for salvation that we will explore from Jonah chapter three.

Continue reading Jonah’s Salvation Message — Repent, Not Penance — The Guy Nobody Missed