Notes From Jonah
Thank you to those who came to Bible study yesterday! I hope you enjoyed yourselves as much as I did. It's a true blessing to be able to gather with fellow believers in the name of Christ to study the Word of God.
Jonah is a familiar book to most of us, but it is much more than an oceanic story for kids. Here are my notes from yesterday.
Ok, so this week we are looking at the book of Jonah which is cool because everyone knows it right? Unlike the less popular Amos or Obadiah which are mainly books of prophecy and judgment, Jonah is about a section of a prophet’s life. So it’s unique in that way in the 12 Minor Prophets.
Let’s first look at 2 Kings 14:23-26.
So this is that same Jonah and we don’t know these words Jonah spoke to the king or have any other record of it other than this brief mention. However this does date Jonah and his book to around the years 800-750 B.C.
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.
A commentary I looked at had this great quote, “This verse shows that God is angry with wickedness. The present day conception of God as a mild, indulgent father-image of one who loves everybody no matter what they do, and as one who will never actually punish anyone, is a gross perversion of the truth.”
And Nineveh was a great city in its size. It was huge and impressive with likely around 600,000 people in it and was considered the greatest city in the world. The wickedness of Ninevah was also great, and the Assyrians were known for their exceptional cruelty which included impaling people and skinning people.
Finally, Nineveh was also a very old city that was founded way back in Genesis 10 by Noah’s great grandson Nimrod.
Nineveh was destroyed in 612 B.C. as predicted by the prophet Nahum which we’ll look at in a couple weeks. Interesting that Jonah was sent to save the people of Ninevah, but when they went back to their old ways God has Nahum foretell their destruction.
After Nineveh as the greatest city in the world there was Babylon, and it’s funny that these superpowers seemed invincible for so many years yet their destruction was so complete. And I love that because it helps remind us that God is on the throne at all times. Like Peter writes, “all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower thereof falls away.”
The greatest kings and the greatest nations in all of human history don’t challenge God in the slightest.
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.
This is so funny to me: God says go do this, and the next verse, Jonah gets up and does the opposite. It’s not even that he just ignored God or complained at this point. It’s like when I tell my boy to “come here” and he immediately giggles and runs the other way!
But while we can scoff at Jonah in his attempt to flee from God, we need to look inwardly at ourselves as well. How many of us pray for our enemies and do good to them that use us and persecute us? No way, what’s on Netflix? Right? And that’s one of the harder commands to follow but there are easier ones we fail at too.
Ok, there’s a couple things in this verse that are really interesting. First, Jonah went to flee from the Lord. Now, Jonah’s prayer in chapter 2 sounds a lot like some of the Psalms, and as a prophet of God, it would be a little strange if he were that naïve to think he could actually flee from God totally, but maybe if he ran the other way then God would just have someone else do the job.
Jonah went to Joppa. And this is really cool. God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh, right? To preach to this gentile nation. Jonah didn’t want to which probably had to do with his pride as a Hebrew and Israel’s unique relationship with God. But as we’ve seen there are many places in the Old Testament where God gives clues to His plan to bring salvation to the whole world.
Let’s move forward about 800 years to Acts 10. Let’s read Acts 10:25-35.
Peter, who was scolded by Paul for not accepting the Gentiles (Galatians 2) was at Joppa, the same port city Jonah fled to get away when God told him in a vision that God has made unclean things clean.
So back in Jonah verse 3, he found a ship at Joppa (the devil sometimes makes sin very convenient) to travel to Tarshish, which most people think was in Spain, but the point is that Jonah went in the opposite direction from where he was supposed to go. He paid a fare (because sin is never free; it always has a cost), and went on his merry way.
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.
This is funny to me because he says he fears the Lord while in the midst of being disobedient to Him! But while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. And it’s easy to criticize these people in the Bible but we really need to ask ourselves, “Do my actions show that I fear the Lord?”
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.
They didn’t want to throw him overboard because he paid the fare! It’s rude to throw a paying customer overboard.
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.
And this is crazy; it wasn’t Jonah that cried out to the God he knew, he was still in disobedience, it was these sailors who didn’t know God, who in verse 5 cried out to their own false gods, and now call out to the true living God!
Jonah said he feared the Lord, and I believe he did, but it looks like these guys feared the Lord more! Sometimes that’s how it is. First of all, when we are struggling with sin we want to hide from God; we’re embarrassed or ashamed just like Adam & Eve hiding in the Garden. We shouldn’t. We should run to God because His arms are always open. Remember, He’s the father in the prodigal son, He goes after the one sheep that went astray!
Second, when we go to church and sing “The heavens declare the glory of God” we should have that boldness of faith and confidence the rest of the week.
Ya’ll know Penn & Teller? The comedian magician guys? Well Penn Jillette is a hardcore atheist, and he said to Christians, “You really must hate atheists to never open up your mouth and share your faith if you believe that they’re going to perish on the Day of Judgment.” And he’s right! We need to love people enough to warn them of where their sin will lead them and tell them of the good news that they don’t have to go there because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross.
Do we really believe what the Bible tells us? These guys believed more than Jonah it seems at that moment!
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.
This is amazing to me. Even in the midst of Jonah’s disobedience, God is glorified.
How did they make a sacrifice on board their ship? I don’t know, but here’s one possibility: Hebrews 13:15-16.
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.
Matthew 16:4 says, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.”
It was a pretty big sign Jesus gave when he was in the grave 3 days and 3 nights just like Jonah! Remember when Jesus said, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” And He did rise from the dead and people still don’t believe!
I watched a Christian/Atheist debate a while ago and the Christian said to the atheist, “Would you believe in God if someone was dead three days and nights and then rose from the dead today that you witnessed?” The atheist gave his honest answer and said, “No, because someday we will find a naturalistic explanation of how that happened.”
Chapter two is Jonah’s prayer to God from the belly of this fish.
Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish's belly,
2 And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.
3 For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.
God’s discipline - Hebrews 12:5-11
4 Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.
5 The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head.
6 I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God.
7 When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.
8 They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.
9 But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.
10 And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.
Sea creatures are more obedient to God than people!
And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time, saying,
I love how patient God is. Same command as God gave him in chapter 1.
2 Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.
3 So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' journey.
My understanding of this is that it took 3 days to walk through the city.
4 And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
So Jonah is about a third of the way into the city, probably close to the downtown area.
5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
6 For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:
8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.
“The men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of this angry prophet who only preached the judgment of God” (Chuck Smith).
On what basis did they repent?
Jonah didn’t preach repentance at all! As we see in the next chapter, Jonah got angry that they repented! Chuck Smith again says He was “One of the only preachers in history who was hoping that he would not have a successful ministry.” I heard some seminary professor say, “Do something even if you do it poorly. Just do something.” It’s a good thing that peoples’ salvation doesn’t depend on how good we are at proclaiming the gospel.
So, a couple things here. One, I don’t think it’s bad at all to preach the reality of Hell. I think people should be warned about what it means to reject Jesus Christ. Jesus did it, more than anyone, Paul did it, Jonah, and others.
And second, sometimes we worry that we won’t have all the answers when we present the gospel, but all Jonah had was a message of judgment and a poor motive! Let’s look at the next verse, 9.
9 Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?
This small hope the Assyrian people had was sufficient for them to turn to God. There was no promise of mercy, no guarantee of salvation. We have the full promises of the New Testament!
10 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.
Let’s go to Matthew 12 and read verses 38-41. Adam Clarke says, “The voice of God, threatening temporal judgments, caused a whole people to repent, who had neither Moses nor Christ, neither the law nor the prophets; and who perhaps never had but this one preacher among them.”
Jonah’s preaching was good enough, and it was pretty poor! Here Jesus Christ is, for several years, performing miracles, and the people are rejecting Him!
[Luke 24:46 the sign of Jonah. Verse 47 the gospel going out to all nations.]
1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
2 And he prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray thee, 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.
Psalm 145:8 “The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.”
3 Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.
4 Then said the Lord, Doest thou well to be angry?
5 So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.
6 And the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.
7 But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.
8 And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.
I think the big point made in this chapter is that the grumpy pants Jonah, just like all of us, cares more about insignificant things than the salvation of thousands of people. His priorities are totally wacko. We care more about the condition of our car than the condition of our neighbor’s soul.
Jonah cared about his comfort, God—in His great love—cared about these people. We need to care less about our comfort, because it can be uncomfortable to share the good news with someone, and care more about obedience to God.
9 And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.
10 Then said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:
11 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?
So, 60,000 children and there would have been hundreds of thousands of adults. This was a huge city. And also cattle. I think this is an instance where God shows His care for animals. Which is cool.
Also this is one of only two books in the Bible that end in a question.