Going Deep with Jonah
Daily Reading: (Jonah 1:1-3):
“The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.
Let’s begin the epic true life story of the man named Jonah whose story has a message for you today. So, without further ado I present to you, Jonah like you’ve never heard it before.
Jonah was from a place called Gath Hepher (2 Kings 14:25) which is near Nazareth. You might remember someone else who is from Nazareth. Jesus Christ. We will see some interesting contrast between Jonah and Jesus. Jonah lived not too long after the ministry of Elijah and Elisha. Now that we know a little background here comes the mission.
“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
The heart of God will be revealed in a few minutes and it is not the destruction of a wicked group of people, but of repentance and salvation.
Jonah does not want to go and do this and the reason might be a little surprising. The answer comes in the last chapter of this book in Jonah’s response to God about why he doesn’t want to do what God is calling him to do.
But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.
Whenever you don’t listen to God, the direction you’ll head is always down. Any path away from God’s leading is a destructive path down because sin is destructive. He went down to Joppa but he went down further still as he was swallowed by the big fish before he was willing to listen to God.
The story of Jonah teaches us that God’s calling on your life will take a surrendering of your will to His.
God knew the way to get Jonah on the right path is he had to be brought down further still (swallowed by a great fish), to reconsider his life’s mission (Jonah 1:4).
When the sailors found out Jonah was fleeing from God, they were dismayed. But Jonah said, “Take me up and throw 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” (1:12). Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. They thought they were doing the right thing trying to row back to safety, but they were aiding another in running from their God given mission.
Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Jonah is one stubborn individual. How many days does it take him, to call out to God? 3 days! This was not a random number. The number of days will point us to Jesus. Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 12:40.
“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).
Paul Ellis compiled a list of 10 parallels between Jesus and Jonah
- Jonah spent three days and nights in the belly of a fish (Jonah 1:17); Jesus spent three days and nights in the belly of the earth
- Jonah, as good as dead, rose from the depths (Jonah 2:10); Jesus rose from the dead
- After he rose, Jonah preached for 40 days (Jonah 3:4); after he rose, Jesus preached for 40 days (Acts 1:3)
- Jonah, understood something of the grace (hesed) of God (Jonah 2:8, 4:2); Jesus came from the Father full of grace (John 1:14)
- Jonah was sent to a city known for its wickedness (Jonah 1:2); Jesus was sent to a city that killed the prophets (Matt. 23:37) and put Him to death
- Jonah preached what God told him to (Jonah 3:2); same for Jesus (John 5:19)
- Jonah suffered (mildly) after preaching his message (Jonah 4:8); Jesus suffered (mightily) after preaching His.
- When the people of Nineveh heard the message, they were cut to the heart and repented (Jonah 3:5); when the people of Jerusalem heard the message, they were cut to the heart and repented (Acts 2:37)
- God’s message was that Nineveh would be overturned in 40 days (Jonah 3:4), and it was – by grace; Jesus told the disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit, and when he came, 40 days later, Jerusalem was overturned by grace (Act 2:14, 4:16, 6:7)
- As a result of Jonah’s preaching, there was an outbreak of divine compassion or grace (Jonah 4:11); as a result of Jesus’ preaching, there was an outbreak of the Holy Spirit, a.k.a. the Spirit of Grace (Acts 2:2)
Do you see the Sign of Jonah? Although Jonah was an Old Testament prophet famous for running away and being grumpy, he was also a sign pointing to Jesus.
The stories of Jonah and Jesus reveal what can happen when the grace of our compassionate God comes to a city full of sinners. Nineveh and Jerusalem deserved judgment, but both were overturned by the gospel of grace that comes through Jesus.
Let’s move ahead to Jonah chapter 3 “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you” (Jonah 3:1-2).
Jonah 3:3: “Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh.: This is one of the funniest verses to me. Yeah, he obeyed, because 3 days he was in a fish. Now he obeys, but he still has a serious heart issue. It is like when we tell our kids to do something, and we go through a huge battle with them. They might do the job, but their heart is not in it, and they probably have a bad attitude when they do it. The problem is although Jonah’s feet move forward into the mission, his spirit wasn’t in it and so he will encounter more problems along the way because God wants to heal Jonah’s heart.
So verse 10 of chapter 3 says, “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which He had said He would do to them; and He did not do it”. God didn’t “repent” because God never does anything wrong. Repent is a horrible translation of the Hebrew word that is used. The Hebrew word for “God repented” (nāḥam) can be translated as to have compassion.God had compassion and the calamity which He said He would do to them, He did not do it.
And then Jonah celebrated, people were saved. No, that’s not what happened. Jonah has hatred in his heart for these people. Now comes the key to the book and the reason why Jonah had headed for Tarshish instead of Nineveh. Chapter 4, verses 1-2.
“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”
I guess this story just turned on its head. God knew what was going on in Jonah’s heart the entire time and yet God didn’t leave in the fish this racist, hyper-nationalist who didn’t want to go to Nineveh because he knew God would have mercy on his enemies. He did not want their repentance; he wanted their doom. This is quite contrary to the spirit of Jesus, Jonah did not have good will toward his enemies.
Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh because he knew that God’s nature is gracious. He knew that God would spare the city. Jonah went out of the city and waited there, still hoping that God would judge and destroy Nineveh!
I think for me this is an incredible revelation even before Jesus came to reveal to us God as our loving Father. Jonah knew that God is gracious. God is compassionate, abounding in love (Jonah 4:2).
Jonah had not yet learned the lesson he needed to learn, so God who is gracious, compassionate, abounding in love continues with his education to Jonah in 4:6. God orchestrated events to guide Jonah out of his wrong believing. God will use trying times to help deliver us out of our wrong believing too (Jonah 4:6).
One thing we can learn from Jonah’s story is that no matter how much we stray from God’s will, He will never leave us. Even when Jonah was trapped in the belly of the great fish, God’s eyes were still firmly fixed on Jonah, and His ears were attentive to Jonah’s cries for help and mercy.
Your Abba Father wants to show you that His plans are for your good, and that He’s not angry with you. He wants the best for you, and He’s still full of grace, mercy and love for you. As Jonah brought the Word of the Lord to Nineveh, we bring the Gospel of Grace, the Word of God, Jesus Christ so the lost have an opportunity to respond as did the people of Nineveh that day.