December 4th 2022: James Hughes

Jonah 1

            Have you ever been given a job you didn’t want to do? Or are you in a job you hate and would rather do something else? I recently changed career and am working towards becoming a teacher myself, so I know what changing jobs is like. But what if God gave you a job to do that you did not want to do? That is the situation here in Jonah. He was given a job he did not want to do. He had been given assignments that he was happy with in former times, but this task was one he simply could not bring himself to do.

            Now in our passage today I want to start by giving you an overview of the book, describing the main characters in the book, then I want to draw out three ideas from Jonah 1. After this we shall consider what the passage has to say about Christ, and we shall end with three points of application.

Overview of book

The main characters of the book are:

  • The big fish. Sometimes referred to as a whale in many books (especially children’s books) but most probably some very large fish we do not know much about. Although this is sometimes put as the main character, we read very little about him!
  • Jonah. He is known as the son of Amittai and he is referred to in 2 Kings 14:25 where we learn that he prophesied about the expansion of Israel. He was from Gath Hepher which was located in Zebulun. We learn from the book of Jonah that he was essentially a nationalist. He was more than happy to focus on Israel but not at all on other nations (except to preach against them).
  • Sailors. We know very little about these men except that as a group sailors they were very brave and (most probably) very experienced and knowledgeable concerning the sea and sea faring. They seem to have been a mixture of people for they were exhorted to call upon their own gods. Hence, they were all pagans but probably from different parts of the Mediterranean region.
  • Ninevites. Nineveh was a major city of Assyria, the super-power of that time. They were a particularly cruel people. They would probably not feature in the series of children’s books that go under the title: “Horrible Histories,” because of their violent cruelty. Their form of execution was particularly barbaric and they practised a variety of tortures.
  • God. God is the central character of the book.

Timeline.

            The events of Jonah occurred some 800 years before Christ’s first advent. The Assyrian empire was at its height in power, but Nineveh would be destroyed about 150 years after these events by the Babylonians and other confederates. All of this was prophesied in the book of Nahum.

The book.

            Jonah is very different in style to other prophets, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and so on. The form of writing is narrative and appears similar to the period when Elijah and Elisha prophesied. These were known as the ‘former prophets’ and Jonah seems to fit in with this type of writing. 

            Jonah was sent to the Gentile nation of Assyria whereas usually the prophets preached to Judah and/or Israel.

            The sending of a nationalistic Jew to a Gentile nation is rather surprising, and (humanly speaking) would not expect to succeed. But there is much more going on here than the mere deliverance of a message to a Gentile nation, for the prophet himself is also being dealt with by God. In this we see that God’s purposes are not thwarted. He can bring about His purpose even with means which might not appear promising! Isn’t this something we see time and time again?

Three features of Jonah 1!

            The book of Jonah is a deep well but for now we can derive three important features of this first chapter.

[1] The Just Judge. (Jonah 1:1-2).

            In the second verse we discover that the “wickedness” of Nineveh had come before the Lord. The Lord God is sovereign. He not only rules over-all, but further, He owns all things. He has seen the wickedness of the Ninevites and so judgment was to be handed out to them for their wicked ways.

            Don’t we find in modern life that people love judgement? People like to point the finger. If someone falls foul of modern ‘principles’ they are called out and shown up. None may make a mistake. As soon as someone is judged in error they are made to pay. They might lose their job or their reputation. Modern minds love to judge, to ‘cancel culture,’ and to point the finger. But what do we have here in Jonah? God is sovereign and owns all. He could very easily have rained down judgement upon Nineveh without informing any one and still have been acting justly. We must ask the question: why is God announcing judgement, and why does He not simply destroy them?

            There is a great difference between how modern man sees judgement and how God acts as Judge. God’s announcement is given to bring them to the point of repentance. God’s announcement of judgement to come is a great act of mercy. The Just Judge might easily and justly have destroyed the people of Nineveh, but He announces the judgement first.

[2] The Prodigal Prophet. (Jonah 1:3).

            Jonah was disobedient! He fled from the presence of the Lord. He went in the opposite direction to Nineveh, going to Joppa and then on his way to Tarshish. There are echoes of Adam and Eve’s response in the garden of Eden here. They fled from the approaching Lord. But there is a problem here isn’t there? In psalm 139 (and elsewhere) we learn that God sees everything and knows everything. How then can anyone flee form the Lord? It seems that he was running away from the presence of the Lord – from the felt knowledge of God’s being with him. Why was he doing this? It was not out of fear, nor out of fear of death, for he displays no fears when the storm rages.

            In Jonah 4 we learn that the reason for his fleeing from the Lord was because he knew the character and nature of God. He knew that God was a merciful and gracious God. But Jonah was of the opinion that the Ninevites were totally undeserving of any forgiveness. These Ninevites were so wicked they ought never to be the subjects of mercy and grace.

[3] The Sleeping Saint. (Jonah 1:4-6).

            The storm had become so bad that the cargo was jettisoned and the sailors (experienced men) became afraid. After all the sailors had cried out to their various gods, we see the captain of the ship going to Jonah and asking why he was sleeping in such dire and desperate circumstances. Why was he asleep? Was he tired? Was he sorrowful? Commentators differ on the reasons for Jonah’s sleep. But in reality, it does not matter why he was asleep. The fact was that whilst all around him were seeing the trouble of the storm and were desperately trying to do something about it, Jonah slept.

All about Christ.

            We remind ourselves that the Bible is mainly about Christ. Reading of Jonah fast asleep in a boat whilst there was a raging storm reminds us of a similar incident in the New Testament. Crossing the sea of Galilee one day the disciples were afraid in a terrible storm and there was Jesus asleep in the stern (Matthew 8:23-27). The disciples were astonished that Christ slept in the boat and they shrugged him asking Him why He did not care that they were perishing.

JonahChrist
Disobedient and reluctant.Obedient fully pleasing the Father.
Uncaring for the Gentiles and foreigners.He cared greatly for the disciples and he faced much worse than a mere storm for them (the cross). Romans 5:8.

Three applications.

            What can we learn from Jonah chapter 1?

[1] The same Just Judge has pronounced judgement on all.

            Romans 3:10 tells us that there are none righteous at all among men. We often pass judgement upon others and in the process we neatly avoid judging ourselves. All of us fall short of what God requires. Now, the only means of escape is the cross of Christ. Nineveh had the hope of mercy from God. Jonah preached the message he was tasked and Nineveh repented. We too are in a very similar situation to Nineveh. We are wicked. We may have a different flavour of sin to the Ninevites, but it is still sin. We are still deserving God’s righteous judgement. Christ Jesus is our only hope. Only in Christ’s death and resurrection can we find hope! Could we offer our righteousness? By no means! All our righteousness is simply rotten rags. If we offer anything other than Christ, we will be eternally judged.

[2] What would our lack of compassion and our disobedience cost us?

            We might be tempted to think (like Jonah) that some people are outside of the realms of forgiveness. Some people (we might reason) are beyond the pail, beyond hope. Are we personally guilty of thinking about a certain group of people as being beyond forgiveness and deserving of God’s judgement immediately? Do we think that one group deserves judgement more than others? (Luke 13:1-5).

            All are judged already (John 3:36). Only those who have repented and put their trust in Christ will stand in a position of not being condemned (Romans 8:1).

            In the Lord’s model prayer we ask for forgiveness as we forgive others. Are we lacking the compassion of Christ? Let us examine our hearts. Do we consider some as being unforgivable? Are there some we think we simply cannot forgive? This cannot be! Jonah did not think Nineveh deserved mercy so he fled in the opposite direction, and in doing so he lost the presence of God.

[3] We need to awake!

            Are we awake to the situation around us? People are rushing in madness searching this way and that for some solution and hope. But all to no avail. In the world there is judgement with no mercy (cancel culture). But with God there is mercy and grace. He is long suffering! People in the world know that something is wrong. They get the details wrong and they seek for solutions in the wrong places. Now we (believers) have The Answer to the human condition and problem! Are we sleeping whilst everyone else is running around this way and that? Do we bring the gospel to the people? Are we saying to them that God has judged one and all, and all deserve condemnation but there is hope in Christ and His death?

            The Lord has passed judgement on sin and rebellion but has also provided hope in Christ – His death and resurrection. Awake! Rise up to you calling and proclaim the great goodness of God!