Jonah (Jonah 1-2)
Sermon Link (live stream version)
Though we do not get much background on Jonah in this account, we know from 2 Kings 14:25 that Jonah was not a novice in the service of God. As the son of a prophet, Jonah had likely been exposed to the ministries of men like Elija and Elisha, and would have been a man with a rich heritage of spiritual blessings. And yet we see that past privileges are no substitute for present obedience. In fact, the privileges of the past serve to magnify the disobedience of the present! When we understand a little bit about Jonah’s past, the contrast we see in verse 3 from his former obedience is even more striking.
Jonah turned from the Lord in two ways. First, he turned from the Word of the Lord. God’s commandment to Him had come with definite clarity: “Arise, go to Nineveh…” It also brought serious responsibility: “Cry against it…” The problem was not that Jonah could not understand the Word, but that He did not want to do what the Word of God was telling Him to do. He did not want to go preaching in the capital city of an enemy nation. Jonah’s reputation was at stake and Jonah was too concerned about Jonah. If he were to step into enemy territory and proclaim that the same mercy given to Israel was available to Israel’s enemies, what would his fellow Israelites think of him? And not only did Jonah not want to preach to Israel’s enemies, he also knew that God’s declaration of wrath to them had in it a purpose of redemption (Jonah 4:2). This was more than Jonah was willing to accept.
Second, Jonah turned from the presence of the Lord. Jonah is well aware of the omnipresence of God from which none can escape (Psalm 139:7ff). Nonetheless, he foolishly makes the effort to flee from the felt or manifest presence of the Lord, distancing himself from the kindred presence of the only One in whose presence there is fulness of joy and at whose right hand there are pleasures forever (Psalm 116:11). Jonah’s life is a clear illustration that the “fruitfulness” of our lives for God is not itself a guarantee of obedience to God, nearness to Him, being in His will, or fearing Him. In fact, mere usefulness can be mistaken for communion with Him. We must always remember that being used by Him is secondary to walking with Him.
– Though Jonah was unwilling to humble himself and proclaim the Word of God to his enemies, the Son of God was willing to humble Himself even to the point of death on behalf of sinners like us (Philippians 2). What similarities do we see between Jonah’s call to go to the Ninevites and the Son of God begin made in the likeness of men? What similarities are there between the Ninevites and us?
God Responds, Reveals, Reacts
Jonah had accomplished five actions in his attempt to escape the presence of God: rose up to flee, went down to Joppa, found a ship, paid the fare, and went down into it. But God responds with a single action, hurling a great wind that caused a great storm.
God’s dealings with Jonah reveal three things about Jonah’s condition. First, Jonah has a seared and thus ineffective conscience (verse 5). Jonah is in the hold of the ship sleeping, unconcerned that he is running from God and that his life is currently in danger (along with the sailors’ lives). Jonah, no doubt, would have been shocked if he had known a few years earlier that he would end up in such a perilous condition, but he had evidently been drifting spiritually for some time. Second, Jonah is ashamed of his ministry (verse 8-9). Though Jonah confesses his liability in the situation, acknowledges his Hebrew heritage, and reveals his religion, he avoids their question about his occupation. Jonah, a prophet of God, is not able to admit it, being ashamed of his calling and his ministry. Third, Jonah was hopelessly despairing (verse 12). Apart from obedience, there can be no genuine assurance that Jonah really is a true servant of the Lord.
God reacts to the situation by appointing a great fish to swallow Jonah. While this is an act of judgment, it is not judgment without mercy. By sending the fish, Jonah’s life is preserved, the sailor’s life is saved, and the Ninevites eventually hear the Word of God and repent. While Jonah’s physical sacrifice saved the sailors from the storm and led to the eventual salvation of the Ninevites, it was the sacrifice of Jesus that really saved them, and us! Just as Jonah was thrown overboard for their salvation, Christ Jesus was crushed for the salvation of His enemies.
– Though Jonah claims to fear the Lord (verse 9), he proves that he had only an illegitimate and sinful fear of God. In what ways do we see Jonah’s fear of God change throughout this account? What about the sailors? What is the difference between a false fear and a true fear of God? In what ways is the fear of the Lord affecting the way that you live your life?