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The Prophet Series: Jonah, part 1

Jonah, part 1

Jonah’s name means Dove. He was from a town in the tribe of Zebulun. He lived during the reign of Jeroboam II, the most powerful monarch in the history of the Northern Kingdom. He was the only prophet to attempt to run away from God.

He was one of four prophets whose ministries were mentioned by Christ (Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah).

The entire book is in the third person, but all evidence points to Jonah as the author.

Date: sometime during the reign of Jeroboam II; 793-753 B.C. Jonah is a contemporary of Hosea and Amos and all show Israel’s religious life to be atrocious. Hosea warned that Assyria would rule over Israel, and these are the people that God is going to send Jonah to.

At the time of Jonah, the mighty Assyria was temporarily weakened by internal conflict and famine. It was a sleeping giant. Hosea’s prophecy would be fulfilled in 722 B.C.

Jonah would have certainly known of Hosea’s prophecy, and this is what may explain his extreme reluctance to preach to Nineveh. Why preach to those who are going to destroy your nation? God will answer that question at the end.

God was preparing them for the arrival of the prophet. Assyria was weakened by two famines that were within ten years of one another. They witnessed the total solar eclipse in 763, which was prophesied by Amos (AMO 8:9). The pagan Ninevites would have understood both the famines and the eclipse as signs of the divine anger of their gods.

The message in the book of Jonah is for Israel. It is not simply a history. God is the principle person in the book, not Jonah. The Lord has the first word and the last word (alpha and omega) in the book.


God’s message:

His concern for Gentile peoples. God’s love for all mankind was supposed to be mediated through Israel, God’s elect and client nation.


ISA 49:3

And He said to Me, "You are My Servant, Israel,

In Whom I will show My glory."


The sovereignty of God is witnessed in accomplishing His purpose. Though Israel was unfaithful and reluctant in its missionary task, God still sent (forced) a prophet to preach to them.

The positive response of the Gentiles was a rebuke to the sinful nation of Israel. The spiritual insight of the mariners on Jonah’s escape ship, and their concern for the prophet contrasts sharply with Israel’s lack of concern for Gentiles.

Jonah was a symbol to Israel of her own disobedience to God and their indifference to the souls of all mankind. By loving a prostitute, Hosea graphically portrayed the unending love of God for His adulterous people. Jonah symbolized their disobedience by running from God.

The worm that destroyed Jonah’s shade tree, a tree he enjoyed very much, showed God’s wrath upon Israel. Their blessings and protections would be lifted.

We assume Jonah repented of his stubborn heart, saw God’s purpose in this part of history, and then wrote the book to warn the people.


The Book:

Nineveh is 550 miles northeast of Samaria. The journey would have taken over a month. The city was built by Nimrod (GEN 10:11) and is described in the book as a great city. It was surrounded by inner and outer walls with the mighty inner was being 50 ft. wide and 100 ft. tall. The Book of Nahum reveals how wicked the city had become - very!


Jonah on a fast boat somewhere else.

Jonah rejects the command of the Lord, and instead of heading northeast, he heads to Joppa and finds a ship to take him west. It is interesting to set that God let him go the wrong way for a while. God could have stopped him before he got to the port city or before he got on the ship. God gave him some line, perhaps to allow him to come to his senses, but at the right time God pulled the leash and a storm envelopes the ship in a way that alerts and surprises even experienced sailors.


Just “great.”

Great wind. Great storm. Great fear. Great fish. These are all terms used in the book that all stand alongside the “great” displeasure of Jonah when he discovers that the “great” city is going to repent.


God controls the elements:

The mariners greatly fear the storm and yet incredibly, Jonah goes below deck and goes to sleep. We cannot help but think of the storm that descended upon Christ and the disciples on the Sea of Galilee where our Lord was asleep, but in what way is Jonah a type of the Lord? Perhaps the prophet had given up any hope of living and consented to his fate. There is the rest of the condemned who imagine they cannot avoid their sentence, and there is the rest of those who trust the promise of God and know they will be delivered, as our Lord did in the boat. But Jonah is awakened by the ship’s captain (sent by God?) who bids him to pray. The pagan bids the prophet of God to pray!


Jonah gives a clear message of the person of God, 1:8-9.

Sailors conclude correctly. Jonah’s God controls the sea, and the storm is His reaction to Jonah’s disobedience. Yet the sailors do not want to toss the prophet overboard, though he bids them to. This stands in contrast to Jonah’s lack of compassion on the Ninevites, 1:13-14. Eventually the sailors realize they have no choice and they pitch him off.

When they see the calm, they may have believed in Yavah as the one and only God.


Jonah’s prayer

From the inside of the great fish, Jonah prays. He cries out to the Lord. Imminent death in a deep, cold, watery grave got him crying for help. He hears an answer, but likely not verbally. In his heart, where the doctrines and promises of God swam, he remembered the mercy and love of God. He promises to sacrifice. He promises to keep his vow, and he praises the Lord for His salvation.

Dropped on land, Jonah still has to travel the almost 600 miles to Nineveh. He finally comes to obedience. Yet, we will find that Jonah still expects the Ninevites to reject the calling from God. He is contented to go, the Ninevites will burn, and he will go home.


Holy God, I didn’t see that coming:

He preaches and the Ninevites convert. As the prophet preached doom, the people repented, and they were spared. Their repentance would not last, but Jonah gave no thought to that. He had no love or compassion for these people, who he knew to be God’s creation and so recipients of God’s love. 

If genuine, the repentance did not last more than a generation. Assyria again reverted to violence and eventually destroyed Israel. Their repentance, from fear, seemed not to be a lasting one. Nineveh would be destroyed in about 150 years from this time. 

Assyria was a cruel and violent nation and yet we find them fearing God.


God relents:

As He spared Jonah on the sea, He spares Nineveh. “When God threatened punishment He provided a dark backdrop on which to etch most vividly He forgiving mercies.” [The Bible Knowledge Commentary] This is a clear message to Israel. Turn from your ways and return to God and His law and you will find mercy instead of judgment. Israel had been turned away from God since David, about 300 years. 


Jonah’s displeasure

He is a symbol of Israel. He blatantly rejected God’s goodness to Nineveh. He had no concern for the mercies of God. Jonah actually gets angry and rebukes God. It reminds us of Peter when he rebuked the Lord for saying He was to suffer and die.

Jonah wanted to be delivered from the sea but didn’t want the Ninevites to be delivered.

The Ninevites were readier to accept God’s grace than Jonah was.

Jonah knew God’s willingness to forgive, but he didn’t want his enemies to know it. And Jonah is without excuse. He is not ignorant of God’s character. What Jonah says of God shows that Jonah knows Him well.


JON 4:2

for I knew that Thou art a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.


He states almost word for word from the Torah showing his in-depth knowledge of it.


EXO 34:6

Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth;


This is an oft repeated theme in God’s revelation to Israel.


JOE 2:13

"Now return to the Lord your God,

For He is gracious and compassionate,

Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness,

And relenting of evil.


NEH 9:17

But Thou art a God of forgiveness,

Gracious and compassionate,

Slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness;

And Thou didst not forsake them.


PSA 103:8

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,

Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.


PSA 145:8

The Lord is gracious and merciful;

Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.


My, my, you’re fickle:

Jonah asks to die, yet in JON 2:2 he prayed that he might live. What makes people fickle? People want immediate gratification. It seems to be the fuel that fallen man runs on, and boy does he run. John calls it the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. Truth and the purpose of God transcends gratification of ourselves. The purpose of God teaches us to deny ourselves and go His way; waiting, praying, and waiting some more, and all the while filled with the joy that we’re not getting in the way of His purpose and that we have a front-row seat from which to witness its fulfillment. This takes regeneration and maturity, but it is God’s desire for us all. Not fickle but steadfast, rooted, and grounded. 


TIT 2:11-14

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.


God asks a question: Is your anger justified?

What a great question. He doesn’t have to speak to us audibly for the question to confront us. I don’t know how He does it, but there are been plenty of times in my life when after my anger settled a bit, somehow, I heard this question. Sadly, I often gave a resounding “Yes!” Then a trip to Bible class gave ear to the prosecution upon cross-examination. No jury was needed. God bids us to use our reasoning skill within the confines of the scriptural revelation. “What you’re doing and thinking; is it justified?” In the face of the Word the answer is no, always no. And with humility I can swallow that, and even if I only have a bit of humility and the swallowing is painful and bitter, I can still choke it down and find wisdom through correction and recovery without condemnation. O blessed Savior who has delivered me from this body of death.

Next time: God and Jonah’s final conversation.


To Him be all glory and majesty, 

Pastor Joe Sugrue

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