The Book of Jonah
By Charles Box,
Jonah Runs Away From God
Among the books of the "Minor prophets" Jonah is likely the best known. This book allows us to observe the many human emotions of a man that wants to do right but struggles with his own selfish desires. At first Jonah is pictured as a man resisting the will of God. He did not like what God told him to do. It did not make sense to him that God was concerned about a wicked, Gentile city. He ran away from his duty to God and his rebellion brought tragedy to his life.
The work that God intended for Jonah was simple. God told him, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me." The sins on Nineveh had brought them almost to the point of destruction. Their only hope for avoiding God's wrath was true repentance.
Jonah resisted doing as he was told by God. He ran from God only to be swallowed by a "great fish." Jonah tried to run away from his responsibilities to God and to man and look at how things turned out for him. He spent three days and three nights in the belly of this fish. This was used as a "type" of what would later happen to Jesus. (Matthew 12:40) After being released by being vomited out on dry land Jonah did as he was told in the beginning. He preached, the people repented and God extended His mercy.
Arise; go preach to Nineveh -- Jonah 1:1-3:God is concerned even with the wickedness of heathen nations. So He commanded Jonah to preach in Nineveh. Jonah, the son of Amittai, was a prophet of God from Gathhepher. (2 Kings 14:25) Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. It was located a little more than two hundred miles from the present city of Baghdad. The book of Jonah is not a book of prophecy just because it contains many predictions. In fact there is only one predictive element in the book and it was very short term. "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." (Jonah 3:4)
Inspiration is the key because the Bible says, "The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai." God sent Jonah to cry out against Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire. He rebelled against God's plan and went in the opposite direction toward Tarshish. Jonah soon learned what he should have already known and that is that one cannot run away from God! (Psalm 139:7-11) Notice that Jonah paid the fare and went down into the ship. When you run from God you pay your own fare and you always go down.
Why hast thou done this -- Jonah 1:4-10: God sent a very violent wind that was about to destroy the boat that Jonah was in. Jonah learned "the hard way" that it is a terrible mistake to run from God. The mariners were experienced men of the sea, yet they were afraid. They were idol worshippers. Each prayed to his god for help. They lightened the ship by throwing things overboard. Throughout this time Jonah was in the inner part of the ship asleep. There was such a strain on him on the inside that he was unaware of the storm raging outside. The shipmaster awakened Jonah and told him to call upon his God for help. Oh but it would do no good for Jonah to pray at this time because he is not penitent.
The mariners said to one another, "Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us. So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah." When the lot fell upon Jonah the shipmaster began to ask him some questions. "Tell us, we pray you, on whose account has this evil come upon us? What is your occupation? Where did you come from? And what is your country and nationality?" Jonah told them that he was a Hebrew and that he worshipped the God that had made the very sea that they were upon and He made the dry land. The men could not believe that Jonah fled from being in the presence of the God that he said he followed as a prophet and as a servant.
Our sin hurts others -- Jonah 1:11-14: Jonah's sins had caused trouble for several other people. They were hurting because of his wrong. Their situation was bad and the sea was becoming more violent. They asked Jonah what to do to calm the sea. He said to them, "Take me up and cast me into the sea; so shall the sea become calm for you, for I know that it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you." This action of casting Jonah into the sea would be used to establish two truths. First, it would be shown, sure and certain, that Jonah had caused this problem. Second this event would be used as a type of Jesus spending three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12: 38-40)
The instruction to cast Jonah into the sea had to come by inspiration from God. Jonah would never have said something like that without divine inspiration. The mariners were humane men so they rowed hard to bring the ship to the land, but they could not. The sea just became more and more violent against them. If they had known the nature of God they would have known that it would have done no good to try to save Jonah when God said caste him overboard into the sea. All these men knew about the true God they had just learned from Jonah. Now they are praying to God that by casting Jonah overboard they will be innocent because they are simply following His instructions.
God prepared a great fish -- Jonah 1:15-17: These mariners were more obedient than God's prophet. "They took up Jonah and cast him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging." They were sincerely sorry for having done what they believed would cause the death of Jonah. After Jonah had been cast into the sea and the sea stopped its ragging the mariners feared the Lord exceedingly. They offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. We do not have any information if these men ever learned what happened to Jonah. We only know that they threw him overboard into the sea and he disappeared or they might have seen the fish swallow him.
The Bible tells us that "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." The God that made fish in the beginning could easily prepare a fish to swallow up His unfaithful prophet. He could also easily preserve Jonah for these three days and nights in the belly of this fish. The Lord that made and sent the wind to cause the storm likewise made and sent the fish. Please observe that the New Testament says, "For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matthew 12:40)
Being a Christian is a serious responsibility. Christianity involves your salvation. Your Christianity may affect hundreds of others. To become a Christian, you must hear the gospel (Romans 10:17), you must believe in Jesus (Mark 16:16), repent of every sin (Acts 2:38), confess Christ as Lord (Romans 10:9-10) and be baptized to be saved (1 Peter 3:21). After baptism the challenge for every Christian is to serve God faithfully.
Jonah Running Back To God
Jonah found out that running away from God gets a person into serious trouble. Running from God brought him into a storm and into the belly of great fish. Sin brings terrible consequences. Solomon wrote, "Good understanding giveth favour: but the way of transgressors is hard." (Proverbs 13:15) it will always be true that the way of the "transgressor is hard." Certainly we know that not all trouble comes because we have done wrong. A good example of that would be Job. He had many troubles that were not caused by his own wrong doing. The prodigal son, like Jonah, is a good example of how that running from god brings certain misery.
Jonah ran back to God as he prayed to him out of the fish's belly. Troubles my actually be a blessing if they bring us back to God. Out of his afflictions Jonah cried and the Lord hear him. The psalmist wrote, "In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and he heard me." (Psalm 120:1) Although he was very undeserving, God saved Jonah, and He can save us too. God saved Jonah from physical hard and He also saved him from the mess he had made in his spiritual life.
Jonah's sad situation in life -- Jonah 2:1-3: Running from God caused Jonah to find himself in a horrible state. He was in the fish's belly. Imagine the horrors that you would feel being in the guts of a tremendously large fish. This fish took Jonah into the heart of the sea. He felt that he was in Sheol or the abyss. In the fishes belly the currents and waves passed over him. The words of Jonah 2:1 remind us of what a mighty God we serve. He had the power to prepare a great fish to swallow Jonah and then He had the power to preserve Him in the fish's belly. "Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish's belly." No right thing is impossible for our mighty God. Concerning a camel going through the eye of a needle Jesus said, "With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26) By His great power the Lord took care of Jonah while he was cut off from normal life for that time.
Jonah sought the Lord and prayed unto Him. He cried in his distress to God. He called upon Him for help. Jonah had to know that he was being preserved miraculously by the hand of God. However, this did not lesson the terribleness of his situation. Now he must deal with this experience plus the emotions of running from God. Jonah cried from hell or Sheol. He was using the word in the sense of being subterranean. He cried out of his distress to the Lord, and the heard him. Jonah's concept about what was happening was good. He did not say the mariners cast him into the sea. He said to God, "For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; all Your waves and Your billows passed over me." He knew that what was happening was happening by the authority of God.
Looking toward God's holy temple -- Jonah 2:4-6: Jonah realized that he had left God's holy presence. He promised that he would look again toward God's holy temple and remember Him. Jonah said that God cast him out of His sight. He was only out of his sight from Jonah's point of view, not God's. "Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee." (Psalm 139:7-12)
Jonah felt banished from before the eyes of God. He said, "The waters compassed me about, even to the extinction of life; the abyss surrounded me, the seaweed was wrapped about my head." (Jonah 2:5) Jonah felt that his entire being was overwhelmed by the water. Jonah was in misery because he was outside of his element. When a Christian is outside of his element he can likewise expect torment. Jonah described his feelings saying, "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." (Jonah 2:6) Jonah felt shut off from God and from the entire world.
Jonah remembered the Lord -- Jonah 2:7-9: Jonah's declaration was simple, "When my life was slipping away, I remembered you -- and in your holy temple you heard my prayer. All who worship worthless idols turn from the God who offers them mercy. But with shouts of praise, I will offer a sacrifice to you, my Lord. I will keep my promise, because you are the one with power to save." Jonah realized that they only one to whom he could look for help was the Lord. He prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish's belly.
Jonah not only prayed to God but he also gave other great Bible principles. He spoke of lying vanities or of the devotion to idols. Idolatry is strictly condemned by the Bible. Those that trust in idols are working against their own best interest. Jonah also promised to sacrifice to God and to keep the vows he had made to Him. This is an indication of a person that has repented of wrongs. Jonah knew that only his devotion to God could deliver him from his hopeless situation. Salvation is of the Lord. This was true of Jonah's physical salvation and his spiritual salvation too. His life was a mess physical and spiritually and only God could help.
A fish listened to God -- Jonah 2:10: What a sad lesson it is to realize that a fished listened to God while Jonah, His prophet, and many of us do not listen at all. The deliverance of Jonah was described simply in the expression, "The Lord commanded the fish to vomit up Jonah on the shore. And it did." (Jonah 2:10) Our powerful God could easily control the fish to do His will.
The fish "vomited up Jonah on the shore." The fish could easily float out to the shore of the sea and vomit Jonah out of its mouth on to a place where the ground was not covered with water. The rebellious prophet even brought trouble and sickness to the fish. The fact that the fish spat Jonah out at on this time frame was later used as an example of Jesus' time in the grave. (Matthew 12:40)
To become a Christian you must hear the gospel (Romans 10:17), believe in Jesus (John 8:24), repent of sins (Acts 2:38), confess Jesus as Lord and Christ (Acts 8:37), and be baptized to be saved. (Mark 16:16) As a Christian, let us never run away from God; always wise enough to be faithful in doing the will of God.
Jonah Running With God
Have you ever messed up really bad? What would you do if given a second chance to deal with the same opportunity? Jonah was given a second chance to go preach to Nineveh. Each day that we live provides us with another "second" opportunity to get right with God or to render greater service in His kingdom. It took him a while to get to Nineveh but when Jonah finally surrendered to God he was able to do a great service for Him.
Nineveh was a very large city. 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." (Jonah 3:3) It took three days to walk, either from one side to the other or around the city. "In that city of Nineveh there are more than a hundred twenty thousand people who cannot tell right from wrong, and many cattle are also there." (Jonah 4:11) Jonah preached a message of doom that had been brought on by the sins of the people. He warned the people, "Forty days from now, Nineveh will be destroyed!" The response to the preaching of Jonah was great. The people repented, from king to beggar. "And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them." God saw their repentance and changed His mind about the destruction.
God sent His prophet with a clear, concise message and those people repented. People have always been admonished to hear the word of the Lord. "Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel: for the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land." (Hosea 4:1) Today God has sent His Son and all the people of the world should repent. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10)
Jonah goes to Nineveh to preach -- Jonah 3:1-3: How relieved Jonah must have been to have been restored to dry land. After three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, "the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land." (Jonah 2:10) Again the Lord renewed His instructions to Jonah. "Once again the LORD told Jonah to go to that great city of Nineveh and preach his message of doom." (Jonah 3:1-2) Jonah had learned his lesson. When the word of the Lord came to him a second time telling him to arise and go to Nineveh he went. People should always be eager and open to doing the will of God quickly.
Jonah had repented and so in God's mind the past was forgotten. With God it was just as if nothing had happened between Jonah and Himself. In Jonah three we learn exactly what God's message for Nineveh involved. God said that Jonah was to "go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee." At first Jonah ran away from God. This time, "Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD." He went in the direction of his duty instead of away from his responsibility to God. "Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days journey in breadth." You can just imagine the depth of compassion with which Jonah preached as he walked for three days across this city.
The people of Nineveh repented-- Jonah 3:4-5: Jonah went a days journey into the city of Nineveh and then began his preaching. It sounds as if he reached the thickly populated part of town and then started his work. He warned the people, "Forty days from now, Nineveh will be destroyed!" This was what the Lord had commissioned him to preach. He is now a faithful prophet. Nothing is said about the particular sin that had brought Nineveh to this sad state. However, the people understood about God and what they needed to repent of.
Fasting is often connected with great blessings from God. In Ezra 8:23 we observe the power of fasting in that day. "So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty." In Nineveh "They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them." They did this in the hope that God would spare their nation even though that thought was not included in Jonah's preaching. Fasting and wearing sackcloth was a custom in ancient times to show grief or repentance. These people did this because "they believed God."
The people of Nineveh repented -- Jonah 3:6-8: Just Jonah saying those words, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown" would likely not have brought about this change among the people. There must have been something done or actions to make the people understand what this was all about. The king of Nineveh set the example for the people to repent. "When the king of Nineveh heard what was happening, he also dressed in sackcloth; he left the royal palace and sat in dust." Leaders must always take the lead by setting the example. Leadership demands doing the things that you expect of others.
Fasting and praying helped saved the people of Nineveh from God's wrath. The king proclaimed a fast among all the people. The decree was that "none of you or your animals may eat or drink a thing. Each of you must wear sackcloth, and you must even put sackcloth on your animals." Without food the beast of burdens would be unable to work and so this would mean a further sacrifice to their owners. From king to beggar the people were to turn from their evil ways and from the violence of their hands. They were to repent of their sinful ways.
God repented or changed His mind -- Jonah 3:9-10: The message was, "You must also pray to the Lord God with all your heart and stop being sinful and cruel. Maybe God will change his mind and have mercy on us, so we won't be destroyed." God does not want people to die lost and hopeless. He is gracious and compassionate and desires that sinners repent. The text says, When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it." He was pleased with their repentance and had mercy on them. This was the hope of the King of Nineveh when he called upon the people to repent.
Through His mercy God wanted to spare the children of Nineveh. "And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle? God was willing to save this city in order to save the young children of Nineveh. He even had pity on the cattle of Nineveh. We serve a God that cares.
Are you running with God? Are you in Christ? Have you heard the gospel (Romans 10:17); believed in Christ (John 8:24); repented of sins (Acts 17:30-31); confessed your faith in Christ (Matthew 10:32-33) and been baptized into Christ for remission of sins? (Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16.) Those that run with Christ are the people that faithfully obey Him. Are you faithful in Christ?
Jonah Runs Ahead of God
Jonah chapter four provides us with a picture of a man running far ahead of God. Jonah, God's pouting prophet wanted the people of Nineveh destroyed. He thought that He knew better than God did as to what their destiny should be. He was displeased with God and with God's will. If we are not careful we may find ourselves in the same spiritual condition as Jonah.
It is true that the Ninevites were both a cruel and wicked nation. Jonah wanted them destroyed because they were basically hated and despised by the Jews. His wish was that they would just be wiped away. But, "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9) God loves all people and He wants everyone to be saved. (John 3:16) He could not understand Jonah's wicked attitude. Jonah was more concerned about a gourd vine than about the people of Nineveh. God said, "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?" (Jonah 4:11) Let us never be like Jonah. We must show mercy on the lost and prayerfully provide them an opportunity to be saved.
Jonah's angry prayer to God -- Jonah 4:1-3: The Lord's compassion toward Nineveh displeased Jonah greatly. He was really upset and angry with God because Nineveh had not been destroyed. A person can be angry and yet not sin. "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath." (Ephesians 4:26) It was not the case with Jonah that he was angry and did not sin. He allowed his feelings of anger to cause him to tragically despise God's mercy. It may have been that both his prejudice and all that he had been through because of the Ninevites had caused him to want them punished.
Jonah "prayed to the Lord and said, I pray You, O Lord, is not this just what I said when I was still in my country? That is why I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, and when sinners turn to You and meet Your conditions You revoke the sentence of evil against them." (Jonah 4:2) Jonah wanted Nineveh punished severely, but he recognized that God was full of mercy. Jonah was not at all a man that would consider suicide but he was in such misery that he asked God to take his life. (Jonah 4:3) When a man in his right mind takes his own life it is murder just as if he had deliberately killed another person. Jonah felt disgraced and he was looking for a way out. A man is not a fit prophet or preacher if he cannot accept God's justice, mercy and truth.
What right do you have to be angry? -- Jonah 4:4-5: Jonah's anger was not justified. So the Lord asked, "Do you think you have reason to be angry?" (Jonah 4:4) The question was not asked to provide information to God, rather it was asked to provide instruction to Jonah. The Lord wanted Jonah to understand that his prayer would be answered in a negative way and that his feelings were unjustified. Anger is a destructive attitude. Solomon said, "It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman." (Proverbs 21:19) We are reminded in song, "Brightest links in life are broken by a single angry word." Anger opens the door for sinful attitudes and sinful behavior. Prayer and love for others can help us remove anger from our lives.
Jonah became a pathetic, pouting prophet. "So Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city, and he made a booth there for himself. He sat there under it in the shade till he might see what would become of the city." (Jonah 4:5) It seems that Jonah went to Nineveh, delivered God's message and then went out on the east side of the city and waited. He was determined to stay until he could see what became of the city. When the forty days past he became angry because instead of receiving destruction the people received mercy. Sadly, God's pouting prophet was hoping for Nineveh's destruction instead of their salvation.
Jonah's gourd vine and a worm -- Jonah 4:6-8: God continued to love his pouting prophet so He "prepared a gourd and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to deliver him from his evil situation. So Jonah was exceedingly glad to have the protection of the gourd." (Jonah 4:4) Jonah had built a little booth and now the gourd vine would provide him with additional shade and insulation from weather, much like a tent. Sadly, Jonah was very happy to have the vine but not happy about the repentance of the people or about the mercy of God.
God used the gourd vine to teach Jonah a visual, but very sobering lesson. "God prepared a cutworm when the morning dawned the next day, and it smote the gourd so that it withered." (Jonah 4:7) The lesson began with the worm and the vine and continued when "God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah so that he fainted and wished in himself to die and said, It is better for me to die than to live." (Jonah 4:8) God sent a quiet but intensely hot wave of air that was terribly depressing to Jonah. Now Jonah wanted to die for a different reason other than the fact that the people had repented and God had shown mercy.
Jonah's unconcern for the city -- Jonah 4:9-11: Jonah was concerned about the gourd vine but was unconcerned about the people of the city. God said to Jonah, "You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night." Jonah was now faithful to God in his preaching but he still had his same old angry heart. Jonah should have realized that though his gourd vine was gone his God was still there. God's love and care makes up for all of our losses.
Jonah should have been thankful to God for sparing the city of Nineveh. The gourd was small and insignificant. The city Nineveh was a "great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?" (Jonah 4:11) This number might have refereed to children but more likely it refereed to the ignorance of the people as to what is right and wrong.
While Jonah wanted Nineveh destroyed, but God wants all men to fear and reverence Him. To become a Christian you must hear the gospel and believe (John 6:44-45), repent of sins (Acts 2:38), confess Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9-10), and be baptized into Christ. (Romans 6:3-4) Fear or reverence for the Lord will also keep you in faithful service to God. (Matthew 10:22) Solomon said, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man's all. For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil." (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)