Why We Need Jonah
Introduction To the Book Of Jonah
Why We Need Jonah
Introduction To the Book Of Jonah
Years ago, I heard a story about a devout father whose son was studying for the ministry and decided to go off to study in Europe for an advanced degree. The father was afraid that his son’s faith would be ruined by the sophistication of his unbelieving professors. So this young man’s father warned him sharply saying, “Don’t let them take Jonah away from your Bible!” He was concerned that the story about a great fish swallowing Jonah would be the first part of the Bible they threw out.
Two years later when the son returned, his father asked him, “Do you still have Jonah in your Bible?” To which the young man laughed, “Jonah! That’s not even in your Bible.” The father objected. But the young man challenged his father to show him where Jonah was in his Bible. So the father got out his Bible and began searching for it. But he couldn’t find it anywhere in his Bible and was puzzled. The young man then confessed, “Before I left, I carefully cut the pages of Jonah out of your Bible… What’s the difference whether I lose it from studying under unbelievers or you lose it from neglect?” (Jerry Wragg, Ministering To Men, Shepherd’s Conference, 2001). This morning I want to explore why we need Jonah. Why must we not neglect Jonah’s message? I want to look at the book of Jonah from 10,000 feet to consider three reasons why we need Jonah’s message.
Liberal critics who deny that miracles can happen, don’t believe in a God who can do as He pleases in His Creation. And so they consider Jonah to be a myth. Sadly, even some conservative scholars have fallen prey to liberal pressure and say that Jonah is a parable but not a true story.
But those scholars are wrong. Jonah is an historical account of real events. Jonah is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25 as a real prophet from a real town in northern Israel. The book of Jonah reads like prophetic history. Compare it with Elijah and Elisha. And most importantly, Jesus considered Jonah’s story to be true. But the Bible boldly teaches that God DOES do miracles. Yahweh has the power to do as He pleases in His Creation so that the winds and the waves and the whales obey Him. Shame on us if we still have Jonah in our Bibles but neglect to learn its message.
Jonah was a prophet from the town of Gath-Hepher in Galilee, near Nazareth (2 Kings 14:25). He was a contemporary of the prophets Hosea and Amos. He lived during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C.), king of the Northern Tribes of Israel after they had split away from Judah. Jonah had prophesied that Israel would expand their borders in Jeroboam’s reign and it came to pass.
Contrary to the way it is often used, Jonah is not about missions or evangelism. It is right for us to apply its lessons to missions and evangelism, but that isn’t the message of the book. The message of the book is that believers must entrust themselves to God’s ways. God’s ways are often hard for us to swallow, much less to embrace them and find joy in them. This is why Jonah needed this message, why Israel needed this message, and why you and I need this message. We need Jonah.
I. We need Jonah’s message to expand our knowledge of God’s greatness and goodness.
God’s greatness will be displayed throughout the book, but is front and center in chapter 1 which we plan to dig into next week. We will see how man is powerless against God.
But it is precisely God’s goodness that caused Jonah’s meltdown. God’s character is Jonah’s problem. Jonah tells us this in chapter 4 after the people of Ninevah repented of their evil ways. Behold the beautiful character of God listed in 4:1-3 [read]. God was his problem!
For all the times when we rejoice at God’s wonderful character traits, there are times when His character unsettles us. Because God is wonderfully gracious, He ordained Jonah to be part of His program to bring grace and mercy to a lost people group. But that isn’t how Jonah interpreted it. He saw it as God wanting him to be part of His plan to preserve a horribly wicked people so that one day their descendants would destroy Jonah’s descendants.
God’s greatness means that we cannot hinder God’s plans. He is God and we are not. God’s goodness means that we need to get on board with the totality of His purposes in this world—whether they make sense to us or not, whether we like them or not. God is so wonderfully good and we need to work until we realize that in each situation that He puts us in. Are you prepared to rejoice in the Lord during the trials we will endure after the Presidential election? Do you realize that God will be displaying His greatness and His goodness through those difficult situations?
II. We need Jonah’s message to exhort us to obey God.
We need complete submission to the will of God. Where I’m going is this: like Jonah we may be living our life just fine, we think. We obey but that’s only because God hasn’t brought us into certain situations. I suggest to you that Jonah was a godly man (2 Kings 14:25) as long as Yahweh didn’t go into this one area of his heart. While we wouldn’t say it out loud, our thinking can go this way, “Lord, I’ll be OK as long as You ordain things to go the way I think they should go.” Often we just want others to obey God. But God may ordain that things go otherwise in order to accomplish His work in their heart and our heart. In those situations, we may find it hard to obey.
Let me explain how it was for Jonah. This is often overlooked and it causes us to miss these larger lessons. Ninevah was a major city in Assyria and the Assyrians were an unusually wicked and cruel people. However, because Israel was so evil, God sent Hosea and Amos to foretell of judgment coming upon them through this pagan country, Assyria. God warned in Hosea 11:5, “Assyria—he will be their king because they refused to return to Me”. Indeed, in 722 B.C. Assyria arose in strength and conquered the Northern Kingdom. Assyria carried them off into captivity (2 Kings 17:6) just as Amos has predicted, “I will make you go into exile beyond Damascus” (5:27).
Jonah probably feels that God is calling him to betray his nation and his descendants. Think about how difficult it would be to be used to spare people who one day will destroy your country and slaughter your own people. What if God told us that in the future, people from ISIS would destroy the U.S. due to our country’s wickedness, raping and slaughtering many of your own family? What if you knew that if ISIS didn’t repent, God would wipe them out? Could you go over there and preach the Gospel to them, knowing that if they get saved, their descendants will slaughter your descendants. Could you really be a part of sparing them?
So the question is this: Will you obey God even when He does things you don’t agree with?
III. We need Jonah’s message to encourage us to entrust ourselves to God who always does what is right.
It isn’t always easy to trust God to do His work. We can be OK when God saves or blesses another person unless it costs us something. Think of the Prodigal’s older brother. In his mind, he had remained faithful to his father and his formerly wicked brother gets the royal treatment with things that the older brother was to inherit. You can see why it bothered him. But something wonderful had just happened. What if someone cheated you out of your life’s savings, then on their death bed they get saved. They got all of your money plus they got salvation. Can you be OK with that?
It can be very difficult for us to be OK with God’s ways. Yahweh declared in Isaiah 55:8-9 “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways…for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Keep in mind that from the little we know about Jonah, he seems to be a godly man but here is an area of his life which God still needs to bring in line with God’s ways and God’s thinking. We make a mistake if we think of Jonah as totally ungodly. What is true of every believer is that there are areas which are godly and areas which are ungodly. God is at work in each of us to bring those ungodly areas, one by one, into conformity to His image. God pushes Jonah further so that He can expose an ungodly part of Jonah’s heart. He will bring Jonah to the point of despairing of life and hoping to die, then He will bring Jonah to spiritual depression so that He can change Jonah’s heart.
Like God, we should not approve of evil. But we must be OK with the fact that God ordains difficult circumstances for His purposes. What God calls us to do is what Peter said to believers in difficult circumstances. In the midst of fiery ordeals believers must “entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Pet 4:19). Whatever situation God puts me in, it is right for me to be there. God can only do what is good, so I must see that if He has put me here it is also good.
If God puts His wonderful character on display in such a way that it costs me or hurts me, I need to remind myself that it is worth every bit! How do we become OK with this? Instead of focusing on the cost to you, focus on the joy of being part of the good coming to others and the glory coming to God. Also rehearse all of the good that God has done to you until your joy over it prompts you to be willing to suffer while He brings good to someone and glory to Himself. We’ll see this worked out in Jonah’s heart in chapter 2 after he gets 3 days of quality time to think!
What I mean is that in every situation that comes upon us, we recognize that God has ordained it (Eph 1:11) and because God is good, then it is right for us to be in that difficult situation. This is the redeemed way of thinking about difficult situations. This thinking is necessary if we are going to apply James 1 so that in the midst of trials we rejoice in the Lord. How else can we “consider it all joy…when [we] encounter various trials” (James 1:2)? This is also what Peter said in 1 Pet 1:6-7, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of you faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Jesus’ glory is what makes it worth it!
What area of your life is off limits to God? That is, where do you think, “Lord, I’ll serve You and follow You as long as you don’t go there”? Which of God’s ways unsettles you?