Jonah Defies His Great God
Jonah Defies His Great God
Jonah had a problem. He served a God who is “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:2). Now you wouldn’t think that God’s incredibly wonderful character would be such a big problem for a child of God.
Jonah was a godly prophet (2 Kgs 14:25). But there was an area in his heart where he wasn’t willing to submit to God’s ways. God wanted to bring grace and mercy to a wicked pagan city. God wanted to involve Jonah in displaying His glorious grace and mercy but it would cost Jonah and those whom he loved. A generation of Ninevites after Jonah were used by God to destroy Israel and carry survivors into captivity (2 Kgs 17:5-6). Jonah knew this was coming (Hos 11:5; Amos 5:27).
Jonah didn’t want to be a part of God’s plan to save pagans if it meant that Jonah would also be part of God’s plan to chastise Israel. He must have felt that the cost to himself was too great to bear. He refused to play an indirect role in the death, torture or captivity of his children and grandchildren.
Often we find that don’t line up with God’s ways (Isa 55:8-9). And we may think the situation is just too painful to endure. So like Jonah we can feel that the cost to us is just too high. Sure, God is faithful, wise and good and wants to do something wonderful through us. But what He’s asking us to do can seem to be too scary, too difficult or too painful for our liking.
Like Jonah, we are tempted to think we can actually tell God ‘No!’ And like a child who is in trouble, we think we can run for it. Our view of God may be wonderful enough. Our problem is that our view of God isn’t big enough. God will teach us so that we will submit to His authority.
Yahweh alone must be feared. In chapter 1 this morning we will encounter pagan sailors who fear anyone BUT the one true God. And we will encounter a prophet who fears Yahweh in word only. True fear is what God is aiming for in both. Jonah 1 provides us with four logical steps that people must go through to recognize that Yahweh alone must be feared. The sailors will learn first.
In our study, I will be reading “Yahweh” where you see the name “Lord” in all capital letters. In your Bible, when the names “Lord” or “God” appear in all caps, what is written in the Hebrew text is actually God’s personal name, Yahweh. Translators followed later Jewish tradition to not say God’s personal name out of fear they might say it in vain. But that isn’t what God meant. We just need to avoid carelessly using His name. Yahweh is being contrasted with pagan gods.
Jonah isn’t the main character. God is. G. Campbell Morgan explained, “Men have been looking so hard at the great fish that they have failed to see the great God” (The Minor Prophets (1960), p. 69). Yahweh has the first and last word. We find Yahweh in control of His creation. The four chapters are structured around the different ways that Jonah responded to God’s sovereign goodness: disobedience, prayer, obedience, pouting. Jonah needed to learn that…
I. Yahweh has authority to command (Jonah 1-3).
Ninevah, the great city. The words “great” and “greatly” occur frequently with: city (1:2, 3:2, 4:11), wind (1:4), storm (1:12), fear (1:16), fish (1:17), displeased (4:1), happy (4:6). For the thinking reader, the point is that the One who is in control of great things is the ultimate in greatness.
Ninevah was located on the east bank of the Tigris river (modern day Mosul, Iraq). It was a formidable city with both an outer wall and an inner wall. The inner wall was 50 feet wide! Its soldiers were unusually cruel. Nahum characterized the city as bloody, full of lies and witchcraft. And so Yahweh reports that their wickedness has come up before Me. They had been so relentless in their cruelty of others and for so long that God will bring judgment upon them soon.
God gave Jonah three commands: “Arise, go to Ninevah and cry against it”. There is no doubt about what Jonah was to do. But Jonah thought, “I will rise up and go alright, but not to Ninevah! I’m fleeing from the presence of the Lord”. Why did Jonah flee Yahweh’s presence?
The true God is omnipresent—everywhere at all times. David confessed in Ps 139:7-12 that he couldn’t go anywhere to flee from Yahweh’s presence. If he could fly to heaven, Yahweh is right there. If he descended to Sheol, Yahweh is right there. So what is going on here?
- God’s presence is the place of rich blessing and intimacy with God. Being in an active, vibrant relationship with God avails us of the good things that He provides. Ps 16:11 “in Your presence is fulness of joy…pleasures forever”. God’s presence is the place of joy and gladness (Ps 21:6), of hope and help (42:5), of light and favor (44:3).Jonah wants no part of God’s blessing if God spares Ninevah.
- Also, God’s presence is a place that instills godly fear and reverence. Why is it so fearful? Moses said in Ps 90:8 it is there in God’s presence that our secret sins are exposed. David opened Ps 139, “O Yahweh, You have searched me and known me…You understand my thought…You scrutinize my path…are intimately acquainted with all my ways”. Jonah didn’t want God digging around in his heart and changing him to think differently on this. So, Jonah boarded a ship at Joppa (modern day Jaffa, near Tel Aviv) and sailed in the opposite direction of Ninevah.
II. Yahweh has sovereign power to control ( Jonah 4-6).
God is absolutely sovereign over His creation. Yahweh hurled a great wind onto the sea. Because this took place well before the season for serious storms on the Mediterranean, the sailors assumed that it was sent by one of the gods. So they begin going through their religious address book trying to figure out which god was causing it. Jonah is fast asleep, oblivious to the trouble he is causing. When we rebel against God, we are often oblivious to the trouble we cause others around us.
John Hannah writes, “Ironically, a pagan ship captain had to call a man of God to prayer…What an object lesson to God’s people then and now to awaken from apathy as crying people perish on the sea of life” (p. 1466). So Yahweh has authority to command and power to control. That means…
III. People are powerless against Yahweh (Jonah 7-14).
Since their prayers aren’t working, the men assume that one of the gods is angry with someone on the ship. So they cast lots to see who. Yahweh caused the lot to fall on Jonah. So they pelted him with questions to determine the cause.
In 1:9 Jonah told them, “I fear Yahweh, God of heaven.” In rebellion, there is an area of his soul that isn’t operating out of godly fear. The fear of the Lord involves humility, submission, obedience, growing in biblical wisdom. The “fear of Yahweh” had deteriorated into nothing more than a religious preference. The term God of heaven distinguishes Yahweh from the sailors’ regional gods.
Ancient pagan religions believed that the gods tried to subdue the chaos but didn’t completely control it. Jonah presented the true God as the One who actually CREATED the seas and the land. In other words, Yahweh is Creator of everything. Ps 95:5 “The sea is His, for it was He who made it, and His hands formed the dry land.” He is absolutely sovereign over all of nature. When the sailors ask, What have you done? They seem to be more aware of the seriousness of his rebellion than the prophet is! They also are aware that he has carelessly put their lives in danger.
Since he was Yahweh’s prophet, they asked him what to do to him to stop the storm. The Jews “had a horror of suicide” (William L. Banks, Jonah The Reluctant Prophet, p. 40) so Jonah said that if they threw him overboard that the sea would become calm. But they attempted to return him to land, possibly hoping to put Jonah back on Yahweh’s path. Literally, their rowing involved an intensity where they dug the oars into the water. Like Jonah, they tried to solve problems in their own power.
But God didn’t want a disobedient prophet. He knew what Jonah needed was to spend three days and nights in a cozy room on his own private yacht for some quality time to think it over! God will do whatever it takes to accomplish His work in us. Those whom He loves, He disciplines (Heb 12). He is at work in us to accomplish His purposes (Phil 2:13), to complete His work in us (Phil 1:6).
So the sailors realized that Jonah was right. They called out to Yahweh as the One who was in control. They only asked that they not be held accountable for Jonah’s death.
IV. Therefore people will submit to Yahweh’s authority (Jonah 15-17).
When the sailors threw him overboard, the raging sea became still. They stood in awe of Yahweh’s power, feared Yahweh greatly, offered a sacrifice and made vows. When Jesus calmed the sea His disciples asked, “who then is, this that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (Mk 4:41)
Yahweh has brought these pagan sailors to an initial understanding of godly fear. Bruce Waltke explained that this is what the fear of the Lord means to believers: “they believe his promises and love him; they believe his threats and fear him.” (The Book of Proverbs Chapters 1 – 15, p. 101).
Some people find it hard to believe a great fish or whale could swallow Jonah. However, scholars have shown this isn’t farfetched at all. Whales have been found to swallow very large objects like a 15 foot shark. Whale sharks have been found with men still alive in their stomachs.
“Hey Jonah, you thought you could run from God. How’s that working out for you?” Does that illustrate your life in some way? What part of your life or thinking needs to come in line with God’s? Will you be willing to let God do that or are you running?