An Overview of the Book of Jonah
Jonah’s Great God
An Overview of the Book of Jonah
Jonah’s Great God
Jonah is the true story of a godly man who couldn’t make sense out of what God was asking him to do. Instead of seeking the Lord’s help with this major problem, Jonah ran from the Lord. Jonah is brought to repentance, is used greatly by God, but has a spiritual meltdown over it. The Lord exposes sin deep within Jonah’s heart and called him to adopt the Lord’s compassion.
Jonah ends his story before a resolution is reached. We are left feeling uncomfortable, with glaring questions. I believe the Holy Spirit wants the abrupt ending to leave us wondering what happened next so that we give more attention to the lesson. Jonah doesn’t tie it up neatly and let us move on. No, he leaves us hanging so that the rebuke he received is ever ready to rebuke us. Are we content not being like God in one way or another? Jonah’s message should be your constant companion, ready to prick you when you refuse to change.
We need Jonah! Jonah’s lesson is broader than a call to missions or evangelism. While it applies to those, it touches on every area of our lives. God works in our hearts, searching out every nook and cranny for sin to root out or for faith that needs strengthening. Sometimes gentle grace is all that is needed. At other times strong, sovereign grace is needed to root out stubborn sins, take down rebellious idols or to strip us of what we trust in so that we will trust only in the Lord.
Because God’s work in us can be so unsettling in those difficult times, we need the message of Jonah: believers must entrust themselves to God’s ways. We’ve seen how Jonah’s story guides us in this. His story really is about His great God. Think back over his four chapters with me.
Chapter 1 – Yahweh alone must be feared. Jonah didn’t fear Yahweh in an area of his life. There was one thing he simply wasn’t willing to do. But he found that he couldn’t run from God. God sovereignly used His creation—the winds, waves and a whale—to show Jonah that he must fear nothing but God. God works all things around us in order to accomplish His work in us and in those around us. Jonah found himself in the belly of a great fish to think this all over.
Chapter 2 – Yahweh gives us hope. Once He has accomplished His work, Yahweh answers the prayers of those He brings to repentance. From the belly of the fish Jonah came to his senses, humbled himself before God and repented of his rebellion. He was then ready to obey what he once found despicable. There is always hope for sinners as long as they have breath.
Chapter 3 – Yahweh produces real change in us. Prompted by Jonah’s preaching, God brought the wicked Ninevites to repentance. Jonah presents a detailed picture of their response. From it we learned that genuine repentance is observable. The king of Ninevah realized that if they were to change, it would have to be God who produces that change in them (Jonah 3:8). In this way, Yahweh brings glory to Himself when others see the changes He produces in us.
Chapter 4 – Yahweh’s sovereign grace penetrates deeply within the heart of every believer to remake them into His image. Jonah had quite a meltdown, angry at God and depressed. Yahweh once again used His creation to teach Jonah that he must learn to desire what Yahweh desires. This time God used a plant, a worm and a scorching wind to teach Jonah. What amazing grace, where God can take something so wretched like you and me and make us to shine with the righteousness of Christ!
God works wonderfully within us and accomplishes glorious changes. Yet, another thing we learn from Jonah is that the process is often very difficult and lays us low. Why? It isn’t because God is rough. No, it’s because change doesn’t come easily. Our sin is so deeply rooted within our hearts that it can be quite painful to pull out those roots. We shouldn’t be too hard on Jonah because we each face similar situations that seem to us to be just too much. We too easily take our eyes off of our great God when we see difficult trials coming our way.
But therein is the key: to keep our eyes on the glorious character of our great God. He has everything in His control. He is all wise. He is perfectly good. He is faithful to His promises.
We’ve already noted that the overall lesson of Jonah’s book is that believers must entrust themselves to God’s ways. We must rest peacefully in what He is doing in our lives. Peter encourages suffering saints undergoing “fiery ordeals” with this: “let those who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Pet 4:19).
Our sense of judgment, our sense of what is right, often clashes with God’s. Jonah rightly saw that a righteous God punishes sin. He rightly saw that a merciful God forgives sin when repentance takes place. But Jonah’s own sense of judgment kicked into gear and found fault with God because this transaction affected him personally. So he didn’t think it was right for God to forgive the people who will later hurt the ones he loves. We must remember that it is God who establishes what is right. Our own idea of what is right is often tainted by sin. But God is always perfectly right in what He does. We must trust in that.
Entrust yourself to God who always does what is right. To think about this rightly, use the eternal perspective Kevin taught us from Ps 73 a couple weeks ago. Jonah knew that in time, his nation and his loved ones would suffer greatly at the hands of the Assyrians. He simply didn’t want to be part of God’s plan to spare the Ninevites who would later destroy his nation and carry his people into captivity. But Jonah’s people NEED God to chastise them for their wicked ways. While no one likes the idea that God will chastise their loved ones, it often needs to happen. And we must trust that God knows what is the best method to use. He always does what is right.
Let me break this down for us so that we can learn to see things from God’s perspective. What we want is to re-train our thinking so that we can take advantage of God’s resources to help us through these difficult times, so that we become more like Him, and so that we better glorify Him.
Look eternally. Remind yourself during difficult times that God is working with eternal goals in mind. He wants to draw unbelievers to Himself. We saw this in the sailors and the Ninevites. Also, He is working to remake believers into His likeness. He wants a people for Himself who are like Him. He wants to spend eternity with them. We saw God work real change in Jonah. Ultimately it is all for Gods’ glory, so that men will come to fear Him (Jonah 1:16) and declare His praise (Jonah 2:9).
Look inwardly. Consider what God may be doing in your soul. God first brought Jonah to repentance, then to obedience, then worked to bring Jonah to have the same kind of compassion that God has for lost souls. Do this early in the process. Jesus taught us in Mt 7 to take the log out of our own eye first. That is, deal with your sin before helping your brother with his sin. Also, be encouraged that God is working to benefit YOU, as He had done in Jonah (chs. 2, 4).
Look outwardly. Be encouraged that the trials are also for the sake of other people around you. We know that God works these things together for good to those who love Him. What may seem like YOUR trial is more typically a trial shared by many who are in your life. God also uses your situation to draw unbelievers to Himself as God did through Jonah in chs 1 and 3. We saw how God interconnects our lives so that He uses all the moving pieces of all of our lives together to work in us both individually and corporately.
Look upwardly. Trials should always turn you to God in worship. We saw Jonah do this when he came to repentance in ch. 2. From the belly of the fish he praised God with the voice of thanksgiving (Jonah 1:9). If Jonah had turned his thoughts about God’s attributes (Jonah 4:2) into worship at the very beginning, it would have led him to think differently about this difficult situation God had put him in.
As we’ve seen from Jonah’s experience, this is very hard to do. Life hurts. The prospect of what God was calling Jonah to do was so grievous in Jonah’s mind that he chose to run away from God. Away from God is always the wrong direction. Sure, God’s plan for you often will bring pain and grief. But we must run toward Him more vigorously in those times. We need to cling to Him more tightly. We must lean on Him more fully. And so one more point of application…
Look expectantly. Look to your Father who loves you, for the help you need to see you through. Cling to the promises He makes to His children: “For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayers” (1 Pet 3:12); “casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you” (1 Pet 5:7). Turn over to Ps 62:5-8 [read].
When God is on the move in your life, don’t run away. Instead, run more deeply into His love.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!
(Samuel Trevor Francis)