In most survival stories the recurring theme is that of determination and a never give up attitude.In this particular story, most of these qualities were found not in the Survivor but in the Saviour.
Jonah did indeed show determination, but it was not shown in an act of heroism but in the desire to get away from fulfilling the distasteful mission God had called him to.
We know very little about Jonah: If he were only mentioned in the book of his name we might have been able to consign him to history as an ancient version of Lemuel Gulliver and his travels, and to be just as fictional. However the mention of a fulfilled prophecy by the prophet recorded in 2 Kings 14:25, as well as our Lord’s speaking of Jonah’s mission and miraculous deliverance in Matthew 12:39-41 confirm that he was a historical person.
The reason for Jonah’s flight from the Lord is not immediately apparent from the first few chapters of the book.
The fact that there was a ship leaving Joppa at just the right time and to a place such as Tarshish which was sufficiently far away, may have given the “reluctant” prophet the real hope that he would get away with it and beyond the immediate purposes of God.
Jonah was enough of a believer and devout Jew to know that no amount of distance could take him away from the presence of God; rather he sought to distance himself from the hated city which was to be his mission field.
Shunning the ship’s crew as well as God, the darkness of the Hold and the rocking of the ship sent Jonah soundly to sleep. Yet just as he thought he had succeeded in escaping: God intervened.
God prepares a Storm
One of the recurring themes of this book is highlighted in the term “God prepared”.
It was so violent that the hardened seaman despaired of life and every man sought his gods. Yet the reason for the storm remained sound asleep in the bowels of the ship.
The shipmaster found him and called on him to add his prayer to theirs and the superstitious sailors cast lots to find out who was the cause of this great calamity, the lot falling on Jonah.When this was laid before him he was asked who he was and what terrible thing he had done to deserve such wrath and punishment?
Despite his great lapse from duty into sin, Jonah was a true believer and knew that this peril came from the hand of the Lord God of Israel and was due to his sin. Jonah’s confession of guilt and belief in God point to a true faith, although under a cloud.
Jonah told them that only way to save the ship and crew, was for him as the guilty party, to pay the penalty of his guilt had to be thrown overboard.
To the credit of their humanity, the heathen sailors made one last effort to row the ships out of danger, but to no avail. They reluctantly and prayerfully threw the prophet into the sea. At this the supernatural tempest immediately ceased.
The Belly of Sheol
God’s mastery His creation is seen again in the “preparation” of the great fish, (not a whale).
As I think I have mentioned before, my friend Reverend Keith Allen, used this event as an illustration that God always provides accommodation, but it is not always three stars.
In the belly of this fish Jonah after his near death experience began to come to his senses and sought the Lord his God.
” Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, 2 saying,
“I called out to the Lord, out of my distress,
and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.
3 For you cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
4 Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
yet I shall again look
upon your holy temple.’
5 The waters closed in over me to take my life;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
6 at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
O Lord my God.
7 When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the Lord,
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
8 Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.
9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the Lord!”
10 And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.
Jonah ch 2 .English Standard Version (ESV)
It is an old saying that “man’s extremity is God’s opportunity” and yet how hard our hearts must be ,if we always have to be at the “last gasp” and “death’s door” before we turn in repentance and faith to our God and Saviour.
“All ashore that going ashore!”
So Jonah found himself in the very city God had called him to go to in the first place, the enemy stronghold of Nineveh capital of the hated Assyrians.
The prophet’s message was one of impending judgment and the cities destruction within the space of forty days.
One would have thought this was the sort of message which would have pleased Jonah and his hatred for the enemy. There was no gospel of salvation or deliverance here and no call to repentance. Yet amazingly, from the king downward even to the very livestock, repent is what they did. Based on little more than a vain hope, the Ninevites clothed themselves in sackcloth and hoped and pleaded for mercy from a god they did not know, and mercy is what they received.
” 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.” Jonah 3:10
God’s mercy and Jonah’s anger.
For all his faults Jonah knew his God, he knew that even the outward show of repentance moved the heart of God. Judgment is His strange work and is always stayed by confession and repentance and grace and mercy imparted to the returning sinner.
All this meant to the Patriotic prophet was that the sworn enemy of his own people, (the Jews) was not to be destroyed after all but was to be spared its well deserved condemnation.
He was not at all happy about it.
“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
5 Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.” Jonah 4:1-5
In the hope that God might change His mind again, Jonah remonstrated with Him about the over wideness of His mercy and asked for the death he had only just escaped in the sea. Having done this the prophet took a ring side seat outside the city , built a flimsy shelter, and waited to see what God would do.
Ironically Nineveh had learnt its lesson but the prophet was about to learn his.
The Gourd and the Worm
God prepared a gourd. It was of sufficient size to shelter the prophet from the unbearable heat of that Middle Eastern day and was a great comfort to this disgruntled man. Yet as quickly as it grew it withered again as a result of God’s preparing a worm. (How much of the providence of God is seen in the small things as well as the large).
Without the gourd the prophet was unprotected from the scorching east wind which was prepared and sent by God as well.
The prophet fainted under this onslaught and repeated his prayed death wish and lamented the loss of the gourd.
This misguided but still beloved servant of the Lord did not have long to wait for the object lesson of all these events.
” And the Lord said, “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. 11 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?”Jonah 4:10-11
Hopefully although we are not told as much, Jonah learned his lesson and returned to a life of obedience.
The application to Jonah may be obvious but what about the lesson for us? I will try and name a few.
1: We can never stymie or frustrate the will of God. Whenever we try to outrun and escape the purposes of God, We will find Him before us as well as behind us.We seek to thwart him and disobey at our spiritual peril.
He is prepared to meet any and all circumstances and events, no matter how scary or daunting to us.
God’s divine wisdom chooses the best way and the surest methods to accomplish His precious will.
2: God’s judgment is a sure reality to the impenitent and His grace mercy and forgiveness just as real to the returning sinner.
3: The believer’s true joy and peace lie in seeking, obeying and joyful resignation to God’s revealed and blessed will.
The Use of the Bible in Evangelism.
Some people in this post- Christian age have questioned the value of the Bible in modern evangelism.
In past times people, whether they believed it or not, had some respect if only sentimental one for the Bible. This is no longer the case; the Bible is widely regarded as a book like any other, full of fanciful stories and marred by error.
For modern man the teaching and morality of the Bible is no longer relevant or valid and therefore is not given any real credence.
So some believe, that for Christians to resort to the Bible as an authority is self defeating, when speaking to a society and culture to which does not accept its inspiration and divine authorship.
What makes this situation worse is that large sections of the Church have sidelined and minimized any in depth exposition and preaching of the scriptures.
When they do appear in the service it is usually in the form of a modern paraphrase and taken in isolation from its scriptural context and taken to mean something different from its original understanding by the evangelical church.
It seems we are half ashamed of accepting the Bible as the Word of God in its entirety, but stick with those parts we can adjust to meet the “zeitgeist” of the age and still get people into church and profess nominal Christianity.
The Book of Jonah is one book which more than any other, has been a constant source of embarrassment to the world -sensitive sections of the church. They would have been happier if the story of the ‘prophet- swallowing” great fish had been forgotten about long ago.
The idea has long been current that the Bible is not literally the Word of God but rather contains the Word of God. The analogy being, that of a rusty pipe through which the Word flows but does not become truly inspired until it becomes God’s word to you.
In the age of relativism in which we live, this means that the advocates of this doctrine can use those sections of the Bible that are more acceptable to modern man, to draw people to a form of “Christian” belief without the embarrassment of accepting the miraculous or unpalatable . The idea being that some portions of scripture carry more weight than others in the balance of probability and truth and that you can hold some of but not necessarily the entire Bible as inspired.
Those less credible or relevant sections of the Bible are shown as merely well meaning attempts to impart spiritual truth in the form of parable and object lessons, thus circumventing any need to believe as factual the miraculous side of them.
There is just enough of the scripture left for the modern believer to still profess Christianity without having to proclaim those portions of the Bible, which his unbelieving neighbors find incredible or offensive.
When man himself becomes the arbiter of which parts of the Bible he will accept, the result is that all certainty goes out of the window and the Bible is shorn of all its divine inspiration and power. The Christianity that results becomes a shadow and travesty of what it was in the Days of the Apostles.
The fact is the Bible is what it is: it has proved time and time again that is the inscripturated Word of God.
Any attempt to separate Jesus Christ from the Holy Spirit breathed record of His life death and resurrection and the Bible in general, is doomed to fail.
Without the Bible, We would not have His divine teaching and the record of His spotless life.
The great and numerous miracles He performed, while a stumbling block to many, remain the great validation of Christ’s divine mission for the Salvation of mankind. His enemies, during His lifetime could not gain-say or deny His mighty works and the continuance of Christ’s power in the church throughout the ages, despite all its enemies, cannot be gain-sayed now.
All of God’s mighty work through Christ in the Church, from first to last, has stood on the foundation of the Scriptures as the Word of God, both to the Jews who had the “Law” and to the Gentiles who had not the “Law”.
The Old Testament which many (with the exception of some favourite portions) would relegate to obsolescence, from first to last, lays the foundation upon which the New Testament was laid.
Even this controversial book of Jonah, with all its miraculous events, rings with the loving-kindness of God for men and women who do not know their right hands from their left, thus proving its right to a place in scripture.
Those who have seen and believe in the power of the God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, will not be baulked by the miraculous preservation His prophet by means of a great fish.
To some the Bible carries no weight anymore but to the true Believer it will always be the Word of God.
The True Church!
I have no real idea who reads this blog or their motives for doing so. Perhaps there is more interest in the style rather than the substance, I do not know.
The main purpose in my writing these blogs, is to encourage, teach and remind Christian people of some of the truths and fundamentals of the faith as well as point them to Christ and the scriptures. So I may seem to have little to say to those readers of this blog who do not profess Christianity.
My constant criticism of much that is, to my mind, wrong in the modern church may have a tendency to confirm a belief in these readers that the church of Jesus Christ and therefore the profession of faith in his name, is in such a low condition that they are right in their rejection of Christ’s message of Salvation and spurning the Christian Church because of the charlatan elements claiming to be part of it.
I do question much of what the church believes and does in this day and age.
I acknowledge the desire to bring people into the church and to Christian profession. My concern is, for the wrong methods and lack of real and eternally lasting results.
I fear the tendency to repackage the Christian message into man-pleasing and market driven forms .This tends to distort and ignore Man’s true condition and God’s only way of salvation.
Christ and the Salvation procured on the Cross through His shed blood, remains the only true way of to be saved. Those who truly believe in our wonderful Saviour, and they alone constitute the true Church.
In the past theologians have differentiated between the visible Church and the (true) invisible church.
The visible Church has always been a mixed multitude. Many have differed in the nonessentials of the faith. Some have differed in points of theology and church practice without denying the saving truths and fundamentals of the faith. Some have erred grievously but remained true to Christ if “under a cloud”. Worse than this, some have denied the bedrock doctrines and beliefs of Christianity, sowed error and discord, and yet have always falsely identified themselves as Christians.
Many have felt it safer to reject the Church completely and lived in isolation from it. Others have settled in a local church which they know is erroneous in some ways, and closed their eyes to these deviations for the sake of Christian harmony and fellowship.
It is a great problem finding a Bible believing church in this day and age. Sadly, it is enough for some that the Church believes it even if they do not in any meaningful way preach it.
When people sell a car and declare the price they want they still add O.N.O (or nearest offer). Unfortunately today if we cannot find the ideal church we may have to settle for the nearest offer.
We are not perfect ourselves so we cannot reasonably expect any local church to be perfect. We must judge by the intention and the openness it displays. I mean by this, is its intention to follow Christ fully and faithfully? Is it faithful to its understanding of Bible teaching and willing to be convinced by the Word of errors and falsehoods? Is the Word of God fully and faithfully expounded? Is prayer at the centre of all it does? Do we see the fruits of the “Spirit” in the members? These are things we should seek in any church, without them it has very little claim to being a church at all.
God’s people may be getting harder to find, but when we find them we should stick to them. As the coal taken from the fire quickly goes cold, so does the warmth of our faith and Christian life goes cold in isolation no matter how sincere we are.