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Jonah 1-4 Listen
Introduction to Jonah
At some point before the fall of Israel in 721 B.C. to the Assyrians found in II Kings 17 (see notes), Jonah was directed by God to go to the Assyrian capital, Ninevah and preach to them. We know from II Kings 14:23-29 (see notes) that Jonah prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C.) in Israel. Jonah's name appears in II Kings 14:25, "He restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, which was of Gathhepher."
Jonah! Ninevah is that way! (Jonah 1:1-6)
1 Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.
3 But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
4 But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken.
5 Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.
6 So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.
God told Jonah to go preach to the people in the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, Ninevah. They were the contemporary bully empire of the world; their power/influence in the region was growing daily. These are the people who later would overcome the Northern Kingdom (Israel). Ninevah was way east; Jonah, instead, heads way west. He goes to the seacoast town in Israel, Joppa, boards a ship, and heads west across the Mediterranean to Tarshish - no Ninevah for this prophet!
Ninevah was over 600 miles away from Israel to the northeast, and those wicked people were a threat to Israel. While it is difficult for the captain of the ship to identify the exact problem when the storm arises and threatens the safety of the ship, he is distressed by the fact that everyone is frantically praying to their respective deities for deliverance except Jonah; he's sound asleep. To the captain, that's just not normal conduct; it's conduct that deserves some extra investigation. Get the picture: The crew is throwing cargo into the water while calling out to their gods; Jonah is sleeping; that really isn't normal...is it?
Jonah wins the lottery! (Jonah 1:7-17)
7 And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah.
8 Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou?
9 And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.
10 Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.
11 Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous.
12 And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.
13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.
14 Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee.
15 So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.
16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.
17 Now 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.
We're not certain of the exact procedure for casting lots, but we do know it looked like gambling to the casual observer. They gathered around and threw something resembling dice to make decisions - important decisions. When the life-threatening storm came, the terrified people on the ship cast lots to determine the identity of the culprit bringing upon them the wrath of nature. The casting of lots identifies Jonah.
Upon speaking with Jonah after the casting of lots, they observe a cool, calm Jonah who simply tells them his story, including his flight from Jehovah. He gives them the solution to their potential loss-of-life problem at hand, "Just throw me overboard!" At first they reject that notion, but upon realizing that there was no other way to spare their own lives, they do throw him overboard. Jonah picks up another ride...IN A GREAT FISH! He spends three days and three nights in there. This time period is very significant inasmuch as Jesus refers to Jonah's experience in Matthew 12:40 (see notes) with regard to his own whereabouts between the crucifixion and resurrection, "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."
Let's take particular notice here to an interesting point. These other men on the ship start out as polytheists, praying to their own gods and referencing the one true God of Jonah as "thy God" in verse 6. However, by the time their harrowing cruise experience is over, they're calling upon the one true God, Jehovah, in verses 16-18. They even make sacrifices to the one true God. That was some pretty effective lifestyle evangelism, wouldn't you say?
Jonah prays and the fish blows chunks (Jonah 2)
1 Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly,
2 And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.
3 For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.
4 Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.
5 The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head.
6 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.
7 When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.
8 They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.
9 But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.
10 And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.
Nothing like being in the belly of a big fish to get you praying - what a ride! We find Jonah's prayer of repentance here; it culminates in verse 9 when Jonah says, "But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD." Though Jonah does not tell us what he had vowed, the context implies that it involved complete obedience. God acknowledges Jonah's prayer and makes the fish sick - blows Jonah right out onto dry land. Toward Ninevah he heads.
It's off to Ninevah! (Jonah 3:1-5)
1 And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying,
2 Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.
3 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.
4 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.
5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
It takes awhile to get there, but Ninevah was a very large city as cities go back then. The city itself took three days to walk - either from one side to the other or around it, and it had an estimated population of 120,000 (4:11). He experiences a great response to his preaching of doom and gloom...on its way to Ninevah in forty days if they don't repent. Notice the response of the residents of Ninevah in verse 5, "So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them." As a matter of fact, it was the King of Ninevah that proclaimed the fast.
The people in Ninevah repent! (Jonah 3:6-10)
6 For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:
8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.
9 Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?
10 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.
The prophets to Israel should have had so much success. The folks in Ninevah repent...BIG TIME! They all respond, from the King of Ninevah all the way down to the little people. God, as a result, delays his judgment on them by a half-century or so. Notice Jonah 3:10, "And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not." How much more success can an evangelist expect?
Jonah is not happy with his success (Jonah 4)
1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
2 And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.
3 Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.
4 Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry?
5 So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.
6 And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.
7 But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.
8 And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.
9 And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.
10 Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:
11 And 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?
Verse 1 says it all, "But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry." What's up with this? The prophets of Israel and Judah preach to their own people, and they reject God's word. Jonah preaches to these heathen strangers, and they turn to God. He's so upset about his success, he asks God to just go ahead and take his life in verse 3, and again in verse 8 when he says, "It is better for me to die than to live." These Assyrians had previously visited a town near Jonah as conquerors, and he did not want these people to prosper. Jonah, just deal with it! God has spoken and spared the lives of these repentant Assyrians - at least for a few dozen years or so. The Assyrians did terrorize Israel and it's neighbors at the end of that century. The Northern Kingdom of Israel fell to them in 721 B.C. seen in II Kings 17 (see notes),
It's interesting that the Book of Jonah ends without actually scratching Jonah's itch. As far as we know, Jonah may have mourned his success until the day he died. It just goes to show you: God's ways are not our ways. Any one of us may some day be called upon by God to minister in areas we personally find unnecessary or distasteful. We don't have to agree or even understand; we just need to obey God!