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Jonah 1-4     Listen Podcast

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 territory of Israel from the entrance of Hamath to the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which He had spoken through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet who was from Gath Hepher."

Jonah! Ninevah is that way! (Jonah 1:1-6)

1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”
3 But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
4 ¶ But the LORD sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.
5 ¶ Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.
6 ¶ So the captain came to him, and said to him, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.”

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 it?

Jonah wins the lottery! (Jonah 1:7-17)

7 ¶ And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.
8 Then they said to him, “Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?”
9 ¶ So he said to them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
10 ¶ Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “Why have you done this?” For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.
11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?”—for the sea was growing more tempestuous.
12 ¶ And he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.”
13 ¶ Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them.
14 Therefore they cried out to the LORD and said, “We pray, O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O LORD, have done as it pleased You.”
15 So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.
16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took vows.
17 ¶ Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow 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 Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will 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 "your 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 to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly.
2 And he said:
“I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction,
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 floods surrounded me;
All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.
4 Then I said, “I have been cast out of Your sight;
Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’
5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul;
The deep closed around me;
Weeds were wrapped around my head.
6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains;
The earth with its bars closed behind me forever;
Yet You have brought up my life from the pit,
O LORD, my God.
7 “When my soul fainted within me,
I remembered the LORD;
And my prayer went up to You,
Into Your holy temple.
8 “Those who regard worthless idols
Forsake their own Mercy.
9 But I will sacrifice to You
With the voice of thanksgiving;
I will pay what I have vowed.
Salvation is of the LORD.”
10 ¶ So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto 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 to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what 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 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying,
2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.”
3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent.
4 And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
5 ¶ So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest 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, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest 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 Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.
7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water.
8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.
9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?
10 ¶ Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.

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, "Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it." 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 became angry.
2 So he prayed to the LORD, and said, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.
3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”
4 ¶ Then the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
5 ¶ So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city.
6 And the LORD God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant.
7 But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered.
8 And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
9 ¶ Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” ¶ And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”
10 ¶ But the LORD said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night.
11 And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?”

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!