And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Jonah 2:10-3:4
What we have seen thus far from the prophet Jonah is not too encouraging. He is willing to prophecy when he can tell the folks at home, “We win!” When the message is one of judgment on a violent enemy, seeking their repentance, Jonah runs away. Even as Jonah suffers a unique, swallowed-by-a-fish consequence for his sin, he unrepentantly presumes on God’s grace.
Given the disobedience of Jonah, God’s next action is simply pure grace. God causes the fish to spit Jonah out onto the shore and offers Jonah a second chance to be the man of God he was called to be in the first place. God again sends him to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, with a repentance-seeking message of judgment. God gives gracious freedom and a gracious second chance.
This time Jonah obeys. He gets up, goes to Nineveh, and says to the city, in essence, “You are all doomed!” What we do not see is repentance for his sin or thankfulness for his deliverance. He does not build an altar for sacrifices as even the pagan sailors had done. Jonah belligerently complies with the command of God. I can even imagine him grumbling to himself on his long walk, trying to figure out how to do as little as possible to meet the letter of God’s command.
The grace God continues to show Jonah is good news for us as God’s new covenant children. Our calling is not the same as an Old Testament prophet, but we are called to go and make disciples of people who don’t currently love Jesus. How many of us run away from that calling? But God does not strike us dead. He does not pour out His wrath on us. He keeps blessing us and giving us new opportunities to obey.
As we read of Jonah the reluctant prophet, let’s consider how much more joy can be ours if we willingly follow Christ and answer His call to make disciples God graciously spared Jonah the punishment he deserved. God kept using Jonah. Nonetheless, Jonah holds fast to his rebellious heart, and Jonah is miserable.
My prayer for you today is that you will not be like Jonah, but will instead know these words of John H. Sammis to be true:
Trust and obey, for there's no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, 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.
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.
Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
yet I shall again look
upon your holy temple.’
The waters closed in over me to take my life;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
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.
When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the Lord,
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.
But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the Lord!”
And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. Jonah 1:17-2:10
We don’t always pay much attention to the formatting of our Bibles, but we should. Chapter one of Jonah ends with the declaration we have been waiting for since we started reading this familiar book, “the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Jonah was running from the Lord’s call to be a witness to evil Assyria. God used a terrible storm, some religious sailors, and Jonah’s own testimony to get Jonah thrown off the ship. Then God anointed a big fish for ministry—the ministry of prophet-swallowing!
Here is where the formatting comes into play. We are told that Jonah prayed, but his prayer is actually a Hebrew poem! Swallowed by a fish (yuck!), Jonah prays a poem to God. What does the rebellious prophet poetically pray? He declares his faith that God will rescue him from death and bring him again to the temple. He promises that when God does this, he will offer sacrifices of thanksgiving. Sure enough, God causes the anointed fish to vomit Jonah on the beach.
Look once more at Jonah’s prayer. Nowhere does he repent of his sin. There is something about this that is disappointing and all too familiar. Our prayers praise God for His majesty and His faithfulness. We declare our faith that He will deliver us from bad circumstances. Nonetheless, too often we avoid dealing with the elephant in the room: our sin. Jonah’s prayer needs a good dose of Psalm 38 or Psalm 51. The same can be said of many of our prayers. We come to God in our time of need, we ask for help and declare our faith that He will deliver. We even make promises. But we don’t dare look deep into our hearts and deal with our sin in confession and repentance. We are essentially saying, “The world is bad but God is good, so God will deliver me,” when we should also be saying, “I am a rebellious sinner. God forgive me.”
It is never fun to look at the darkness that remains in our hearts; not easy, but extremely beneficial. May we all learn to grieve more for our sin than our circumstances, “for godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” 2 Corinthians 7:10.
I am praying for you,
And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah … Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.
Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. Therefore they called out to the LORD, “O LORD, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.” So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.
Jonah 1:7-16, ESV.
When we read the story of Jonah, we are often so ready for the whale that we fail to notice the amazing events that lead up to it. In the passage before us, we observe what might be interpreted as the conversion of idol-worshipping sailors accomplished through God’s discipline applied to a disobedient prophet!
These sailors are spiritual people. When the storm comes, they pray to their various false gods. They believe that the gods will direct the dice, so they roll to find out who had offended the heavens and brought this disaster upon them. Sure enough, the dice point to Jonah.
Jonah tells them that the dice are right, confessing his sinful rebellion against God’s call to preach to Assyria. The men, now knowing that Yahweh the renowned God of Israel had caused the storm, are terrified. They may even know the tale of how this God brought Israel out of Egypt with plagues and a sea-parting defeat of Egypt. This is not a God to be trifled with. Grasped tightly by fear, they ask the reluctant prophet what to do. Continuing in his rebellion, Jonah does not tell them to turn the ship and take him to Assyria but instead tells them to cast him to his death in the sea. The sailors, only after seeking grace from Yahweh for taking the life of His prophet, do as Jonah directs and toss him overboard. They then sacrifice to Yahweh.
The lesson for us? God will receive the glory He is due, even from the pagan world outside the church. He will use His people to bring Himself that glory. The choice we have is whether we will be used in our obedience and be blessed as God is glorified or be used in our disobedience and suffer discipline as God is glorified. And, given the call of Jonah that serves as the background to his passage, it is no stretch to see this as a matter of obedience or disobedience in evangelism. Will we be obedient disciple-makers, celebrating the glory of God in the salvation of sinners? Or will we be sidelined under God’s corrective discipline as others experience that joy?
I am praying for you today, that you will know the joy that comes with obedience to the call of God.
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose 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, away from the presence of the Lord. But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” Jonah 1:1-6, ESV
Any child who has spent much time at all in a Sunday School class knows the story of Jonah and the whale. It is a fabulous account of a man who is called by God, rejects that call, suffers the consequences, repents and receives grace, and then obeys. That is the Sunday School story. However, there is more in the book of the prophet Jonah than this basic story.
The story of Jonah really begins in 2 Kings 14:25. There we read of Jonah, a prophet during the rule of Jeroboam II of Israel. Jonah prophesies to Israel that she will expand their borders at the expense of her enemies. However, in the book of Jonah God calls Jonah to preach to the hated enemy Assyrians. It is only a few decades before Israel is invaded by this constant enemy. What a turn of events for Jonah: from preaching victory over the enemy at home to being called to preach a message of repentance and forgiveness to that same enemy!
The book of Jonah gets right to the point. God calls; Jonah hops a ship going in the opposite direction. He seems to think he can actually get away from God. God reminds him that he cannot by bringing a nasty storm to bear on the ship. Things look hopeless. The sailors are taking every possible measure to save the ship. They even hold a prayer meeting—praying to their false gods. The captain finds Jonah sleeping through the whole affair and berates him for not adding some prayers to his deity.
At this point let us remember that Jonah is a true prophet of God, already used in the life of Israel. He is a man used to hearing from God and speaking for God to the people of God. But when God calls him to do something distasteful and difficult, Jonah runs. He runs physically and he runs spiritually. The pagan sailors are praying, but their false gods will not save them. Jonah is sleeping. They need a man of God to cry out to the one true God on their behalf. But Jonah is all wrapped up in himself, asleep while everyone around him is engulfed in fear.
Friends, we are in a Jonah moment. Whether it is fear of a virus, fear for the economy, or fear of lost liberties, fear is the word of the day. Those all around us are wrapped up in it. In these days filled with fear, we are called by God to make disciples of all peoples. Sadly, some of us are joining in the fear and behaving like the sinking sailors that surround us, devoting ourselves to their solutions. Others of us are sleeping in the boat, not taking the message of hope to those in fear but instead focusing on ourselves and just hoping it will all be over soon.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not wait for the world to ask for our help. Let us trade in our fear for faith and our indifference for action. Let us repent and proclaim to a fear-filled world that Jesus saves. He saves from something worse than viruses or crashing economies or bad government. Jesus saves sinners from the deadliest of storms, one that leads to eternal destruction. Instead of joining the world in fear, let us off them a message of repentance, forgiveness, and eternal hope.
I am praying for you in this endeavor and I ask that you pray for me as well.
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:20-21, ESV
The author of Hebrews ends his magnificent book with a prayer of benediction for his readers: the saints who first read his book, those who read it through the ages, and us as we continue to read it today.
This prayer has a gospel foundation. “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant …” God has made peace with sinners through the resurrection of the crucified Christ. Our sin had made us enemies of God. His sacrifice and defeat of death lead to our reconciliation and adoption into God’s family. This same Christ now shepherds the sheep. He not only rescues His people, but, through His Holy Spirit, nurtures and cares for them. God has given us the greatest gift of all in Christ and here the author is asking for even more!
His prayer has a righteous request. “Now may the God of peace . . . equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.” He is asking God to equip us with all we need in order to accomplish God’s will in this world! Since God’s will is righteous, this equipping is “with everything good”! This equipping will not only bring about God’s will in this world, but it will also bring about His will in us and make us “pleasing in His sight”! Finally, this equipping will do the best work of all: it will bring glory to Jesus that He will enjoy forever!
This is my prayer for you today:
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.