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Jonah’s Gracious God

May 6th, 2012 by Vic

May 6, 2012

“Jonah’s Gracious God”


1. Jonah’s plight shows God’s patience.

2. Jonah’s prayer shows God’s power.

3. Jonah’s preaching shows God’s pardon.

4. Jonah’s pouting shows God’s compassion.


Because it tells of a fish swallowing a man, many have dismissed the book of Jonah as fiction.  But 2 Kings 14:25 mentions Jonah as living during the time of Jeroboam II (about 793–753 b.c.), and Jesus referred to Jonah as a historical person (Matt. 12:39–41).  Unlike other prophetic books, the book of Jonah focuses on the prophet himself rather than the message he preached.  The book lists no author, but only Jonah himself could have known all the facts it records.


Jonah was a committed nationalist, pro-Israel, anti-foreign, dedicated, disciplined, and a strong-willed prophet.  He displays hypocrisy, inconsistency, and childish stubbornness.  He is thankful for the blessings and mercy he receives but reluctant to see his enemies receive the same mercy.  “You should be punished for what you did.  Your sin is worse than mine.”  Jonah hopes all along that God won’t be as consistent with His mercy as He always is.  He did not want to allow God to show compassion toward those he thought did not deserve it.

People who have never read the Bible know enough about Jonah to joke about him and the “whale.”  The story of Jonah has entered our folklore.


One reason that the Jonah story has endured is that Jonah is not a hero or saint.  We can  identify with him—he doesn’t do anything great.  Instead of being held up as an ideal to admire, we find Jonah inept like us.  Even when Jonah does it right (like preaching, finally, in Nineveh) he does it wrong (by getting angry at God).  But the whole time, God is working within and around Jonah’s very ineptness and accomplishing His purposes in him.  The story demonstrates the patience, grace and mercy of our God.  We can learn a lot about God in this story.


Things were not going well for the Ninevites between 773-756 BC.  They had a weak king.  Their military was weak.  Their diplomatic envoys were ineffective.  They experienced famine and riots.  Two major omens occurred during this time, a major earthquake and a solar eclipse.  They assumed all their problems were happening because some god was angry with them.


1:1-2 God commands Jonah to go and preach to the people of Nineveh because God knew there would be no end to their wickedness unless they knew who to repent to and repented.  God’s compassion went out to the city.  God had prepared their hearts to hear about the God who controls the rain, the earth and the sun.  An advance warning by a prophet meant there was a possibility for repentance and avoiding the coming destruction.  (God has warned us too.)


1:3 Jonah went, but in the opposite direction.  It may be that Jonah knew there were plenty of other prophets around and assumed God would prefer a willing prophet.  Jonah wanted no part of God trying to bless these wicked neighbors to the NE.  God was the God of the Israelites.  Jonah did not want to hear God’s call again so he decided to get out of Israel and head west.


1:4-16 God ‘threw’ a great wind at the sea soon after they left port.  The wind was obviously from God.  The sailors knew it was a god thing and tried to row back to shore because it was still in sight.  During this whole event the sailors are willing to do whatever God wants, as soon as they find out.  Jonah does not want to hear from God.  He already knows what God wants.


The frenzy of the sailors contrasts the sleep of Jonah.  Sleep is often a symptom of depression.  Jonah had just decided to end his career and exile himself from family and country.


The captain assumed that everyone had a personal god on whom he would call in time of calamity.  The captain’s concern is to appease some god somewhere to quiet the storm.


The dice sailors used were alternating light and dark sided.  Two dark sides up meant “no”.  Two light sides up meant “yes”.  A light and a dark meant roll again.  God chose the dice to work according to His plan.  The dice identified Jonah.  The sailors immediately want to know about Jonah’s God.  They were terrified and amazed that Jonah would disobey the God who made the sea and the land.  If he really believed in that God, why would he consider disobedience?


Jonah recognized that his attempt to get away from God is futile.  He resigned himself to being punished and killed by the God he could not outrun.  He did not repent and promise God he would now go to Nineveh.  He was a committed nationalist.


The sailors wanted Jonah off the ship, but tried to get closer to shore so he could swim back.  Shedding ‘innocent blood’ was a serious crime in those days, especially without a trial.  But if Jonah’s God wanted him killed they would help Him do what He wants and add Him to their list of gods.


God threw the wind.  God controlled the dice.  God calmed the sea.


1:17-2:10 God is still in control.  The fish simply does what it is told.  When Jonah realizes he is not dead, he prays some psalms for 3 days and 3 nights.  It was a popular belief that it took 3 days for a dead person to reach Sheol.  Probably Jonah was still expecting to die.


Jonah thanks God for being with him and delivering him from his own death sentence.  God heard Jonah repeating the Psalms.  God is in charge of salvation.  Jonah doesn’t decide whom God ought to save or not.  Jonah asks for and deserved death, not deliverance and yet God graciously delivered him.  Nineveh also deserves death, not deliverance.  But they will take God’s word to heart and repent as soon as they hear it.  Jonah didn’t repent.


3:1-3 God repeats His commission to go.  God brought Jonah back where it all started and His command has not changed.  Jonah has no option but to obey.  He must resign himself to the fact that God is concerned for Nineveh.  God’s compassion has not changed to please Jonah.  But Jonah is still hoping that the Ninevites will not repent and God will not spare the city.  He had learned his lesson about trying to avoid the call of God, but there is no indication that his prejudice has changed.


3:4-10 Jonah preached.  Nineveh repented.  God spared the city for another 40 years.  God was concerned for the city.


Nineveh was a “three day visit city”.  Diplomatic protocol required gifts to city officials on his arrival the first day.  There may have been formal hearings to explain the primary purpose of his visit.  The second day was to complete his purpose for coming.  The third day was to wrap up the project, say good byes and leave.


Jonah preached exactly what God told him to preach.  40 days meant ‘dozens’ or ‘a good many’.  It does not require a literal 40.  His message was, “In 40 days Nineveh will have a change of heart.”  That could suggest a reversal, a turning upside down, or a change of royalty.


The king and the people acted on the message they heard.  God’s word was taken seriously at all levels.  This message confirmed that what they suspected was true.  The natural disasters were warning them of a greater punishment to come.  The king called for extreme fasting.  By showing the genuineness of their repentance they hoped God would be merciful to them.  They did not believe that their sincerity could make God act on their behalf, but hoped that God would change His mind.


When Nineveh repented, God relented.  Their repentance was acceptable to God.  We have no record that they became monotheists.  Most of the people probably remained polytheistic, syncretistic pantheists.  Their theology was poor and inadequate, but their actions and faith were evidence that they honored God and were thankful.  Jonah’s mission had a wonderful effect.


4:1-4 This paragraph probably occurs after Jonah had waited 40 days and the city was not destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah had been.  This was absolutely disgusting to Jonah.  He hated what God had done (or had not done).  He was mad because God had shown mercy to the enemy.  To his horror, God loved the Ninevites.  He had heard their prayers and accepted their repentance.


Jonah knew that God could do what He wanted to do, but he did not think it was fair.  God should be just, not merciful.  He argues with God, complaining of His goodness.  He tells God to take his life because he does not want to live in a world where God forgives His enemies.


With a very bad attitude Jonah prayed and God listened.  God ignored his request to die and asked, “What are you mad about?”  God is taking time to teach a couple lessons.


4:5-11 Now we see that during the time while Jonah was waiting for the fireworks display God was confronting Jonah about his poor theology.


Jonah probably had to go quite a ways out of the city to find materials for a shelter, but he needed to be near a road to buy food.  His shelter was probably stone walls.  Like He did with the fish, God acted on Jonah’s behalf and sent a plant to deliver him from trouble.  (God has already decided to deliver Nineveh from trouble.)  Jonah was very happy about the vine (6).  It was very valuable to Jonah.  He really appreciated God’s gift given to him.


Jonah was given a day to enjoy the vine’s worth and the joy a simple plant can bring.  Then God sent a worm and a sirocco east wind.  He also removed the clouds.  Was Jonah listening to what God was trying to tell him?  Was he learning his lesson?  No, he did not see how wrong he was.  From his point of view everything had gone wrong for him and he just wanted to die.


This is the central question of the book.  What right do we have to demand that God should favor us and not others?  Jonah insisted that the vine was very important to him.  God should not kill a valuable plant.


God replied, “If it is not right for the plant to die, how can it be right for Nineveh to be struck down?”  God was doing for Nineveh exactly what Jonah insisted He should do for the plant.  Aren’t people worth more than grass?  Are not even animals worth more than a one day old plant?


These people were trapped by their troubles.  They could not discriminate between good and evil.  They lacked the knowledge to find the answer in repentance.  Jonah’s message gave them the answer for relief from their troubles, but in the long run they still were destroyed for their sins.  God’s word gives us hope.  The future is in His hands.


These polytheists had a distorted theology and a reputation for wickedness, but when they heard God’s word, they believed and repented.  God accepted their penitent heart.


God shows mercy to those who do not deserve it.  God shows patience to those who do not deserve it.  God loves you.  What are you going to do about it?

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