Introduction: Jonah ministered after the time of Elisha and just before the time of Amos and Hosea. Israel under Jeroboam II was enjoying a period of prosperity. Jonah is commanded by God to go to Nineveh to preach repentance. Nineveh is northeast, but Jonah headed to Tarshish, which was west.
The story of Jonah is one of the clearest demonstrations of God’s love and mercy for all mankind in the entire Scripture. Unlike other Old Testament books, it revolves around a Gentile nation. God is concerned for the Gentiles as well as for His covenant people Israel. But Jonah is a reluctant messenger who does not want to proclaim God’s message for fear that the Assyrians will respond and be spared by the compassionate God of Israel.
The Disobedience to the First Call
Verse 1 – Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
Verse 2 – “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”
At that time, Nineveh was the metropolis of the Assyrian monarchy, great in wealth, power, and dominion. It was a great city, and yet a heathen city, without the knowledge and worship of the true God.
Verse 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.
Jonah didn’t want to share God’s message of love and forgiveness, because he didn’t want the Gentile nation to repent. All of Israel felt this same way about he Assyrians Gentiles. This reminds us of praying for someone whom we don’t like very much, Someone who has been hateful and mean to us. We don’t want to do it.
Verse 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.
Verse 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.
Sin brings storms and tempest into one’s life, into the family, into churches, and nations. Jonah was fast asleep while a storm was raging above him. Apparently his conscience didn’t bother him. An absent of guilt is not always a sign that we are doing right. We cannot measure obedience by our feelings. Instead we measure by what God’s word says and His standards.
Verse 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 parish.”
Verse 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 lots fell on Jonah.
This storm must have seemed peculiar to the men. I’m sure they had been in many storms before, but somehow this storm was odd enough that they thought it might be a person causing it, so they cast lots. The crew relied on their superstitions, but God let the lot fall on Jonah.
Verse 8 – Then they said to him, “Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? What is your country? And of what people are you?”
Verse 9 – And 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.”
Worship is literally “fear.” Fear of God in the Old Testament is the respect that a person has for God, causing him to turn from evil and obey God’s commandments (Genesis 22:12; Job 1:8; 28:28; Proverbs 8:13). “I fear the Lord Jehovah, that is the God I worship, the God I pray to, even the God of heaven, the sovereign Lord of all!” says Jonah.
Verse 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.
Today we would have said to Jonah, “Are you crazy? You know you can’t run from God!” You can’t seek God’s love and run from Him at the same time. You cannot say you truly love God and go in the opposite direction with your life.
Verse 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.
Verse 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.”
Would you look at that answer Jonah gave. He was willing to give his life to save the crew, but not willing to save the lives of the Assyrians with a message of repentance. His hatred for the Assyrians had clouded his judgment.
Verse 13 – Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them.
Even though the crew knew this was Jonah’s fault, they showed compassion to him, more so than Jonah had for the Gentiles of Assyria. Believers should be ashamed of themselves when unbelievers show more concern and compassion than they do for someone’s well-being.
Verse 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. ”
In fleeing from God, Jonah had unknowingly converted this entire ship of Gentile sailors to pray to the One True God.
Verse 15 – So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.
Verse 16 – The men feared (worshiped) the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
God is able to use our mistakes, hardships, or crises, to help others to come to know Him. It may be painful, but admitting our sins can be a powerful example to those who don’t know God. These pagan sailors did what the nation of Israel refused to do – worship and serve the Lord.
Verse 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.
Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom before we come to our senses. But whether we choose to obey God or not, He will find someone who is willing to do what we might refuse to do.