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WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM JONAH?



The story of Jonah is one that almost every child growing up in Sunday School knows. There's a "big fish" and stormy water and a boat and the fish throws up. Oh yeah! And there's a guy there too. The fish threw him up!

- If you ask a small child, that is the typical description of Jonah that you will hear.



As adults, or teens, we start to understand a little more. Jonah ran away. That is usually the first addition that we make after the "big fish" gets its due attention. Jonah ran away when he was supposed to go somewhere that God wanted him to. The next connection that we tend to make is that God caused the storm, Jonah had to be thrown off the boat he was in. He was swallowed by a sea creature and then, after he prayed, he was spewed out on dry land near where he was supposed to actually be going in the first place.


Jonah was a Prophet. God wanted him to go to Ninevah to warn the people that their ways were disgusting God and the Lord was going to exact vengeance on the large city because the He was repulsed by their rebellion and ungodly behavior.


Now, as adults and more mature Christians, we can look at this book in the Bible and take this in in its entirety. Because, just like the big fish that swallowed Jonah up - we can swim deeper.




What can we learn from Jonah?


The first thing we need to know about Jonah is that he was a Prophet of God. A lot of people call themselves prophets but what an actual Prophet of God was - was not someone who prophesized and got half their 'predictions' correct. A Prophet of God was right 100% of the time because they didn't say anything until they were given what to say by the Lord. If they missed the mark, even one time, they were considered a "false Prophet" and were banned and rejected.

A Prophet of God had great respect where Jonah was, in his time. There was no option to be wrong. You had really better be hearing from the Lord and saying what He said.


When Jonah got this word from the Lord, he knew that he was expected to go and say what the Lord had said. But he did not want to.

Let's talk about the Ninevites. Who were they? To someone like Jonah, a respected Hebrew and one entrusted with the privilege of speaking God's message to the people around him, the Ninevites are a truly disgusting people. They are sinful to the point that God has to decide whether to save them or not. God, as a loving Father, decides to send Jonah to tell the people to change their ways and turn to Him, and He will protect them.

I imagine Jonah cringing at the idea of standing among this obstinate, rebellious people. Jonah knows the Lord and has, as a Prophet, undoubtedly seen Him work multiple times by this time in his life. And Jonah - personally - does not want to offer this grace to a people that he deems undeserving.


What was Jonah's problem?



Pride, arrogance and indifference.

He didn't want to deliver a grace-filled message to people who he saw as completely undeserving. He would rather run away and not deliver a life-saving message from God than be obedient and see God's beautiful mercy on display. Jonah knows Who God is. So, it is a pretty prideful move when arrogance drives you to turn your back on God after He has used you for so much.

Another issue was that Jonah was indifferent to this people group. He didn't care if they died. He didn't care if they changed their ways. Jonah's view: they were not worth it. Simple as that.


What did he do?


Jonah ran away.

He boarded a ship; he went to the bottom of the boat and fell asleep.

He was in Joppa at the time and Ninevah was 550 miles away from where he was.

Where he ended up heading, however, was about 2500 miles in the opposite direction.

I don't know about you, but I can look at Jonah's actions and realize that there have been a number of times when I have tried to do the same thing.

But, the thing is, we can never hide from God. The scripture makes that clear. Time after time we see that there is nowhere that we can hide from the Lord.


The Lord, very aware of not only what Jonah was doing but also of Jonah's heart, sent a storm. It rocked the boat and churned the sea and the sailors feared for their lives. We are told in Jonah 1 verse 5 that the sailors each called out to their own gods for saving. When the captain of the ship woke Jonah up, he told him to call out to his God for help as well. We are not told that Jonah did that. And I believe that Jonah never even tried.

The sailors threw lots, which was their way to determine whose fault it was. It landed on Jonah and he told them, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land." This scared the sailors because they already knew that he was running away from God. Jonah told them to throw him overboard, which they reluctantly did, and God provided a huge fish to swallow him.

That is where he stayed for 3 days and 3 nights.


Jonah's Prayer


The 2nd chapter of Jonah is filled with his prayer to God - the majority, admitting the power of the Lord and acknowledging His saving grace towards himself (Jonah) but still adding a critical note in verse 8 that could have been omitted in an attempt at humbleness. To me, it is a little ironic that Jonah praises the Lord for saving him, when he had rebelled against God, but he still struggles with accepting that the Lord could and was wanting to do the same for the people of Ninevah.


Jonah's Disgrace vs God's Amazing Grace



We see Jonah obeying God's direction in chapter 3. Ninevah was a large city and the amount of time to traverse the city was 3 days. Jonah went one day's journey into the city and proclaimed God's message of saving grace to a rebellious people.

Immediately, the people of Ninevah repented and heeded the warning. They put on sackcloth and began to fast. Word reached the king of Ninevah, and he made a decree telling his kingdom to fast - them and their animals, to pray, and to repent and seek God, that He might show mercy of them.

God saw them, heard them and had mercy on them.



Any preacher that I know would have been thrilled with such a response. For a wicked and immoral people to turn their hearts to God and repent of their sin is exactly what God desires of His people.

This was hard for Jonah to accept though. He knew the evil of the people. He knew their past. He knew what they had been doing simply one day before (imagine all that he saw as he walked just that one day's journey into the city) yet, here God was, offering protection and forgiveness.

This was before the life and death of Jesus - before the Savior of the world gave His life for us. What Jonah expected was judgement. Jonah was drooling over the prospect of completely wiping a city from existence that had been bad for so long. But he knew that God was a gracious and loving God. He knew that this might happen. Yet, he passionately longed for what he deemed a correct retribution - that the Ninevites to be held accountable for their actions and, by death, never be able to gain a second chance.



Jonah left the city "exceedingly displeased and angry" at God for sparing the Ninevites.

When he sat down under the heat of the sun, God provided a plant for shade. The Bible uses that same word "exceedingly" to describe Jonah's gladness over the plant. Jonah was "exceedingly glad" about having shade covering his head and comforting him.

When the sun rose the next morning, God brought a worm to eat the plant. The plant died and the shade was no longer available to Jonah. On top of that, God sent forth a scorching wind and heat that caused Jonah to become faint.

The End


Sometimes the book of Jonah is a little hard to fully digest because we are hoping for a more solid answer and to know something further about Jonah. Maybe we are turning the next page in hopes of catching another chapter bearing words of God's judgement to him.

But maybe that is also a part of the lesson here:

Are we sitting at the end of this book imagining, or even longing for,

God's vengeance on Jonah -

or imagining and longing to see God's grace to him?



Prayer:

"Lord, thank You for Your grace to me. Thank You for constantly going beyond providing for my day-to-day needs as You also providing for my soul and spirit. Thank You for showing me such amazing love - so that I can also extend that love to others. Thank You for teaching me forgiveness by example, so that I can equally give that same forgiveness to others. Thank You for Your patience with me when I lack patience with myself or others. I praise You.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen."



Love & thank you for reading,

Sarah Jane

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