I love Jehovah God’s immutability and His intentionality! There is such comfort in knowing His grace and patience endures long with humanity despite our propensity to error; that our development, emotions and comprehension have no influence on who He is. The LORD’s grace in Old Testament Scripture is characterized so very beautifully in the book of Jonah and the lesson is repeated for us in very simple terms by Jesus (which just further demonstrates His unchanging nature). He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. – Colossians 1:15 NKJV At times God does pour out wrath (always righteously) as a means to an end and unfortunately many people do not see the goodness in correction especially one that brings evil to an end. I’m thankful there will be an end to evil. Revelation 21:27; 1 Corinthians 15:24 NKJV.
In the book of Jonah, the prophet said, “… I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.” – Jonah 4:2 NKJV. When we consider the detail throughout all of creation (the universe and all that is in it including the very design of the human body), we begin to understand nothing is impossible for our God who speaks things into existence. Jehovah God has strategically created scenarios to refine us and righteously grant us grace and there isn’t a detail He has missed. Conviction is of the LORD, while condemnation of a believer is of the accuser who is a liar ( John 16:7-8; Romans 8:1). There is a call on our lives (individually) and I encourage you to give serious thought to what you are about to read.
At first, I thought I didn’t have much in common with Jonah because as a believer I wouldn’t venture to be so rebellious but on closer examination, I see that most people, myself included, have common traits: (1) we don’t like to be wrong; and (2) we think we want justice (or at least our definition of justice).
Background: Let’s begin with the environment in which Jonah lived. Jeroboam II was an evil King of Israel’s Northern Kingdom who tolerated idolatry and permitted the people to suffer without any help (2 Kings 14:23-27; 1 Kings 14:9, 16; 15:30). This means they were unrepentant. Jonah was the son of Amitta, a prophet from Gath Hepher from the lands of Zebulun in Israel. He had delivered instructions from the LORD to restore the boundaries of Israel as established in the book of Joshua; Zebulun’s portion is outlined in Joshua 19:10-16. Jonah whose name means “dove” lived about 150 hundred years after King Solomon’s kingdom was divided, and before the Babylonian captivity in 721 B.C. Some sources suggest 781 B.C. Jonah was called by the LORD to travel of approximately 500 miles to the predominately gentile city of Nineveh, Assyria (modern day Mosul, Iraq) with a population of more than 120,000 people (Jonah 4:11) at that time. Nineveh was originally founded by Noah’s great-grandson Nimrod whose kingdom also included Shinar (Tower of Babel), Babylon, Erech, Akkad, Calneh, Rehoboth, Ir, Calah, Resen. Read Genesis 10 & 11. If you enjoy digging – this makes for a VERY interesting study – but moving along…
Jonah’s Qualifications: Jonah was a righteous man who was used by the LORD to give direction to a Hebrew King which implies obedience to the LORD. Jesus also validates Jonah’s credentials in Matthew 12:39, 41 where He called Jonah a prophet and a preacher. Thank the LORD that a human momentary lapse in wisdom doesn’t need to nullify God purposes for you. Question: If you believe the book of Jonah is just allegory, what do you believe about Jesus’ statements about Jonah?
Jonah’s Mission: “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” – Jonah 1:2 NKJV. In the very next Scripture, Jonah disobeyed God by boarding a ship headed in the opposite direction of Nineveh towards Tarshish. Questions: Why did God call Jonah to preach to gentile so far away when his own nation needed to repent? Did Jonah believe he could disobey God without consequences? Or did Jonah presume God’s grace would spare him? Did he think he could circumvent God’s plan?
The Narrative: God caused a storm to arise and batter the boat to the degree the experienced sailors were unable to control the boat and feared for their lives. They perceived the storm was unnatural which caused them to consider supernatural reasons for their turmoil. Through their discourse, Jonah suggested they throw him overboard. Scripture tells us in Jonah 1:12 that he took ownership for the crisis they were experiencing and did not want calamity to befall the others. Questions: Why Jonah was willing to be thrown overboard to spare the crew who like the Ninevites were gentile or at least they worshiped other gods? Did he expect to die or did he expect God would deliver him? Why was dying more favourable than delivering God’s message?
Consideration 1: I suspect that Jonah merely wanted what he wanted which did not aligned to God’s will (explained later). Every human being has been confronted with this and it is usually relational. The relationship either between you and the LORD, or you and others. God might require you to humble yourself in a situation where you are not out of line; give up a relationship that means a great deal to you; treat your body (His temple) differently; be willing to give up your expectations; forgive someone; give something to someone; honour a commitment even when conditions have changed; give up your perceived rights; be excited about God’s blessings for someone else when you’ve been waiting…. Just fill in the blanks with an “it’s not fair” scenario.
The Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah for a period of 3 days and 3 nights. Jesus said, “For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation. – Luke 11:30 NKJV. This too is a great study for another time. Is it possible the Ninevites knew that Jonah was in the belly of a fish for 3 days and 3 nights (which added credibility to his preaching)?
- “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. – Matthew 12:40 NKJV
- “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And He left them and departed. – Matthew 16:4 NKJV
The omniscient and sovereign God knew Jonah was going to have a moment of insubordination and prepared the scenario for: (1) correction for the man He chose; (2) a sign to a wicked generation; and (3) as a foreshadow for Jesus Christ’s resurrection. This also ministers to us that God’s actions are frequently manifold in their reach and culminate with His eternal purpose for humanity. Whatever is happening in the life of a believer has purpose even when unseen or undervalued.
- You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O LORD, You know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? … For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. … Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them. How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! – Psalm 139:2-7, 13, 16-17 NKJV
- And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. – Romans 8:28-30 NKJV
I love Jonah’s prayer because there are two options that become apparent: (1) David who was highly prophetic wrote Psalms that were applicable to Jonah; or (2) Jonah has spent time in the Psalms – (perhaps a combination). Cross references throughout the majority of book of Jonah direct us to many different books; however, in Jonah’s prayer they predominately point to Psalms. I do not believe that is a coincidence. What do you think?
|Scripture||Cross Reference & Contemplation|
|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. – Jonah 2:2 NKJV||Psalm 18:6 NKJV|
|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. – Jonah 2:3 NKJV||Psalm 42:7 NKJV|
|Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ – Jonah 2:4 NKJV||Psalm 31:22 NKJV|
|The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head. – Jonah 2:5 NKJV||Psalm 69:1-2 NKJV|
|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. – Jonah 2:6 NKJV||Question: Is there a hint of something deeper here? A good place to dig and see what God’s Word says or doesn’t say…|
|“When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple. – Jonah 2:7 NKJV||Psalm 18:6 NKJV|
|“Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy. – Jonah 2:8 NKJV or They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. – Jonah 2:8 KJV||Question: What does Idolatry have to do with this? Discover as you read on.|
|But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.” – Jonah 2:9 NKJV||Psalm 50:14, 23 NKJV; Psalm 3:8 NKJV|
Consideration 2: I took particular notice of Jonah 2:9. What did Jonah vow? As a prophet, Jonah agreed to be obedient to speak whatever the LORD commanded. Jonah would also be aware of the tribal prophecy and blessing that Jacob declared: “Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out, And Issachar in your tents! They shall call the peoples to the mountain; There they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness; For they shall partake of the abundance of the seas and of treasures hidden in the sand.” – Deuteronomy 33:18-19 NKJV. The LORD has consistently revealed that His intentions included all nations of the earth to be His people and He chose a specific blood-line for the Messiah to demonstrate His sovereignty, His eternality, His faithfulness to His covenants and His WORD. Read Isaiah 2:3, Micah 4:2, Genesis 12:3, 1 Kings 8:43, Psalms 22:27, Isaiah 11:10, Luke 2:10-11, 32. Scripture also states: “When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; For He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed– Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.” – Ecclesiastes 5:4-5 NKJV
Consideration 3: Jonah ended his prayer by being thankfully repentant, and then he recommitted to his vow. This leads to me to believe Jonah recognized a bitterness he maintained in his heart that aided rationalization of disobedience. Have you ever rationalized disobedience? “It’s not that bad”; “I see other Christians do this”; “The LORD will forgive me”; “The LORD knows I am only human”; “This situation is wrong so I’m just going to…”. Regardless of our weaknesses and frustrations, we have to remember that our emotions and desires do not negate the Word of the LORD nor do they excuse willful disobedience. No. When we are weak, angry, confused, frustrated, arrogant, prideful or tired is precisely the time to humble our wills and lean on the grace of God which is the strength we need to overcome and do His will. 2 Corinthians 12:10; 2 Corinthians 3:5; Hebrews 4:16; Isaiah 40:29-30; Philippians 4:13. If any of us wish to be useful for the Lord, we must allow the Holy Spirit to grow our:
- Reverence of the LORD (being devoted in love and obedience plus being respectful and in awe of God);
- Humility (having a right perspective of oneself, others, and God) Matthew 18:4; 2 Corinthians 11:7; Philippians 2:8; Philippians 4:12; James 4:10
Repeatedly Scriptures teach us to be thankful which occurs when we purposely recollect how God has demonstrated His attributes/goodness in our lives; when we choose to elevate Him over our circumstances. This requires being accountable for thoughts and choosing to intentionally to remember who God is. There are so many things (even good things) that compete for our attention; there are more than sufficient problems and evil that can influence our concentration. So when a displeasing situation arises, we can choose to focus our minds and can say:
- He is holy; He is good; He is love; He is merciful; He is gracious; He is righteous; He is just; and so on. When we remember times when He has proven Himself to us, it is only natural that we respect and love Him.
- He is eternal; He is all-powerful; He is ever-present; He is all-knowing; He is ever-working/intervening; He is unchanging; He is self-existent; He is sovereign; and transcendent/unlike anything created. When we remembered who He is, it humbles us. When we keep the right perspective, worship ensues and thankfulness overflows.
Jonah received his instructions from the LORD and allowed his feelings/thinking to override his knowledge of who God is. He determined within himself to not fulfill his commitment to the LORD. Instead, he unthankfully and rebelliously set out in a different direction. Question: Didn’t God already know this would happen when He chose Jonah? Certainly, there were others who would have obeyed readily. Let’s hang on to that question for a bit.
Once Jonah repented (which included worship and a determination to do what was right), the LORD commanded the fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land. Notice that God determine the timing. With the corrected mindset, Jonah preached and the city repented and then the leader repented (there’s a message in this for us today). God foreknew that this generation of Ninevites would repent. Later, God had a different outcome for a different generation. Notice God’s compassion and grace through the following cross references about Nineveh and God’s seeing repentance a long way off:
- The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here – Luke 11:32 ESV. Before their lifestyles reflected their repentance, God saw hearts that would turn around and Jesus, the LORD, explained that in the end they will be a righteous testament against those who did not believe
- And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him – Luke 15:20 ESV. The LORD told a parable about a father whose compassion caused him to run out to greet the prodigal before the son actually apologized to his father.
Notice grace was extended to gentiles before our LORD’s atonement on the cross; however, no-one was saved (justified) until Christ’s death and resurrection. If this statement troubles you, please consider whether John the Baptist was saved before he died. He died before Christ’s atonement. Please read (John 3:27-30 and cross references) about how John referred to himself a friend of the Bridegroom and ask the LORD to guide you through scripture.
- But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.” (Now this, “He ascended”–what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) – Ephesians 4:7-10 NKJV.
- And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. – Colossians 2:13-15 NKJV.
Now my favourite part! God established a lesson for the church age (Dispensation of Grace) using the events of Jonah 4 and the parable Jesus taught in Matthew 20. Jonah’s anger had such emotional depth that he wanted to die. Why? Scripture explains it was because he had delivered the righteous judgement of the LORD as commanded only to have God over-ride him (Jonah 4:1-3) and he didn’t like that. This teaches me that God’s righteousness is broader and higher than our limited perspectives. No-one LIKES to be wrong especially if they are doing what is right. Jonah wasn’t wrong in his declaration because God did send him with the message. Mercy was applied which over-ruled what would have been the righteous judgment; grace provided a different verdict when they believed God could and would do want He said. God knew Jonah’s nature and used this situation to refine Him. Jonah sulked over the unfulfilled prophecy rather than: (1) rejoice at the changed course of 120,000 lives; (2) express thankfulness for God’s choice to use him to send the message; and (3) remember that he was spared the same wrath after he had repented.
Consideration 4: This is a type of pride that all Christians ought to reflect on. Questions: Have you ever felt that you have been faithful for many years and therefore are deserving of extra grace than others? Have you ever felt that others were less deserving of something than you? Perhaps you have watched someone who has caused you pain receive equal grace or more blessing (in your eyes). What about watching someone be wrong about something or unqualified and still be chosen to do something great for God? The list of scenarios could go on. Why would we think that our righteousness and our perspective is a better one than God’s? When we say it like that, we’d all agree it’s ridiculous. We are permitted to have emotions after all. Yet when we persist in desiring outcomes that disagree with God’s sovereign choice, we can become so disillusioned within our emotions and fall into the trap of pride. PRIDE IS IDOLATRY – IT elevates one’s desires above God’s desires . God’s grace is sufficient to help us through these moments when we look to Him in submission. No-one is perfect and when we recognize pride/idolatry/false humility in our lives, we need to turn to God, fall on our faces and on His grace, and ask for forgiveness and help! These next verses are sobering:
- For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king.” – 1 Samuel 15:23 NKJV
- Because they rebelled against the words of God, and despised the counsel of the Most High, – Psalm 107:11 NKJV
- “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” – Revelation 21:8 NKJV
Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” – Jonah 3:4 NIV. Jonah perceived God was not going to destroy the city which displeased him exceedingly so and offered to the LORD this prayer: “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. “Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!” – Jonah 4:2-3 NKJV
God indeed was gracious and merciful not only to the Ninevites but also to Jonah specifically in this account: (1) when Jonah was delivered out of the fish’s mouth; (2) when He allowed him to fulfill his mission after a deliberate disobedience; and, (3) then revealed to Jonah a lesson Christ would also teach future generations. After Jonah in essence said his ‘told you so’ to the LORD, he left the city and waited under a shelter he made to see if anything negative would happen to the Ninevites. Aren’t glad, that our loving LORD won’t let you stay bitter but will provide all the lessons you need to gain the right perspective which is usually bigger than what we first see. I’m trying to get the point earlier these days. While Jonah was waiting, God caused a plant to miraculously grow providing more shade and he readily accepted this favor. The next day God ordered a worm to kill the plant and Jonah complained.
- Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?” “Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!” Then the LORD said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” – Jonah 4:9-11 NLT
Then the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” – Jonah 4:4 NKJV is cross referenced with Matthew 20:15. When the LORD asked Jonah if he had a right to be angry with the death of the plant, the LORD illustrated a picture image for Jonah to get the bigger picture of God’s grace and concern for mankind. In Mathew, Jesus Christ the LORD illustrates in the parable of the of workers in the vineyard, ‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?‘ – Matthew 20:15 NKJV
Personal Application: I believe the lesson for every believer in both Jonah and Matthew 20:1-16 is to avoid contempt for the sovereign LORD’s decisions and graciousness over His creation. This attitude presumes one is entitled to get their own way, to have more, to be used more, and perhaps to see others punished for wrong (rather than for preventing evil). Contempt and jealousy lacks humility and despises what grace provided to others and yourself. The LORD is not fair as humans measure fairness; the LORD is just. If the LORD was fair, we’d all have to pay the price for our sin which is impossible. Instead, He has individual plans for each of us and He knows what it takes to purify each individual in preparation for eternity with Him. What does He need to teach each person so that they would willingly choose relationship with Him for eternity and never desire to exalt one’s desires as Lucifer did? He will bless us AND try us enough to sanctify us and never too much of to lose us. To all who accept His call, He invites to be part of the vineyard.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. “Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. “And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, “and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. “Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. “And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’
“They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’ “So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ “And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. “But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. “And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, “saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ “But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? ‘Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. ‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?‘ “So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” – Matthew 20:1-16 NKJV