The Prophets part 3

Noah swallowed by a fish

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A. THE CALLING OF JONAH.

We have seen in the previous two studies that prophets, God’s spokesmen, were  specially called by Him for this purpose. They, however, were not always willing to bid God’s calling, each one having his own excuse. One such unwilling servant was a man called Jonah, of whom we read in the Book bearing his name; chapter 1:1-3:

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,  2  “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” 

B. JONAH FLEES FROM GOD.

3  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 on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.

This was not Jonah’s first calling to be a prophet. He was already serving as such, conveying God’s words to his own people (2 Kings 14:25). So why this strange behaviour? Why would God’s spokesman not want certain people to hear what God was saying to them?

We find the answer much later in the Book, in chapter 3:10 to 4:2. The reason was that Jonah dearly loved his own people. He was a hot-headed patriot and would that the people of Israel prosper above all.  Therefor, also, he did not love the people of Nineveh he was sent to. They were enemies of Israel and very cruel. When winning a battle they would slice open the pregnant woman.

This of course, stirred up God’s anger. Now, Jonah wanted the Ninivites to continue sinning. God would then have to punish them. This would cause his own people to be saved from their continual onslaughts.  The problem was that Jonah wanted to save his own people at the cost of another nation and God loves all nations.  He was very selfish. He would keep God’s forgiveness and grace for his own.

We Christians may frown at that, yet act just as selfishly as Jonah did.  We receive salvation; then keep the Lord Jesus for ourselves.  Yet, just before He asended to heaven He said, “Go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations”.  We may defend our disobedience saying, “Those people are not my responsibility. God can raise up one of them to preach to them.”

So what did Jonah do?  He went down to the nearest harbour. There he found a ship about to set sail in the opposite direction, away from Nineveh.  He paid for his ticket, took up his luggage and boarded the ship. He was fleeing from the presence of the Lord – or so he thought. 

C. JONAH AND THE STORM.

The ship set out to sea. Jonah may have been standing on the rear deck, watching the land receding. Very soon it disappeared over the horison and he gave a deep sigh of relief. “Good bye Nineviveh. Let God find some other prophet to preach to you.” That was what went through his mind.

So, did God allow Jonah to get away?  We turn to verses 4 and 5:

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.  5  Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god; and they threw the wares that were 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.”

As Jonah was now looking happily over the bow in the direction the ship was sailing, he noticed a storm brewing. That did not trouble him; “The captain and crew are well able to deal with that, He tought.” Then, picking up his luggage he descended down the steps  into the hull. There, where no-one could see him, he lay down comfortably and slept. Probably he was very tired from his journey overland. Also, he was much releived to have escaped from the Lord.

Then came a storm. The sailors were used to storms at sea, but this one was at an unexpexted time. It also was exceptionally fierce. They did whatever they could to survive; even lightening the freight.  All was to no avail.

Then they realized that this storm was supernatural and sat down to pray. Every-one pleaded with his god, but their prayers had no effect. At last, in desperation, they decided to cast the lot to see who was the guilty person. Who was it that offended his god and caused the storm? The lot fell on Jonah! verses 8 to 16:

Then they said to him, “Tell us, on whose account this evil has come upon us? What is your occupation? And whence do you come? What is your country? And of what people are you?”  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.”  10  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. 

11   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.  12  He said to them, “Take me up and throw 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.” 

13  Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them.  14  Therefore they cried to the LORD, “We beseech thee, O LORD, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood; for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee.”  15  So they took up Jonah and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging.  16  Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.”

Behold the power and wisdom of God!  He did not speak to the heathen Himself. He used nature to reveal His power and anger to them. Then used his disobedient prophet to speak up, revealing the whole story to them. How easy for Him to convert heathen to Himself.

D. JONAH AND THE “SUBMARINE”.

So what happened to Jonah? Did he drown because of his sin? Is that the end of the story? No, the Lord wanted him in Nineveh and so the He did another miracle to get him there: chapter 1: 17 and chapter 2:1-10:

 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

1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish,  2  saying, “I called to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and thou didst hear my voice.  3  For thou didst cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood was round about me; all thy waves and thy billows passed over me.  4  Then I said, ‘I am cast out from thy presence; how shall I again look upon thy holy temple?’  5  The waters closed in over me, the deep was round about me; weeds were wrapped about my head  6  at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me for ever; yet thou didst bring up my life from the Pit, O LORD my God. 

7  When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; and my prayer came to thee, into thy holy temple.  8  Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their true loyalty.  9  But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to thee; what I have vowed I will pay.

Deliverance belongs to the LORD!”  10 And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.

Jonah was in big trouble.  He might have hoped that he would die quickly and go to heaven. But he did not just take a shallow dip into the sea. He went right down; struck rock bottom. Sea weeds twisted around him. Then, suddenly, something happened. God stepped in. He did not lift him back onto the ship’s deck but commanded a submarine in the form of a fish to to take him on board. It swallowed him. His cabin was the belly of a whale (we suppose).

Jonah realised that he was no longer in water. His whole body was burning. He opened his eyes to see where he was but had to shut them immediately. He was suspended in acid. Then he realised that he was in the belly of a large fish. Fear overwhelmed him. Was he going to die a long slow death, being digested by a monster?  At least there was some air for the fish surfaced from time to time to breathe. It also needed oxygen. 

As the fish swam, Jonah probably tumbled over and over; as in a modern washing machine. He gasped for breath.  There was no help around; no-one he could call on. No person on earth even knew where he was. He felt like being all alone in this world. Jonah was learning a terrible lesson. He was learning that it is terrible to be where God is not. Praise His Name that there is no such place on earth. But there is such a place in the hereafter for those that continue running from Him. 

Then, only then, did Jonah come to his senses. Then, in desperation, did he cry out to God and God heard his cry.  How glorious! God can hear you wherever you are. No matter how deep the waters of your affliction, just cry out to Him. Are you desperate? Have you perhaps sinned? Are you willing to repent and go His way, do His will? He will hear your prayer and deliver you. 

So the Lord directed the fish to a certain beach and there he spewed out Jonah.

E. JONAH AT NINEVEH.

But the story continues. We read the whole of Chapter 3:

“Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying,  2  “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”  3  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.  4  Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he cried, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 

5 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.  6  Then tidings reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.  7  And he made proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed, or drink water,  8  but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them cry mightily to God; yea, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence which is in his hands.  9  Who knows, God may yet repent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we perish not?” 

10  When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them; and he did not do it.”

It is written that Jonah had made a covenant with the Lord while he was in the belly of the fish that if He would deliver him, he would go to Nineveh.  The Lord had now successfully dealt with his stubborn, disobedient prophet.  He had been like a wild horse but God broke him in. He put a bridle in his mouth. 

Jonah went into the city and told the people on the streets what he had heard from God. He declared that they had 40 days within which to repent. Failing to do so, the Lord would overthrow their city.  Then a miracle happened. They believed the words God spoke through Jonah and repented from their evil ways.  Even the king put on a cloak of repentance. Yes even the cattle were covered with sackcloth. 

God saw this and it pleased Him exceedingly. True to His word and nature, He decided not to punish them anymore.

So Jonah was successful in his preaching. There are many preachers in our days that would rejoice if their preaching was as successful as  that of Jonah.  At the preaching of Jonah the whole of that huge city repented, what a miracle. 

F. JONAH IN THE DUMPS.

But was Jonah pleased, did he rejoice together with God?  We read chapter 4:1-8:

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.  2  And he prayed to the LORD and said, “I pray thee, LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that thou art a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repentest of evil.  3  Therefore now, O LORD, take my life from me, I beseech thee, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4  And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?” 

5 Then Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. 

6  And the LORD God appointed a plant, and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.  7  But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm which attacked the plant, so that it withered.  8  When the sun rose, God appointed a sultry east wind, and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah so that he was faint; and he asked that he might die, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

What a disappointing man, this Jonah.  When he was in big trouble himself, he prayed fervently to God.  He sought God’s grace for himself. He also promised that he would be obedient and go and preach in Niniveh.  Well he did go to Niniveh, but he did not like doing it. His heart was not in it.  In his body he was there and he allowed God to speak through him. His spirit, however, was far from God.  He obeyed God because he was afraid of Him, not because he loved Him. 

In this there is a deep lesson for us. So often Christians obey God because they are afraid of Him.  They fear what will happen to them and their families if they disobey, but their hearts are far from Him.  They serve the Lord with their lips, but not with their hearts. They are false.  The terrible experience of the storm on the sea was forgotten. Being thrown overboard and swallowed by the fish did not change Jonah’s heart one bit.  He still hated the Ninivites. He did not want to see them saved, he wanted to see them killed. He had repented from his disobedience but not from the sinful reason for his disobedience.

Perhaps someone did something terrible to you or your family. He may still be threatening to harm or even kill you.  What is you wish: to see him saved or killed? Perhaps you do not want to see people belonging to a certain race saved. You desire that they will all perish.  If that be so, you are a Jonah Christian, a Christian with a hard unforgiving heart.

G. GOD’S LOVE FOR JONAH.

What was God’s reaction to Jonah’s hardness of heart? Did He strike His prophet to the ground? Did He cast him back into the sea to be devoured by a shark? No, He spoke to him soothingly, asking him “Why are you angry, why are you cross with Me?” 

Then God did something more to help Jonah to repent “He caused a beautiful shady plant to suddenly sprout up and shade Jonah from the burning sun. This was much to his liking. But then the Lord brought a worm to chew through the stem. The plant toppled over and the Lord brought a very hot dry wind to afflict Jonah.  This made him very angry and he said “It is better for me to die than to live.”  Do you note the bitterness in this man’s heart? What was the Lord’s reply?

“But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”  10  And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night, and perished in a night.  11  And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

How different is our God from us. He is slow to anger and quick to forgive.  He has no desire to punish mankind but gives every-one an opportunity to repent and be saved.  Have you?

We have now come to the end of the teachings on the Books of the Old Testament. We trust that you have been blessed. Our next teaching will be on the Books of the New Testament.

SHALOM

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