Lessons From Jonah
For being only four chapters long, the Book of Jonah
packs quite a punch. Jonah was
called by God to take a message to
Nineveh (modern Mosul in Iraq)
but ran away instead. He
thought he could escape on a boat bound for Tarshish, which was about a
thousand miles in the wrong direction.
Of course the Lord watched him do this and created a great storm in
the Mediterranean Sea as Jonah was trying to cross. Jonah quickly realized
Who had sent the storm and why.
When the waves threatened to overwhelm the small ship, he convinced the
sailors their only hope was to throw him over the side and when they did the
storm subsided. Then the Lord
summoned a great fish to rescue Jonah and He spent three days and three
nights in the belly of the fish while contemplating the folly of his ways.
When Jonah repented, the Lord had the fish vomit him out on dry land
and the next time the Lord asked Jonah to go to Nineveh, he obeyed
It's a great lesson on the folly of trying to avoid the
Lord's call on your life, but the lessons we can learn from Jonah don't end
Nineveh was a Gentile city, the capital of the
Assyrian Empire, and had no covenant with God.
They had made no agreement to obey Him like the Israelites had (Exodus
24:3), and God had no obligation to save them.
At one time their ancestors had known the Lord but over time the
people had drifted away and taken a different path, one of paganism. But in
a demonstration of His love for them in spite of their rejection of Him, God
saw fit to warn them of impending judgment, and when Jonah finally arrived
with God's warning the response was remarkable to say the least.
The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast,
and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose
from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth
and sat down in the dust. Then
he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste
anything; do not let them eat or drink.
But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call
urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.
Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his
fierce anger so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 3:5-9)
The Pharaoh of Egypt had arrogantly asked Moses,
“Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know
the LORD and I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2)
But unlike him, the King of Nineveh
remembered God and knew He had no desire to judge them, but that their
behavior had made it necessary.
If they changed their behavior maybe He would be merciful.
They changed their behavior, God showed compassion,
and judgment was averted.
Now this was no small feat. Nineveh was a large and
important city. According to
Jonah 3:3 a visit to Nineveh required 3 days just to see it all.
Jonah 4:11 tells us 120,000 people lived there.
Some scholars say the fact that God said they didn't know their right
hand from their left means He was only counting the children under the age
of reason. If so, that would
have made the total population more like half a million.
And everyone of them from the greatest to the least obeyed the King's
Besides fasting, praying and donning sack cloth we're
not told just what the Ninevites did to postpone their time of judgment.
The King's decree called on the people to give up their evil ways and
their violent behavior, but there's no indication that they ever converted
to Judaism or offered sacrifices for their sins, or even
began to worship the God who had threatened them.
We don't know of any who were saved through faith in the coming
Redeemer. They just tried to
behave in a manner they thought would be more acceptable to Him.
It was external, physical, national behavior and to
some extent it worked. One
generation of Ninevites was spared a terrible judgment and allowed to die in
peace, but as far as we can tell they all went to Hell anyway.
And the next generation behaved as badly as ever.
They conquered the Northern Kingdom and scattered its people to the
four winds leading them away into slavery.
The one after that came
within one day of conquering the South before God put an end to their evil
ways. The night before the battle when they were camped on Mt. Scopus
looking down over the Temple Mount
God sent an angel into their camp with devastating results.
Then the angel of the LORD went out and put to death
a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people
got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!
Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh
and stayed there. (Isaiah 37:36-37)
Of course God knew all this would happen when He sent
Jonah to Nineveh. He knew He was
going to empower the Babylonians to conquer the so-called known world and
that Nineveh and the entire Assyrian Empire would soon be no more. So what
was His point?
I think this lesson from Jonah was intended as a
message to the Israelites. The
Northern Kingdom was over 100 years into it's flirtation with idolatry and
Jonah was a prophet from the land of Zebulon who was known to the King (2
Kings 14:25). Later, the
southern Kingdom would fall into idolatry as well and over a 23 year period
God would offer them a deal even better than the one Jonah carried to
Nineveh (Jeremiah 25:3-6).
In an effort to turn his people back to Him, God was
using Nineveh to give them a demonstration of His Promise to Israel in 2
Chronicles 7:14; “If my people, who
are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and
turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive
their sin and will heal their land.”
The Ninevites were not God's people and they weren't
called by His name, but when they humbled themselves and turned from their
wicked ways the scheduled judgment was postponed.
Tragically, the Israelites of
both kingdoms, who were God's people, missed the lesson of Jonah,
ignored His promise, and suffered the consequences.
Their lesson was wasted.
700 years later Jesus said He would prove Himself to
Israel's leaders using Jonah's experience in the belly of the fish as a
sign. It would be another lesson
Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law
said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.”
He answered, “A
wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will
be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
For as Jonah was three days and
three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three
days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matt. 12:38-40)
He was speaking of the resurrection, an unmistakable
sign that He was who He claimed to be. It was the definitive proof they had
asked for, and should have removed all doubt that He was their Messiah.
After all, how many other times had someone made such a prediction
and then fulfilled it? And
just as Jonah had given Nineveh 40 days notice, Jesus waited 40 days after
His crucifixion for Israel to recognize Him before finally departing for
Heaven (Acts 1:3,9). That
lesson was wasted, too.
In Romans 15:4 Paul said that everything that
was written in the past was written to teach us.
That being the case there's a lesson from Jonah for us, too. But
remember, things that were external, physical and national in the Old
Testament often become internal, spiritual, and personal in the New. (Read
Something Old, Something New.)
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and
only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal
life” (John 3:16).
When Jesus came into the world we began receiving clues
that God's focus was widening to include all His creation, not just Israel.
Henceforth the emphasis would shift from external, physical, national
behavior to internal, spiritual, personal belief.
It's not how we behave that saves us, but what we believe.
The Ninevites responded to Jonah's warning with
external, physical, national behavior and their generation escaped the
coming judgment. So if God sent a prophet like Jonah with a similar warning
to us today, what would be the proper response?
Is there a New Testament equivalent to 2 Chron. 7:14?
The answer is yes and it's John
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the
works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is
this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
It's becoming more and more obvious that the world is
under judgment. No nation is exempt.
Escape from judgment has become a personal matter, and can only be
found by joining a people of no nation, but of a Kingdom that's in the world
but not of the world. The Kingdom of God.
And our King, who cannot lie, has promised to
protect us from it.
They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve
the living and true God, and to wait for his
Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the
coming wrath (1 Thes. 1:9-10).
For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to
receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thes 5:9).
Since you have kept my command to endure patiently,
I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the
whole world to test those who live on the earth (Rev. 3:10).
No matter what country you live in, trying to
appropriate Old Testament promises made to a different people under a
different set of rules won't do
any good. You can't save your country
but you can save yourself by believing in the one God sent to save you. And
then by the power of the Holy Spirit you can show others how to save
themselves the same way.
Remember, it's internal, spiritual and personal.
If you know for sure you belong to the Lord, then you
have nothing to worry about.
Your challenge now is to live in such a way that your life serves as an
example that attracts others to Him.
If you're not sure you're His, you should hurry to make yourself so.
Everyone who asks receives, all who seek will find, and to whoever
knocks the door will be opened (Matt. 7:7-8). No one is refused, no
one is excluded. All you have to
to is to admit you're a sinner, and ask Him to be your Savior and forgive
your sins. He will send His Holy Spirit to show you what to do from there (Ephes.
1:13-14). The Church could
disappear any day now, without a prior sign or warning, and those who are
left behind will soon be living in a much less friendly world.
When the people of Nineveh heard the voice of Jonah
they responded immediately and although Nineveh's destruction was
foreordained, their generation was spared.
The same is true today, but the appropriate response is different.
Instead of being external, physical and national it's internal,
spiritual, and personal. The
destruction of the world is foreordained.
If you hear the voice of the Lord, respond immediately and you'll be
spared. It's our lesson from
Jonah. Don't let it be wasted.