Jonah

Last week we finished up the story of Elijah. He worked tirelessly his entire life to bring Israel back to God. He had successes and failures but in the end all the kings he during his time refused to turn back to God and instead worshiped the Canaanite god of Baal.

However, Elijah served God to his fullest capacity, and in the end God rewarded him by taking him up into heaven, leaving behind Elisha to keep working in his place.

We’re actually going to skip the story of Elisha, though he did many great works for God. Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah continued to have struggles and problems. Sometimes a king would follow God and sometimes the kings would follow false gods. But more often in not in the case of the kings described in the book of 2 Kings, the kings did not follow God and they were pretty much continuously at war.

Now I would like to take a moment here because the fact that the book of Kings is so harsh when it comes to the kings of Israel is actually quite a remarkable thing. That’s hard for us to think about these days because we’re Americans. We love to have opinions about our leaders and often they are harsh opinions. We love to write history books deconstructing even our most beloved leaders, like George Washington and finding their dark seedy underbelly. That’s like the favorite past time of most modern American historians. But the ancient world did not work like this at all.

If you read ancient histories and writings, it is rare that the historians or records of a country record the deficiencies of a king—unless it’s because the next king hated the last king. Most records of kings and nations were always about how great that king was, how great that nation was. And that’s because back then, it was the kings who controlled the histories. A king wasn’t going to let his royal scribes and historians record something bad about him.

This is one of the things that makes the Bible unique. The prophets were not afraid to call out a king for being bad, to call out the nation for turning away from God, and to record it and those records to survive to this day. It’s amazing. It’s unique. And it’s one of the great things about the Bible.

Because as we talked about with Elijah, the prophets didn’t answer to the king. They answered to God. And God’s authority far surpasses that of any earthly ruler.

So yes, there were a lot of bad kings. A couple of good kings. And that brings us to the next section we’re going to look at. Please open your Bibles to 2 Kings 14:23-28.

23 In the fifteenth year of King Amaziah son of Joash of Judah, King Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel began to reign in Samaria; he reigned forty-one years. 24 He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he caused Israel to sin. 25 He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher. 26 For the Lord saw that the distress of Israel was very bitter; there was no one left, bond or free, and no one to help Israel. 27 But the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Joash.

28 Now the rest of the acts of Jeroboam, and all that he did, and his might, how he fought, and how he recovered for Israel Damascus and Hamath, which had belonged to Judah, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel?

This section is our setup for the person we’re going to discuss today. Much of the book of kings is really just short sections about this king or that. Like in this one we learn that a guy named Jeroboam II is now king of Israel. He reigns for 41 years, and the Bible says he does what is evil in the sight of the God. However, it also says he does something right by God, which is restore a border, and he does it at the behest of a prophet named Jonah.

But mostly it all seems like bad times.

Now in this section are any of the names mentioned familiar? Have you guys heard of any of these characters or names before?

[Let them answer.]

Jonah. Jonah is a familiar name yes? I’m sure many of you know many story of Jonah and the Big Fish. And this is that exact same Jonah.

But the story of Jonah is not here. If you look in the next section of Kings it’s not talking about Jonah. And that’s because Kings has a very specific purpose. The purpose of the books of Kings is to tell the story of Israel’s kings. And the story of Jonah, we’re going to see has little to do with Israel or any of its kings. So the story of Jonah is recorded in another book of the Bible, aptly named Jonah.

Now before we flip to Jonah I want to talk about this division of stories for a minute. We’ve discuss before that the Bible is not in chronological order. The Bible is arranged by the genre—or type of book. Kings is a book of history, while Jonah is considered a minor prophet.

Because the Bible is not in chronological order there is actually a lot of overlap in the books of the Bible. Like Jonah and Kings. The entire story of Jonah could basically be a footnote in Kings! So for the next several people we study, we’ll probably be starting in kings—to ground us in the history of when our story is happening—and then we’ll flip to the other book of the Bible that expands it.

So now I would like you all to flip to the book of Jonah. Someone please read Jonah 1:1-3.

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah set out 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 his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

Jonah is a prophet. His job is to communicate God’s words to the people. And we saw in the section in Kings that he did that. When it came to King Jeroboam II who was recorded as a bad king, Jonah didn’t seem to be afraid to approach him and bring God’s words to him.

But here, God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and tell them that God is displeased with their ways. And Jonah…he flees. He’s like “nope, I’m not going to do that.” And the question is why? Why would a man who would be willing to face down a bad king not be willing to go to a city?

Well, it’s because Nineveh is not an Israelite city. It’s not in Israel. It’s not in Judah. It’s not anywhere near Israel. Nineveh was one of the largest cities in the world at that time and the center of the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians were an enemy of Israel—so much so that we’ll see later that Assyria will completely conquer Israel and take it off the map.

Jonah being asked to go to Israel would be like you being asked to go to the stronghold of the worst most awful enemy you can possibly think of. If this was the 60s and 70s, it would be like you’re being asked to go to the heart of Russia, Moscow, and preach to them about God’s repentance. Nowadays, maybe for a worst enemy of your people you might think of someone like terrorists. Imagine if God asked you to go to the heart of a terrorist organization and preach to them to repent.

You might hesitate. You might be scared and think they will kill you. You might think that they don’t deserve repentance because of all of the terrible things they’ve done. You might think a lot of things that result in you just not doing what God has asked you to do.

Just like Jonah.

Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. He didn’t want to save those people. He didn’t think they were worthy of saving.  So he runs in the complete opposite direction of Nineveh. He goes to Joppa which is on the coast of the Mediterranean sea and gets on a boat.

This is directly against what God has asked of Jonah.

Someone please read Jonah 1:4-10.

But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. The captain came and said to him, “What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.”

The sailors said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” “I am a Hebrew,” he replied. “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men were even more 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 so.

God sends a storm at the ship. The sailors on the ship are terrified, and it says they each cry out to their own god. They’re not Israelites so they probably worship gods like Baal. And they’re terrified so they’re each praying to their own god. They’re also worried they’re going to capsize or sink, so they start throwing cargo out of the ship. They must have been really desperate to do that. Because that cargo is what they would be selling at their destination. Every bit of cargo they throw overboard is money they’re not going to get paid. And money wasn’t so easy to get back then that people could just throw it away.

So there is all this panic on the deck, meanwhile Jonah is sleeping below deck. The captain wakes him up like, “What are you doing, man? How can you be sleeping when we’re all going to die?”

The sailors are then like, “This storm must be someone’s fault. We should all draw straws and it’s probably the fault of the person who gets the short straw.” So they do that and it’s Jonah that gets the short straw. And all the sailors are like, “Dude! What have you done. Why are we all going to die because of you?”

And Jonah tells them he’s disobeyed God.

Someone read Jonah 1:11-17.

11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick 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 storm 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 stormy against them. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

17  But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

The sailors are scared and they don’t know what to do. The storm just keeps getting worse and worse. So Jonah is like, “you should throw me overboard.”

The sailors are shocked by this. They don’t want to do it. They’re not prepared to throw a man overboard, because throwing Jonah overboard in that weather would be tantamount to killing him. It doesn’t matter how good of a swimmer you are. Surviving something like a hurricane in the water, without a boat, is almost impossible. They don’t want to kill him. So they start rowing hard, trying to get back to shore.

They can’t make it. The storm just gets worse and worse. So they have no choice. They pray out to God not to blame them for killing Jonah, and then they throw Jonah overboard.

Immediately the storm stops. And all the men on the ship are amazed. Remember earlier they were praying to their gods and it did nothing. But now they appease Jonah’s God and they see instantaneous affect. So they make sacrifices and vows to God.

And Jonah doesn’t die. Instead he gets swallowed by a big fish, which the Bible says he was in the belly of for three days and three nights.

While he’s in the fish, Jonah prays in Chapter 2. He’s in there because of God. For three days and three nights Jonah contemplates his life, his God, and what he’s doing. In his prayer, Jonah dwells on his situation. He compares being in the belly of the fish to being in Sheol, in death, but he knows even from there God can hear him.

Jonah knows he’s in the belly of the fish because he’s disobeyed God. But in the end Jonah says he will sacrifice to God what he has vowed he has paid. And in this case, that’s his time and his ministry to Nineveh.

So God has the fish spew Jonah out onto the dry land.

Someone please read Jonah chapter 3, which is also only ten verses.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”

10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Once Jonah is on dry land, God tell shim again, “Go to Nineveh and minister to them.” And this time Jonah does it.

The Bible describes Nineveh as an exceedingly large city where it takes three days to walk across the city. That is a large city, especially for back then.

When Jonah gets through the whole city, he walks through it and he tells them that in forty days Nineveh will be overthrown.

The people of Nineveh hear Jonah and they believe him so they immediately start praying to God. They proclaim a city wide fast—so no one in the city eats—and they put on sackcloth, which is basically wearing bags instead of normal clothes.

Then the king of Nineveh hears about this, he too puts on sackcloth and he makes a proclamation. That they will fast and be in sackcloth and pray and turn from their violence, hoping that maybe just maybe God might change his mind and they won’t perish.

Nineveh repents, they turn from their evil ways, and because they do, God says they will not be destroyed.

Someone please read Jonah 4:1-4.

But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Jonah sees that Nineveh has repented and God has spared the city, and is he happy? No. He’s angry. He’s furious. This is his worst enemy. So yes he went there doing what God told him to do, but it seems that Jonah only went to Nineveh because he thought that God would destroy Nineveh, and he wanted God to destroy his worst enemy for him.

That’s why Jonah didn’t want to go in the first place, he said. He knew God would spare them and Jonah wanted them all to die. Which isn’t a very nice thought, but it often how we think of our enemies. We want them to suffer and perish. We often don’t want to see them become right with God.

And God he calls Jonah to task for this. He’s like “Is it right for you to be angry?” And we know the answer is no. But Jonah can’t see it.

Someone please read Jonah 4:5-10.

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

The Lord God appointed a bush,[a] and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about 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 many animals?”

Jonah is mad God saved Nineveh, so he decides to leave the city and pout. He sits in the shade and watches the city. Maybe he’s hoping God will still destroy it still?

Then God grows a bush so it comes up and covers Jonah, keeping the sun off of his head, and Jonah is really pleased about this. He’s nice and comfortable and outside watching Nineveh. And it seems Jonah stays out there all night.

In the morning, a worm attacks the bush and it withers. And when the sun rises, now it beats down on Jonah’s head and he gets hot and he thinks he might die, and he gets really melodramatic.

God asks Jonah if he’s angry about the bush. And he’s like “yeah I’m angry.” And God points out that Jonah is concerned about a bush that he did not grow, he did not affect, and had only been a live a little bit. If Jonah could be so concerned about something that is ultimately so young and unimportant, how much more would God who created everything be concerned about this huge city full of people and animals that he created.

We never get Jonah’s response. The book ends open ended. But God’s words are all we need to end the book.

Jonah is a unique book when contrasted with a lot of the other stories we’ve studied. The Old Testament at times can present God as only concerned about one nation, Israel, and the Hebrew people who live there. God is the God of Israel. They are his chosen people. And the stories center on that.

But does that mean God doesn’t care about everyone else? Sometimes it can seem that way. That’s because the Old Testament is written from the perspective of Hebrew and Israelite people. Of course they view themselves as the center of God’s story, because we all view ourselves as the center of our own stories! But in stories like Jonah and Ruth—which center on outsiders—we see God was never just concerned about one people. He’s concerned about the whole world.

Jonah didn’t want to be concerned about everyone and the whole world. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh. But we know God is the God of everyone—Israel and Assyria, Jerusalem and Nineveh, America and Russia.

We’re supposed to love our enemies. Matthew 5:44, Jesus says “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” That’s what we’re supposed to do. Preach to Nineveh, yes, but more importantly, don’t be upset when they repent and God welcomes them with open arms. Don’t run away like Jonah. Don’t wish people would be destroyed. Pray for people and be happy when they come back to God.