THE PATRIOTIC PROPHET Jonah 1–2
“But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish” (Jonah 1:3).Jonah had what he thought were good reasons to run from the Lord and from the mission God had given him. His story reminds us never to substitute “good reasons” for God’s will!
The patriotic prophet.
Second Kings 14:25 identifies “Jonah son of Amittai” as a prophet who lived in the days of Jeroboam II of Israel, and who predicted that king’s many victories. In the days of Jeroboam II the boundaries of the Northern Kingdom were extended almost to the borders achieved during the golden age of David and Solomon. As the prophet called to preannounce the king’s victories, Jonah must have enjoyed great popularity, especially as life in Israel had been bleak before Jeroboam’s vigorous rule. No doubt the prophet felt a great deal of personal satisfaction as well, as he watched his fellow countrymen begin to prosper in accord with the word of the Lord which he had been privileged to deliver. God’s command that Jonah go to preach against Nineveh, however, was something else again! Assyria had been, and still was, a threat to Israel’s very existence! Jonah wanted no part of a ministry to that particular bunch of foreigners! All Jonah wanted to do was to keep on preaching his positive message of prosperity in his homeland. Jonah’s patriotic motivation, which is further explained in chapter 4, was so great that he determined to flee God’s presence. It is at this point that Jonah’s story begins.
Jonah was told to preach against Nineveh (1:1–2), but tried to flee to Tarshish (v. 3). Identified as the cause of a great storm that threatened his ship, Jonah was cast overboard (vv. 4–16), where he was swallowed by a great fish (v. 17). From inside the fish Jonah prayed, and was delivered (2:1–10).
Understanding the Text
“Go to the great city of Nineveh” Jonah 1:2. There is no indication that God explained the purpose of Jonah’s mission to him. But chapter 4 indicates Jonah suspected. There Jonah said, “I knew that You are . . . a God who repents from sending calamity” (v. 2). Jonah suspected that if he went to Nineveh the city might repent of “its wickedness,” and God would withhold the threatened destruction. Jonah’s explanation helps us understand the exact nature of the prophet’s flight. He did not run from God because he failed to understand the Lord’s purposes, but because he did understand them! Jonah simply didn’t like those purposes. God doesn’t ask us to agree with what He plans. All He asks is that we acknowledge that He knows best—and obey. “A ship bound for that port” Jonah 1:3. Most commentators believe that the port in question was Tartessus, in Spain. Looking at a map reveals its significance. Nineveh lay to the north. Tarshish was as far south on the Mediterranean as a vessel could go. It’s typical of young people who decide to abandon the faith and lifestyle of their parents to go as far in the opposite direction as they feel they can. If one of your children has taken the route to Tarshish, the story of Jonah is comforting. There was no way Jonah could get away from God. God will pursue our young people, even as He pursued His prophet. “The Lord sent a great wind” Jonah 1:4–6. In the eighth century B.C vessels that plied the Mediterranean stayed close to the coast, ready to run for shelter in case of a storm. The storm that struck the ship terrified the sailors, and apparently made the landsman Jonah groggy. Jonah was aroused and urged to pray by the desperate seamen. It’s possible Jonah was unaware of how desperate the situation was, while the experienced sailors knew full well the extent of the danger. “Who is responsible for making all this trouble for us?” Jonah 1:7–9 As the storm worsened, the sailors cast lots to find out who was responsible for the calamity. This was more than superstition. It reflected the sailors’ awareness that such storms never struck during that particular season. It seemed clear to them that some supernatural cause was involved. The problem was, the sailors felt themselves innocent bystanders, caught in the conflict between some deity and someone on board the ship. Jonah’s disobedience had brought a shipload of innocents into grave danger. This illustrates a basic principle of all human life. Our lives and the lives of others are woven together. We cannot disobey God without in some way affecting others for ill. Nor can we obey God without affecting them for good. “I know that it is my fault” Jonah 1:11–16. Jonah knew that he was responsible for the danger they were all in, and showed he was willing to accept that responsibility. He told the sailors to throw him overboard, and promised that then the storm would stop. We can admire this in Jonah. So many who make mistakes are unwilling to accept responsibility, and try desperately to avoid the consequences of their choices. Jonah was ready to accept those consequences, which he realized was necessary to save his shipmates. But we can also admire the sailors. Despite Jonah’s confession, they were unwilling to throw him overboard until every other hope was exhausted. Finally, begging God not to punish them for taking Jonah’s life, they did as the prophet demanded and threw him over the side. This too is an important reminder. It’s easy to develop a “we/they” view of others, as though there were no moral or good persons in the world beyond the church. The sailors, all worshipers of other gods, and in terror for their own lives, still did all they could to save Jonah. We should appreciate such qualities in others. In fact, such qualities should make us all the more eager to share the good news of the salvation available to all in Jesus. (See DEVOTIONAL.) Archeologists have established the kind of fragile ship that sailed the Mediterranean in Jonah’s time. The single-sailed cargo vessel might carry a few passengers, but most of the crew worked and slept on deck. Most ships in this era refused to put to sea during the Mediterranean’s storm season, and the unexpected storm that struck Jonah’s vessel was viewed as a divinely caused calamity (Jonah 1:7).“The Lord provided a great fish” Jonah 1:17. The Hebrew does not indicate a whale, despite the familiar King James rendering (Matt. 12:39–40). This makes all those stories of whaling men swallowed and later found alive (or dead) in a whale’s stomach irrelevant. It’s understandable that those determined to prove the reliability of the Bible would appeal to such evidence. But it is entirely unnecessary. Why? Because the text says that the Lord “provided” the great fish. This was no ordinary fish, but a Goliath among fish, prepared especially for the task of swallowing Jonah. Just as the appearance of the fish on the scene in time to swallow Jonah, and Jonah’s survival in the stomach of the fish, were miraculous, so was the giant fish itself. “I will look again toward Your holy temple” Jonah 2:4. Jonah 2 is a poem recapitulating Jonah’s experience. He pictures for us the currents that swirled around him, and the clammy seaweed, some of which grows to a height of 50 feet or more, that wrapped around his head as he sank. Near death, “I remembered You, Lord, and my praise rose to You, to Your holy temple.” These references to the temple recall Solomon’s prayer at its dedication. In that prayer he asked God to restore any of his sinning people, “aware of his afflictions and pains, and spreading out his hands toward this temple” (2 Chron. 6:29, cf. vv. 26–27). Jonah’s prayer was a tacit confession of his sin of disobedience, and a tacit commitment to be obedient. Then, rescued and rejoicing, Jonah openly affirmed, “What I have vowed I will make good.” How often we see it in the Old Testament. Whatever the sin, however great the disobedience, God is willing to accept the sinner who returns to Him. Upon confession the sinner is restored not only to fellowship, but in the case of Jonah, still entrusted with his original mission. Your past failures, or mine, do not disqualify us from participation in the great purposes God is working out even now in our world. What a motive to surrender to Him, and once again be fully committed to doing His will.
Make Me a BIG Blessing(Jonah 1)
Every once in a while I run across the notion that unless a Christian is really in close fellowship with the Lord, God can’t use him or her to bless others. Actually, that’s not true, as the story of Jonah illustrates. Jonah was just about as far out of fellowship as a believer can get—running away from God—when that terrific storm hit his ship and frightened all aboard. And then look what happened. Jonah admitted he was responsible for the storm, got the sailors to throw him overboard, the storm stopped—and the sailors, convinced by all this of the power of Jonah’s God, “greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to Him” (v. 16). God used a disobedient Jonah to introduce Himself to a shipload of pagan sailors! And the pagan sailors believed. Of course, Jonah wasn’t around to enjoy his “success.” He was drowning: sinking into the sea, his lungs bursting, sensing the clammy touch of the seaweed entwined around his head. I think this is the message preachers should get across to Christians. Can God use a carnal or disobedient believer to accomplish His purposes? Of course! But— will such a believer experience the blessing that usually comes with serving God? No. Like Jonah, the believer out of touch with God misses the blessing, for he’s drowning in the sea of his own troubles and sorrows. Oh, yes. There’s one more thing to note. When Jonah was out of fellowship with the Lord, God used him to save a shipload. But when Jonah was back in fellowship, and went on to Nineveh, God used him to save a whole city. Conclusions? I think I want to ask the Lord to make me a BIG blessing. He can use me more if I stay in fellowship with Him. And I’ll sure enjoy it a lot more too.
Serve God wholeheartedly, and enjoy!