Jonah 4:10-11 Prodigal Mercy, Prodigal God!

should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left — and much livestock?”

The Lord showed Jonah what free grace was all about. Despite Jonah’s rebellion, He saved Jonah through the great fish; He called Jonah a second time; He used Jonah to bring repentance to an entire city of Gentiles; He comforted Jonah from the desert heat with a leafy plant, even as he complained against God. What prodigal mercy! Yet, although the plant he gave Jonah was a free gift, Jonah presumed that God owed it to him – as he felt wronged when God took it away. The disappearing plant that God destroyed should have shown Jonah that it was His to give in the first place; that if grace is grace, it is undeserved, whether that grace be given to Nineveh or Israel, or himself; and that he had no right to object if God should have mercy on whom He wills!

Like Jonah we quarrel with God when we adore our “vines” more than His grace – when our home projects, our pets, and gardens take priority over sharing the gospel with our fellow men. God told us to “proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation.” Are we inwardly angry that God should impose such a burden on us? If God is concerned, how can we be so unconcerned?

We, like Jonah, stand in need of God’s prodigal mercy to be obedient to His commands, preach the Gospel, and live to the praise of His glorious grace!

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Jonah 4:5-10 A Merciful Plan and a Merciful Worm

God often uses nonhuman agents to reach people, teach lessons, and direct the course of events according to His will. Balaam’s donkey spoke with him (Num 22:22-33); in the books of the Kings, God used ravens, lions, and two bears to reveal His will to Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17:4-6, 20:35-36, 2 Kings 2:23-25). Christ used a storm to teach his disciples on the Sea of Galilee (Mt 8:26-27, Mk 4:39-41). A fish swallowed a coin to pay for Jesus’ and Peter’s tax (Mt 17:25-27). Job 12:7-12 and Prov 6:6-8 affirm that beasts, fowl, fish and even ants provide us with valuable life lessons as we observe them. David writes, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge.” (Psalm 19:1-2). There is no question that creation itself bears witness to and teaches us much of God and His will. Likewise in our text God uses a vine, a worm, and a “scorching east wind” to teach Jonah a great lesson.

Recall how Jonah sought safety in the belly of a ship, but oddly enough found his salvation in the belly of God’s fish. Well, now he seeks protection by building a hut, but God sends true shade to comfort him in the form of a plant; in the face of Jonah’s anger, the Lord poured out even more mercy and grace to Jonah, granting him shelter from the dessert heat, by causing a leafy vine to grow over Jonah. Jonah enjoyed the comfort of the plant, but just like the ship, the fish, and the hut, his safe haven was short lived, as God ordained a worm to eat the vine and an east wind to blow it away. We learn from this that we are not to substitute anything for God Himself – He only is our salvation; neither God’s provision nor our own provision is to be a substitute for the rest and comfort we are to receive from God alone. God was concerned with Jonah’s physical state, and the comfort He provided for Jonah in the plant, was genuine; however, He was far more concerned that Jonah learn the lesson for which the plant, the worm and the wind were prepared, so God once again probes Jonah to consider the value of his anger.

Read God’s answer set in contrast to Jonah’s anger (Jon 4:9-11). What is the lesson that God is teaching Jonah through the plant, the vine, and the wind? What has He taught you through nonhuman agents?

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Jonah 4:1-3 Happily Ever After?

Fairy tales often end with the words, “and they all lived happily ever after;” by contrast, real life is most characterized by punctuated events of happiness and sorrow. ‘Feel good’ movies portray real life events so that you leave the theater feeling happy, either at a triumphant victory or realized romance. However reality goes on past the highs of life. In reality, the characters portrayed in the movies’ lives continue past the great high moments of life. Teams go on to play another year; and high and triumphant moments are often followed by losses and sorrow.

If the story of Jonah would just conclude at the end of chapter 3, it could be called the ‘feel good epic of the year.’ What ending could be happier – Jonah is reconciled with God, and a wicked city is turned around – no losers only winners! We can imagine the scene – the music crescendos; a wide angle shot shows the masses of the city as they chant, “Jonah, Jonah Jonah!” The camera zooms in slowly to one man in the crowd, as he lifts his fist in the air and looks up and points up to God, as if to say, “this is Your victory Lord!” as the audience claps and cheers! Let’s end this story and run the credits already! But God is not a sentimentalist. He does not need to manipulate His audiences by requiring a warm, cozy, romantic feeling at the end of the story.

And alas Jonah’s story is a drama of real life – and as such, all do not live happily ever after. Instead Jonah ruins the happy ending by once again demonstrating his depravity, this time by complaining against the extravagant mercy of God demonstrated in His forgiving the wicked but repentant city of Nineveh. A prodigal God outpoured prodigal mercy on an entire city, and they repented and were spared! How much we would give to see revival of this kind in our city!?! Yet in what is the most puzzling plot twist of the whole story, Jonah demonstrates resentment and a temper tantrum; how peculiar!

Chapter 4 of Jonah demonstrates that the book of Jonah is ultimately not about the revival of a nation. The repentance of Nineveh was a subplot to tell a greater story! As unbelievably incredible as the repentance of Nineveh was, chapter 4 turns the focus from this great human event, to the even more incredible mercy of a sovereign God! Had the narrative ended with Jonah’s victory, perhaps Jonah would have been lifted up to be the hero of the story; but instead, the juxtaposition of Jonah’s anger and hatred to God’s mercy and love, contrasts the ugliness of sin and the loveliness of the Savior and sets them in context of an unparalleled outpouring of God’s free sovereign grace upon the Gentiles.

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Jonah 3:10 Prodigal Mercy Leads to Prodigal Repentance

God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. Jonah 3:10

In the book of Romans chapter 2, in the midst of discussing the wrath and condemnation of God that is due those who are hardened of heart and impenitently involved in and approving of sinful practices, Paul asks in verse 4, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?

While Jonah’s message of judgment jarred the Ninevites into rethinking their sinful actions and mourning over them, it was ultimately God’s goodness that leads the sinner to repentance. As a sinner becomes aware of the gravity of his sin, and the just consequence due him, he becomes equally struck by the mercy that God has extended toward him, in not taking his life.

The Ninevites believed God (Jonah 3:5); they were genuinely convicted and sorrowful for their sin (3:5-7), and they sought to change their behavior as a result (3:8). But all of this could no be the product of a people who only feared and sought to escape judgment. Ultimately those who truly repented did so, while entertaining a glimmer of hope that God might spare them (3:9).

Why would the Ninevites think they had any hope whatsoever? After all, Jonah’s message offered very little: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (3:4). Yet obviously something in Jonah’s preaching or demeanor made it clear that there was yet some hope. Some find it quite unbelievable that Nineveh was converted to God as a result of such preaching. But Nineveh had hoped in God’s compassion – His prodigal mercy. The statement of the king of Nineveh – “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” (3:9) – demonstrates that he understood that it was ultimately in God’s hand to make the determination of whether to extend justice or mercy. David uses the same expression in 2 Sam 12:22, “Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?” In that case however, God judged according to justice.

This week read the following passages, and see how God, though free to judge the rebellious with strict justice, chose instead to deal with His people in mercy.

Exodus 32:7-14, Jer 18:7-11, 26:2-3, Ez 33:11, Hos 11:8-9, Amos 7:1-6, Joel 2:12-14, Rom 3:23-26, 9:22-23, Eph 2:4-7, 2 Pet 3:9, James 2:10-13, Luke 23:32-34

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Jonah 3:3-9 The Prophet Preaches

Go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you. (Jonah 3:2)

God called Jonah to preach “the message that I tell you.” Jonah did not have to come up with his own message – he needed no innovation from his own mind – God gave him the message to preach, that would effectually save the entire city of Nineveh. He needed no dimmed lights or mesmerizing music; he needed no soft words or cunning speech. In the same manner today, God calls us to preach His message – the Gospel, which has once- for-all been delivered to the saints (Jude 3; cf. Heb 1:1-2). We are not to expect a new message; rather our job is to be a herald of the message God has already spoken. It is this message that is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes (Rom 1:17). Sadly today men have felt the need to alter the Gospel message to make it more palatable and acceptable to the masses. “Invitations” are offered to come to Christ for peace and blessings and a prosperous life. When an unregenerate heart responds to such a call, he or she hears and interprets these things carnally, as they only are able to. He or she hears only of physical and material well-being. Then the sinner is told simply to repeat a
prayer and they will be saved. If the sinner is not told of his sin, nor warned of the wrath his sin incurs, he does not even know what it is that he is saved from. If the cost of following Christ, of cross-bearing, and of suffering for the name of Christ is not mentioned, when these things necessarily come, the “new convert” feels that he’s been duped, and readily gives up on his faith. Brethren, when we have opportunity to preach the gospel, we must not neglect the hard words which prepare hearts for the gospel. This is the message God has given us to preach!

Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4) When Jonah preached this, his word was received for what it was, the Word of God. The Ninevites did not count Jonah’s words as the fantasy of a crazy prophet, or the opinion of a mere man – they accepted the message as the very judgment of God. They could have laughed, as the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah did, but instead they realized their spiritual danger. Preaching the fear of the Lord is never easy; it’s not nice and comforting. Today many so-called men of God believe that it is their calling as heralds to be “encouragers” who “just don’t like to be harsh in their preaching.” But such preaching is the God- ordained means where one may realize the spiritual peril of t his soul, so that he might receive the free gift of salvation. Paul wrote in 2 Cor 5:11, “knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” Of course fear of God’s wrath is not the whole of saving faith, but it is in the words of commentator Gordon Keddie, it is “the plough’s turning of the sod, a necessary step on the way to a fruitful harvest.

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Jonah 2:10-3:2 Mercy’s Irrevocable Call

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time … Jonah 3:1

Thomas Manton writes: “Forgiveness invites us to return to God, obliges us to return to God … inclines us to return to God, and encourages us to live in a state of amity and holy friendship with God, pleasing Him, and serving Him in righteousness all our days.”

Jonah had looked death in the face and lived. A more vivid picture of God’s mercy and forgiveness could not have been given to him, than when this life-saving fish vomited him up onto dry land, and God again called Jonah to go to Nineveh. In a world of characterized by unforgiveness, many careers, friendships, and even marriages have been terminated over a single error. Even when someone is given a ‘second chance,’ it is usually probationary and given with many stipulations. But God, who has been called, “the God of the second chance,” is all that and more! Jonah did have to go back to square one, but he did with the assurance, that God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable.

Scripture is replete with affirmations of God’s unchangeableness. Balaam told Balak, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Num 23:19). Peter made the a similar affirmation: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God’s promises are certain; they will be fulfilled exactly as He determines and declares. Man cannot thwart any of God’s plan, and He Himself will not break them.

In Romans chapter 11, speaking of the nation of Israel, Paul affirms that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Rom 11:29). Though from the standpoint of the gospel, Israel are presently enemies of God, when the Lord elected the nation of Israel to be His own people, He bound Himself by His own promise to be their God and have them be His people forever. Though presently His enemies, God’s eternal election guarantees that their enmity is not permanent, for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as God’s sovereign grace and election cannot be earned, neither can they be rejected or thwarted. They are irrevocable and unalterable. Nothing, therefore, can prevent Israel’s being saved and restored – not even her own rebellion and unbelief, because, as Paul has just declared, her ungodliness will be sovereignly removed and her sins graciously taken away (vv. 26-27). What is true of elected believers is true of elected Israel: “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass” (1 Thes 5:24). Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift (2 Cor 9:15) and that His mercies are new every morning (Lam 3:23).

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Jonah 2:1-9 Jonah’s Prayer

Jonah, who wished to run from the presence of God, was now experiencing the realization of his wish. Try to imagine the physical peril that Jonah was under: hurled from the deck of a ship, into massive tumultuous waves, submerged into a salty sea; then to wake up in the slimy smelly pit of a fish’s belly, perhaps, thinking he has awaken in the pit of the outer darkness of hell itself.

What does Jonah do? He turns to the holy of holies – he turns to his Father in prayer. What boldness! What audacity! One may ask: What right did Jonah have to address God at all? Surely God will not hear the prayer of such a sinner as he. Is not the judgment that Jonah is experiencing evidence enough that God had forsaken him? Wouldn’t it have been better for Jonah to turn inward and examine himself to see if he was even a follower of Yahweh? How can a man in such condition ever think he could stand on God’s holy hill in His presence ever again? The answer is, of course the amazing grace and prodigal mercy of God. Jonah had to experience the grace and mercy of God firsthand and radically, if he was going to be a minister of that grace to the people of Nineveh. And he had, as his spirit was revived and as He called to mind the Word of God and began to pray.

If this prodigal, sinful, loveless, disobedient prophet can go to God, while still under the Old Covenant, how much more should we, as redeemed children of God covered with the blood of the New Covenant, boldly approach the throne of God to find grace and mercy? Ponder and answer the following question honestly: When you are pressed in on all sides, when you are suffering, feeling lost or afraid, or out of control, when the world seems to be caving in around you, where do you run? Retreat? Solitude? Denial? Resignation? Or the Throne of Grace and Mercy? If it is not the latter, then why not? Is there something that you think you must first get right before you can approach God? This is an indication of a legalistic self-sufficient heart – and likely the circumstance you find yourself in will not let up until you repent of such thinking.

The thoughts and feeling described in Jonah’s prayer are proof that the severity of his affliction had accomplished their sanctifying affect. Jonah poured out his heart in prayer as a result of a revived Spirit of Sonship. You too are a son, so take your privilege and go to God’s throne of grace boldly.

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Jonah 1:17 Ordination of a Fish

Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Enter the most famous character of the book of Jonah. He has been called, ‘the most criticized fish that ever swam in the Mediterranean.’ Various stories have been offered in order to vindicate the events of the narrative, which while perhaps commendable, have sadly changed the focus of the story from a great God to a great fish story. Of course the narrative is not about a fish at all, or is it? In his time on stage, as it were, the fish really only has a walk-on part in this grand drama, but yet his role is indispensable. This great fish is God’s ordained instrument of judgment and mercy, in order to bring out Jonah’s repentance. Can you think of another great instrument of judgment and mercy that God ordained in order to bring about repentance?

As we consider the story of Jonah, there is the natural miracle to consider, in that Jonah survived in the belly of the fish for three days, but deeper still is the work of grace that God had done in Jonah’s heart during his time in the fish. Jonah, a hopeless man, asks to be thrown overboard into the raging waves – basically writing his own death sentence; he emerges after three days as a hopeful man of prayer. What happened? The despondent Jonah is hurled into the sea, despairing of his very life; after just three days, he is able to confess, “Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God.” (Jonah 2:6). What happened? A humiliated prophet, ashamed of his calling and devoid of any expectation of future usefulness in ministry, after just three days, is changed and finds his calling and mission is restored. What happened? In just three days, Jonah was a changed man. What on earth could bring about such enormous spiritual growth in such short a time? A big fish, that’s what! This fish – this ordained instrument of judgment and mercy, was exactly what was needed to bring Jonah to the place where he would call out to the Lord in his distress, recognize his own inability, repent, and ultimately fulfill his calling. Praise God for in just three days, the very world itself was turned upside down; what happened in three days to accomplish such a great universal transformation?

Rejoice in the grace of our God, who ordained a ‘fish’ … and a cross, and everything else in our lives, to bring about our repentance, faith, and our conformity to the image of Christ, for His glory! God will have your will and your way directed toward Him, whatever it takes!

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Jonah 1:7-16 The Prophet’s Resignation

Since the lot fell on Jonah, he was forced to admit his game was up – the running and hiding was over, and Jonah was forced to identify himself. Imagine the shock of the sailors to find out that this man, upon whom the lot fell, was a worshipper of Yahweh – the God of heaven who made the land and the sea. Jonah’s rebellion had brought this calamity on these men. The irony is that these same pagan men demonstrated great patience and grace toward Jonah; while Jonah closed his heart to pagan Ninevites, these pagan mariners were quite charitable to Jonah and even ended up crying out to Yahweh, the covenant God of all Creation. What’s more is that the awe that these events produced in these men’s hearts caused them to sacrifice to Yahweh, and if indeed they were actually converted, they could have been the first missionaries to bring the Word of God to Spain (the suggested location of Tarshish). By contrast, how low Jonah had sunk in his folly, thinking he could run from the will of God. He went down to Joppa, down to the lower recesses of ship and finally suggested that the sailors cast him down into the deep. Instead of glorifying the name of the living God before an entire city, Jonah’s flight resulted in his telling a few sailors that he had been running from this God, implying that He was as limited as their own familiar local deities. Jonah’s rebellion had caused him to be foolishly lulled to sleep, left him powerless in the midst of crisis, ashamed of his ministry, and ultimately despairing of his own usefulness. Jonah’s final resignation (or at least what he thought would be his final resignation) to cast him into the sea is evidence that he believed God was done with him; perhaps he despaired the thought that he had fallen away from God completely and was no longer His child. Though the mariners rowed hard to try to avoid it, God’s will was inevitably done and Jonah was hurled into the sea. Jonah knew that this was God’s will and became resigned to what he saw was inevitable – his own death and the possibility of an eternity in hell.

Have the circumstances of life brought you down? Has your sin and rebellion brought you to a place where you feel low and depressed, perhaps even at the point of turning away from the faith or giving up on God? Is your soul downcast? Who can say that it has not been the hand of the Lord that has brought you to this place, this with a greater purpose in mind? Perhaps this pit of despair that you have found yourself in is really an evidence of God’s mercy and grace. For those who belong to Christ, even the downward spiral of sin and despair manifests the good intent of God. We can think of Joseph, cast into the pit, sold into slavery, all brought down to Egypt, all because God meant it for good! God’s intention in all of the downward turns in Joseph’s life was ultimately to bring about the salvation of His people during great famine. The same principle reaches its fullest expression in the decent of Jesus from His arrest in the garden to the cruelty of His execution on the cross, down to His burial in the tomb, the sinking down of Jesus Christ was all with the salvific intent to be raised on the third day, and thereby save and raise all of the elect.

Jonah 1:4-11 A Merciful Storm

But the LORD sent out a great wind on the sea… Jonah 1:4

The tension of the narrative is created in first three verses of the book of Jonah. God has called, and the prophet has run away; God commanded him to “get up,” Jonah “went down;” God called to go northeast to Nineveh, and he drudged 60 miles southwest to the port of Joppa; from receiving the Word of the Lord, Jonah sought to flee the presence of the Lord. At Joppa, Jonah found just what he was looking for – a ship headed for Tarshish. The rapidity of these successive events is striking – here we are, only 3 verses into the text, and so much has already transpired! What next?

Though things may have seemed to slow down for Jonah, as he settled into the lower deck of the ship and fell fast asleep, the Lord would not allow him to continue comfortably in his rebellion. So the LORD sent a great wind on the sea; but this storm was not the chaotic retributive act of an angry vengeful deity, but a very specific and deliberate act of a loving God. Rather than a random wind and tempest, this storm had a merciful and salvific intent. Like the earth itself, which in the beginning lied as a formless void heap, covered with darkness over the face of the deep, Jonah’s disobedience sent him and the crew of his ship into the darkness of the face of the deep, even as Jonah himself sank into the dark recesses of the boat. But in like manner, as the Spirit (which in Hebrew is ruach) of God moved upon the face of the waters to rescue the formless earth in creation, the Lord sent a great wind (ruach) to Jonah’s ship to ultimately rescue Jonah – it was indeed a merciful storm. Likewise in Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, God used the ruach – his breath or spirit – to breathe into the dark valley of dead bones and create life (Ez 37:5). One thing is for sure, God is always in the midst of storms in the Bible, in fact He often ordained the wind and tempests in order to speak to His people (see also Job 40:6, Jer 30:23, Ezek 1:4, Zech 9:14); and the storm that hit Jonah’s ship was no exception. The storm that hit Jonah’s get-away ship was a storm of the Lord. Just as was the case when Jesus stilled the storm on the Sea of Galilee, the winds and the waves obeyed Him, as they precisely hit Jonah’s ship. The Lord was working out His purpose to save His prophet and His people. Jonah’s storm is no coincidence, it is no act of an unaffected “mother nature,” much less is it a fable; it is God’s providential action, with the atmospheric elements doing His bidding.

How this answers the perennial objection that is raised about God’s goodness: If God exists and is good, why would He permit disasters causing misery to innocent human beings? The Lord’s answer is that there are no ‘innocent people,’ and there is no, ‘luck of the draw.’ There are responsible sinners in the hands of a sovereign God, who ordains events to bring about the repentance and salvation of His people. Whatever God ordains is right and good and accomplishes His will for His own glory. Certainly by looking at the ultimate results in the life of Jonah and the mariners of this fateful voyage, this storm was a merciful storm serving the purposes of God in grace, love, and perfect righteousness.

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