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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Jonah 1:1-3 Ordination of a Prodigal

“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me. But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa …”

While Webster’s dictionary defines the word, ‘prodigal,’ as recklessly extravagant and lavish, we have come to most readily associate the word “prodigal” with Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. While the term prodigal most accurately describes the lavish mercy of the father in the parable, we nevertheless use the term to describe the son, who recklessly squandered his father’s inheritance. Today, the term has come to describe the proverbial prodigal child, who runs away from home, in the end to return. In this way, we can consider Jonah a prodigal prophet.

The word of the LORD came to Jonah. It came with clarity and heavy responsibility. God called him to “arise and go to Nineveh,” and “cry out against it.” The prophet unquestionably heard the call, but he responded by arising, and instead of going to Nineveh, fleeing to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He had no difficulty understanding the call, yet he likely excused his direct disobedience amidst a flurry of ministry activity. Perhaps Jonah’s speedy flight to Joppa was interpreted by others around him as a mission trip itself. But only Jonah and God knew otherwise.

What could Jonah mean when he tells us that he was fleeing, “from the presence of the LORD?” Surely he knew what David did (Ps 139:1-12) that God was omnipresent, and it is impossible to go anywhere away from His presence. What Jonah meant by this was that his flight was from God’s will and calling; he was fleeing from where prayer revealed would be his place service. At a great expense, Jonah endeavored to go as far
as he could in the opposite direction of God’s revealed calling, thinking that he might be able to push the haunting voice of God to the back of His mind. But he would soon learn that even if he should make his bed in hell, God is there (Ps 139:8)!

Jonah’s flight from his Father was met with much peril. Fleeing the fullness of joy that comes with God’s presence, Jonah instead first reaped a great storm which threatened his ship and the lives of many men, and then a great fish which became his cramped, soggy and smelly home for 3 days and 3 nights. But, not willing that Jonah should perish, the One who has been called ‘the hound of heaven,’ with an unhurried and deliberate pace, pursued this fleeing soul with divine mercy and grace. Though Jonah sought to hide himself, which is the tendency of all men since the fall, divine grace unwearyingly followed after, until his soul was compelled to return to God’s presence. As Martin Luther commented, “Not only the ship, but the whole world becomes too small for Jonah … He finds no nook or corner in all creation, not even in hell, where he might crawl in.” There is never a place of safety away from God’s presence, where we may be left in ‘superficial peace.’

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Jonah: An Introduction to a Prodigal God with Prodigal Mercy

Now the Word of the Lord came to Jonah …

With all of its drama and extraordinary events, people have become fascinated with the story of Jonah. Whether from coloring books or children’s story Bibles, from childhood, the tale of a man swallowed by a great fish and regurgitated alive, 3 days later, has captured our imagination! Yet how many, knowing the story so well, know the true import and significance of Jonah?

For one thing the book of Jonah is biographical. Jonah was a historical figure sent on a particular mission from God to reach a specific group of people. So broadly Jonah will bring us face to face with missions and evangelism. Then, as one who ran away from his calling and mission, Jonah will provide a mirror into our own heart and its propensity to wander from God’s call. As Jonah’s journey is traced, we see the inner workings of his heart – his fears, his motivations, his moods – with which we can identify and learn from his example. Yet there is still an even greater value to studying the book of Jonah.

Jonah has significance far greater than God’s localized concern for Nineveh. The book is not about a great fish! Neither is Jonah ultimately about the man who wrote it. Also, it is more than a guide to overseas missions for Christian evangelists. And while we will learn about ourselves, Jonah is about so much more. The book of Jonah is primarily about Jonah’s God. We will learn more about God and His mercy and His dealings with His people in Jonah than we will about Jonah himself, or our own self. In Jonah the doctrine of God and the depth of His mercy come alive in the experience of this man. Jonah is a vital link in the history of redemption as it reveals to us the unfolding purposes of God and His prodigal loving mercy for a prophet and a people.