By Jeri Young
When I was asked to do a lesson for the Women’s Bible Study this fall, I happened to be in the book of Jonah and the Lord put it on my heart right there and then that this was why Jonah was really jumping out at me this time as I read through it.
Also I had just finished reading “ALREADY GONE” by KEN HAMM. Pastor Steve mentioned it a few weeks ago and he was the third person to recommend it. I had already bought it but hadn’t read it. When the call came to do the study, I had just finished it. So I asked the Lord, how am I going to put Jonah together with a current book called “Already Gone.” ....and of course, God is always gracious, and helped me to sort through it.
First I want to lay a little bit of ground work. In my own very unscientific “polling” (it’s hard for me to even use that word right now! :), I’ve found that there are two huge categories that people fall into and struggle with when it comes to believing in God.
GOD IN A BOX OR A HUGE AND IMPERSONAL GOD
First, and most common among non believers but also among believers as well is they want to put God in a box. This is how the teaching of the theory of evolution gained its power. The teaching was that man evolved over millions of years was more acceptable than believing that there was a God powerful enough to make the universe and our world as we know it. They put God in a BOX!
When people ask me how I can believe that the earth is only a few thousand years old, I ask them, “What is your definition of God? Should an almighty, all knowing God have limits???” Then I say, God is timeless which means He’s eternal and He simply created an aged earth. We live in time - God does not! God created Adam and Eve mature and I’m quite certain that He created everything else mature as well. For instance if the scientists have proven that the earth is losing mass at 4,000 tons per second; if the earth was billions of years old, it would have burned millions of years ago! It’s simple because He’s God. Sadly many believers also put God in a box as well by choosing which parts of the Bible they want to believe. But by doing this, they are also saying that Jesus lied because Jesus verified Genesis without reservation....and if Jesus is a liar, where does that leave their faith.
The Second Group is just the opposite. They believe there is a God or a “divine being” that created all of this.....but someone who could create all of this could never be a personal God who would know each one of us individually so they don’t feel they could ever be close to this kind of God much less have a personal relationship with him.
It’s always been a huge question in my mind as to why so many children of people in my age group who were raised in the church have now completely turned away from their faith. We weren’t perfect but we did the best we could and hoped our kids would follow the Lord for the rest of their lives. It’s heart breaking how many have not. In Ken Hamm’s book, “Already Gone,” Ken Hamm did a wide spread study of kids raised in Christian homes and was shocked to discover that by the time the kids had reached middle school, many of them had already decided if the Bible was true or not. He said one of the biggest mistakes that parents or church teachers make is to teach the kids that the “miracles and life histories” in the Bible are “stories! The problem is that at home they hear that miracles and life events or histories in the Bible are “stories” and then they go to school, and are taught the exact opposite, for instance stating that evolution is a “fact.”
So kids, being submissive at the younger age (as young as the first grade now), compartmentalize the teachings from their parents and church into one category - make believe - and the teaching from public school as “fact.” Even adults do this because they are still choosing what to believe in the Bible and what not to believe. The important thing to remember is that Jesus spoke of the miracles in the OT as FACT! So that needs to be our starting point! The doubts about the miracles in the Bible are nothing more than “fiery darts” that satan throws at us to make us have doubts about God’s word.
Look at this album (for those of us who remember what albums are :o) The center is our resting spot....where we rest in God. When we are new Christians, we give our hearts to the Lord and believe that He died for us and rose again. We don’t know how it happened but we believe it happened. Then as we start reading the Bible, we start thinking and “sorting” out all of the teachings in the OT....and while you’re doing this, the world is shouting that the Bible is either completely fictional and a bunch of stories or that only very little of it is true. This is the outer rim of the record....you see it takes a lot longer to go all the way around before you start moving to the inner circle.
I used to do this all the time.....this is my “high doubt area.” I would go around this whole circle and then remember that Jesus talked about and verified that the events in the OT are indeed true - not just stories....I would then think of some of the prophesies that foretold of Jesus’ coming hundreds of years before He came to earth....another big circle. I used to have to take a lot of time to get around these “circles,” before I could get to the true resting spot that the Lord has provided for us... but the more I read scripture, studied it, and listened to Godly teachers, the smaller my circles became and the less time it took me to get to the center. Now, occasionally, I will “blip” out but it’s almost instant that I can move right back to the resting place. BUT THE important thing to remember is that Jesus unquestionably taught that the miracles in the OT were FACT based and not “just stories!” One such miracle that Jesus spoke about in Matt 12:40 was from the book of Jonah, “just as Jonah was 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of the big fish, so will the Son of man be 3 days and 3 nights in the heart of the earth.
So now believing that all the OT is truly the inspired word of God and all of the miracles in the OT are true, let’s look at the book of Jonah. The studies that we’re doing every Tuesday is about the devoted heart. Sometimes to know what a Devoted Heart for the Lord is, we have to compare a devoted heart with a condemning or compromised heart. Jonah had a condemning heart. Jonah was a prophet during the times that the tribes of Israel were divided into two separate kingdoms, with ten tribes being in the north and two tribes being in the south during the time of King Jeroboam II. Jonah was a prophet in the northern ten tribes. We don’t have a lot of background on him except that he was the son of Amittai, also a prophet. An interesting Jewish tradition says that Jonah was the widow’s son that Elijah prayed over and brought back from the dead in 1Kings 17:17-24. While all other Jewish prophets prophesied against the Gentile nations, Jonah also was the ONLY prophet to be sent to preach to the gentiles. The Book of Jonah, to this day, is read by the Jews in the synagogue in its entirety every year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Jonah is an amazing representation of the human heart. God created man in the image of Himself but after Adam and Eve fell, sin entered in and hearts became hardened and wicked. In Jeremiah 17:9, God says that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” When most of us think of Jonah, we think of him being swallowed by the big fish because he ran from God....but there’s so much more in this small book. So let’s get started.
So when God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach repentance to the Ninevites, Jonah balked and decided instead to book passage to Tarshish in Spain. The Ninevites were Assyrians and they were a cruel terrible people and they were avowed enemies of the Jews. They would make ISIS today look tame. I’m not going to go into the graphics....just take my word for it. Historical documents have said that there were many instances when a town knew they were surrounded by the Nenevites and there was no way out, they would commit suicide rather than be captured. Nineveh is Mosul today in northern Iraq and is right on the Tigris river which flows into the Persian Gulf which then flows into the Arabian Sea (More about why this is important later). Some interesting facts about Nineveh is that it was thought to be possibly the largest city in the world at that time having a population that was thought to be as high as 600,000. It was the capitol of Assyria. It would take three days to walk from one side of the city to the other.
The name Nineveh, which dates back to Nimrod, is thought to have been derived from the word Ninus and means residence of Nimrod or “nunu” for fish. It was a sailing town and They worshipped the goddess Nanshe and a fish god that was half man/half fish named Dagon. Historical evidence says that Nineveh had recently suffered at least two catastrophic events and a solar eclipse right before God told Jonah to go and preach repentance. I think God was PREPARING their hearts before Jonah ever arrived. (so like God- every thing in perfect order) There were two plagues - one in 765 b.c. and one in 759 b.c. and there was a complete solar eclipse in 763 b.c. Because Jonah was a prophet during the time of Jeroboam II and was just prior to Amos, it is believed and backed up by Jewish tradition that Jonah went to Nineveh shortly after these three events took place.
Yes, Jonah balked at God’s instruction to go to Nineveh and preach to the Ninevites but to be fair, Jonah loved his people, the Jews. He also knew that the Assyrians were avowed enemies of the Jews. He knew if they repented and God let them live, they would continue to make life difficult for the Jews. He knew how cruel they were. In his heart, he knew what God was telling him to do but his mind was probably saying, “God didn’t really mean that.” So he hopped on a boat in the opposite direction towards to Spain. And then we all know the story of “Jonah getting swallowed by a whale.” OOOOps! That’s not what scripture says. In Jonah Chapter 1: 17 it says, “ Now the Lord had PREPARED a GREAT FISH! ( Wikepedia: The Hebrew text reads dag gadol (דג גדול), which means "big fish." The Septuagint translates this phrase into Greek as ketos mega (κῆτος μέγα). The term ketos means "huge fish," Jerome later translated this phrase as piscis granda in his Latin Vulgate.) We don’t know what kind of a fish but we do know that the Lord prepared it and that Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.
In scripture, God’s word is so amazing in how one verse can have multiple applications. Here we see Jonah swallowed by a big fish because of his disobedience and hardened heart. However, when we continue to read Chapter 2 stating his anguish and his prayers while he was in the belly of the fish for three days an three nights, we see a likeness of Christ’s death and resurrection - an awesome study. This is what Jesus was talking about in Matt 12:40. ....but today we’re only going to look at Jonah’s heart. So after Jonah cries out to the Lord in anguish, our gracious and merciful Lord “speaks to the fish and it vomits Jonah onto dry land. “ Now the Lord could have told the fish, “spit him out but let him swim a long ways.....he deserves it....but God tells the fish to spit him out on “dry land!” And God tells Jonah a second time to go and preach repentance to the Ninevites. This time Jonah listens!!!
FISH SPITS JONAH ON DRY LAND
As I was doing this study..(and I’ve read this book several times)...this is interesting, it was the first time I noticed that God told the fish to spit Jonah on dry land. I thought...hmmmmmh .....dry land where??? How far is Israel or the city of Joppa from Nineveh/Mosul??? It’s 500 miles!!! Not an easy trek....so I started looking at some commentaries and the bottom line is we don’t know. He could have dropped him back on land in Israel close to Joppa and some how Jonah made his way to Nineveh....but one commentary said God could have had the fish swim all the way down around the southern part of Africa then back up through the Arabian Sea, through the Persian Gulf up the very large Tigris river and deposited him on shore there! We don’t know but as I read it, I get the feeling of urgency and if the famines and the eclipse had just happened, God would have wanted Jonah there sooner rather than later.
So Jonah walks through the entire city telling the Ninevites that in 40 days, because of their wickedness, they will be destroyed. He failed to tell them that if they would repent that God might have mercy and not destroy them. He didn’t give them that option. By refusing to do that, he refused to teach them about the true character of God. The Ninevites DO listen to Jonah and repent. Even the King comes down from his throne and puts on sack cloth, sits in ashes and repents. He sends out a decree that both man and animal will fast in repentance stating “let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.
Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” Scripture says, “Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way and God relented from the disaster he had said He would bring upon them and He did not do it.”
They did and Jonah was not happy! As Pastor Chuck said, “He was probably the only preacher in history that was mad because hundreds of thousands turned to God because of his preaching!” The problem was Jonah’s heart! Jonah’s heart had been compromised! He was a good man and according to 2 Kings had always been obedient to God’s word up until this point. He felt he knew better than God. He couldn’t believe that God would show mercy to such an evil people! Jonah’s father’s name was Ammitai which means truth. Jonah was a “black and white” truth person. Jonah’s name means “Dove” which could also mean messenger.
Some say that Jonah, under the influence of Elijah, wanted truth and judgment. But He was leaving out the mercy of God. Jonah had already forgotten how merciful God had been to him and spared him from dying even after flat out disobedience on his part. Jonah had also forgotten what Ezekiel had preached to the Jews. In EZ 33:11, God said, “As I live, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked but rather that the wicked turn from their way and live.” But God was using this (again multiple applications here) to teach Jonah. Yes, God wanted Nineveh to repent of their ways.....but he also wanted to teach Jonah about the heart.
So Jonah was not a happy camper but to his credit, he took his complaint to the Lord, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore, I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know you and you are a gracious and merciful God; slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, One who relents from doing harm....” Never doubt that our God is a VERY PERSONAL GOD! He’s lovingly dealing with a very rebellious and pouting child! How often are we like that???
So, Jonah is now (at least I’m picturing) really wailing. He’s worked himself up into a lather and he tells God, “Oh, Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!” How often when we retell our woe that is only from our side and the more we talk about it, the more worked up we become and then Jonah finishes with the crescendo of “JUST KILL ME NOW!” A bit dramatic since we know he wanted to live because of his prayers while he was in the fish!!!
I don’t know how many of you have heard the Lord speak to you but I have...only a few rare instances but it has happened. It’s always a very short sentence....always...and it’s direct.....and it’s a quiet voice. This is how I picture God talking to Jonah when He says, “Is it right for you to be so angry!” He’s giving Jonah a chance to figure it out himself. Well, Jonah’s heart is still hard so he walks or literally tromps out of the city and it says he made himself a shelter so that he “might see what would become of the city.” He’s still hoping that the Lord will take the Ninevites out...maybe hoping that they’ll immediately turn back to their evil ways and the Lord will say, “That’s it, you’re done!”
Now I want to read the next few verses and pay close attention to the word “prepared.” Starting at verse 6, “And the Lord prepared a plant and made it come over Jonah, that it might be a shade for his head to deliver him from his misery (that he was bringing upon himself). So Jonah was grateful for the plant. But as morning dawned the next day, God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. And it happened when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah is drowning in misery of his own making!!! If the Ninevites accepted his message to repent, it would have been a perfect opportunity for Jonah to stay for a while and teach them about the true God but instead he went out of the city hoping that God would judge it. Then he’s in the very pit of despair, again of his own making, saying it is better for him to die! God has blessed him abundantly! God is now focused on Jonah and using this to teach him about having a heart of compassion.
Then God reasons with Jonah: “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” (Jonah’s reply) IT IS RIGHT FOR ME TO BE ANGRY, EVEN TO DEATH!” Can you hear Jonah’s voice getting high pitched and riled up again? Then God lovingly shames Jonah, and says: “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night!” Jonah didn’t plant it, or water it or weed it or care for it. God prepared it and brought it up in one night so that it would provide perfect shade for Jonah! ....but then God prepared the worm and the hot east wind to teach Jonah His lesson. What has God prepared for each one of us to teach us a difficult lesson? Do we fight it? Listen to God’s gentle words: “Should I not pity (have compassion) Nineveh, that great city in which are more than 120,000 persons who cannot discern between their right hand and from their left (this would indicate there were 120,000 children) - and much livestock? God even pitied the animals!
Ezekiel’s preaching is so clear here: “Say to them, ‘As I live!' declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Our God is thankfully long suffering. Psalms 145:8,9 says “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.”
If we want to have a heart like Christ, we need to earnestly seek Him and plead with Him to help us to have a heart like His. We can’t do it on our own. I know I can’t. We must be in God’s word daily. We must pray to Him throughout the day. We have to make a daily appointment with God and then keep it. I know it seems hard but really it’s simply a choice - isn’t it? I mean if it was something else we needed or wanted to do, we would make the time. It’s as simple as that....it really is. Are we fighting it? It’s not that you have to do it. God just loves you and wants you to spend time with Him.
Our God is truly a personal God. God deeply cared about the 120,000 Ninevite children that had no idea what was right or wrong; He cares about our children; He deeply cared about His rebellious, hard hearted child, Jonah; He cared about the animals, otherwise they wouldn’t have been mentioned. God cares about His universe. He holds it in his hands. Isaiah 40:12 says: “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?
So how many miracles were in this small book of Jonah. I’m sure I’ve probably left some out....but
1. God created the storm
2. when they cast lots to see who was responsible for this ship’s trouble, the lot fell on Jonah
3. Once Jonah was overboard, the sea calmed and the the sailors on the ship believed in the one true God and worshipped Him.
4. God prepared a big fish to swallow Jonah
5. The big fish spit Jonah out on dry land.
6. God prepared a plant
7. God prepared a worm
8. God prepared a scorching hot east wind.
So let’s take God out of the box because He is truly a God of miracles. I tell you miracles happen around us and to us every day that we just don’t see. Our God is a personal God who cares deeply for us. How often do you tell your family members you love them? Do you ever just say, “God, I love you? We should tell God we love Him every day. I know He would delight in hearing you say that. Speak to Him; tell him about your day - the good and the bad. He wants a relationship with you. ----------------------------------------
We don’t know what happened to Jonah after this but I think he continued on being a prophet and preaching God’s word. I tried to find out where he was buried. It would seem like there is at least six grave sites claiming to be the burial site of Jonah. Jewish tradition says he was buried in the village of his birth, Gath-hepher, in the Galilee region of Israel. Tradition also has it that Jonah is the author of this book even though it is written in the third person. It was common to write in the third person in those days. It was a sign of humility. I believe God put it upon Jonah’s heart to write this book to teach us about God’s unfailing love.