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Jonah 1

Sermon Transcript

Often times when God calls us we ignore His call or even run the other way. Fortunately, God is good at getting our attention and pointing us in the right direction. Join Dr. Marty Baker as he take us through the first chapter of our series Jonah: A Man on a Mission.

What does the Lord desire from His people? Samuel the prophet gives us the much-needed answer:

22 And Samuel said, "Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” (1 Sam. 15)

Obedience, not lip service, not the observance of outer religious traditions, is what the Lord is looking for.  Obedience to what?  His teachings and commands.

What was Christ’s final command to the Church? Here it is:

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matt. 28)

We are commanded to share His gospel of forgiveness so sinners can be saved, baptize them to show the world they identify with Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, and do our part in teaching the new converts how to be mature disciples.

How are you faring with Christ’s final marching orders to saints?  Are you looking for opportunities to witness for Him? When is the last time you led someone to saving faith in Jesus? Have you ever done this? What do you do to make sure you are growing as a disciple? What are you doing to help others mature in the faith?

What happens if you willfully choose not to be an obedient witness who will take the gospel to anyone and everyone? Jonah’s story in chapter one gives us the insight we need.  From the outset of receiving the Lord’s command to witness to the Ninevites, John didn’t want to have any part of this. So, he ran, but he didn’t get far before God, out of love for his disobedient prophet, worked miraculously and providentially to help Jonah see the proverbial evangelistic light.  From a study of Jonah’s spiritual journey in chapter one, we cannot help but see this timeless premise:

If You Bolt, God Is Going To Jolt (John 1:1-16)

That’s right.  God wants to see us moving toward obedience, and when He doesn’t see it, He doesn’t sit by statically.  On the contrary, He dynamically moves to wake us up to our sins so we can repent and get on with what He desires from us.  Yes, Jonah’s story is over 2,700 years old, but since we haven’t changed how we walk or fail to walk with God, the truths we find tucked away in this passage are timeless and applicable.  Sometimes, saints like J. Hudson Taylor, the courageous missionary to China, take the gospel to people we never dreamed we would. Sometimes, we withdraw and fail to speak up to people we find offensive, repulsive, or fearful.  What’s going on in your life of witness right now? Are you running for God or running from God? Not well: If you bolt, He will jolt your world to get you to grow up and return to obedience.  We see all of this in Jonah’s life.

The Rule (John 1:1-2)

Our story opens with a typical prophetic statement all prophets understood:

1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, 2 "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me." (Jonah 1)

An audible “word of the LORD” came to Jonah, just as it had to Samuel (1 Sam. 15:10), Nathan (2 Sam. 7:4), Elijah (1 Kings 17:8) years before him, and as it would to prophets like Jeremiah (Jer. 1:4) and Ezekiel after him (Eze. 3:17).  All prophets knew what the phrase ‎  וַֽיְהִי֙ דְּבַר־יְהוָ֔ה (Jon. 1:1 WTT) meant. Yahweh, the great and loyal covenantal God, had spoken, and His Word was to be obeyed by His vassals.

What did God want Jonah to do? He commanded the prophet to convey a message of imminent divine judgment to their dreaded enemies, the Assyrians. His target was, more specifically, one of their main cities, Nineveh, located on the Tigress River in what is now Iraq.  Jonah’s cry, or message, was simple: Your wickedness is known to God.  The implication in the message of warning couldn’t be more precise: God’s judgment of your people is imminent if you don’t repent. His just judgment was based on the fact He was well aware of their wickedness, ra’ah (רָעַת). This word denotes, according to Harris, Archer, and Waltke’s Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, everything from the complete rejection of God (Isa. 1:4; 9:17; Jer. 7:26; 16:12) to causing physical pain (Num. 16:15; Ps. 22:16), harsh slavery (Ex. 5:22-23; Num. 20:15), dishonesty (Gen. 31:7; 44:5), immoral relations (Gen. 19:7; Jud. 19:23), and murder (1 Sam. 25:34; 26:21; Jer. 38:9).[1] Sin never escapes God’s notice. Don’t be fooled.

From the beginning of the Assyrian empire under Ashur-uballit I (1354-1318 B.C.) to the time of Ashur-dan III (773-754 B.C.) when Jonah prophesied, the Lord had shown grace and mercy to this brutal, ruthless, power-hungry, idolatrous (their gods: Nabu, Asshur, and Adad), and expansionistic people.  But now, after some 600 years, the gig was up, and God’s holiness prompted Him to move in judgment. Yet before He did, He, out of love for the Assyrians, commissioned Jonah to allow them to repent.  It’s the same message we are commissioned to give to sinners.  Peter set the example when he gave his second powerful sermon at the Temple to his people who had set up Christ to be killed:

19 "Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; (Acts 3). 

If sins are not wiped away at the moment of faith by the precious blood of Christ, then judgment is in order.  Are you willing to give sinners the bad and good news of the gospel?

Shockingly, Jonah wasn’t. Beginning in verse 3, we encounter a monumental spiritual reversal from God’s prophet. Instead of calling him a righteous man, we must call him . . .

The Rebel (Jonah 1:3)

When is a believer a rebel? When they receive a clear word from God, they willfully decide to do the opposite. The opening word in verse 3 should be a coordinating conjunction, “and,” to denote the prophet immediately started the 550-mile, one-month journey traveling northeast to Nineveh.  Instead, we have the adversative, but indicating the opposite occurred:

3 But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. (Jon. 1)

Talk about a plot twist. Jonah most likely traveled from his mountain town, Gath-hepher, some 65 miles downhill, to Joppa, located on the coast near Tel Aviv. Can’t you see him walking among the cargo ships, seeking to discover one traveling in the opposite direction of Nineveh? He eventually found one heading to Tarshish, a port city probably located on the southeastern coast of Spain. Tarshish was a Phoenician colony, so we can surmise the ship had a Phoenician crew.  Historically, they were known as the best sailors money could buy, but as Phoenicians, they were godless idolaters, much like the Assyrians.

So, please pay attention. Jonah traveled from his hometown to Joppa. Once on the boat, he went below the deck to prepare for his long, arduous 1,900 nautical mile trip to Tarshish. Whenever we bolt from God’s will for us, especially where evangelism is concerned, our spiritual movement is always downward, not upward.  Put differently, spiritual disobedience always leads to spiritual descent into chaos and divine discipline.

Why did Jonah bolt? Jonah’s words in chapter four give us some insight. After he preached, the Nivevites repented, and God forgave them. How did Jonah feel about this? Not good.

2 And he prayed to the LORD and said, "Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore, in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that Thou art a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. (Jon. 4)

Why did the prophet bolt? He wanted to see the brutal, bloodthirsty Assyrians experience the temporal and eternal wrath of a holy, living God.  This would be equivalent to God commissioning a Jewish man today to travel to Rafah in Gaza, have him walk around the bombed-out, hostile city, and warn Hamas that divine judgment was imminent if they didn’t repent.  Can’t you hear the man say, “Lord, after all that Hamas has done to our people, I’d rather not go so your holy fire can come down from the heavens and consume them.”

True, God loved Israel (Deut. 7) as His chosen people, but He also loved the wicked Assyrians and wanted to see them saved by turning to Him in faith.  God’s heart is always heavy toward those who choose to live wickedly, and He’s always prepared to send us to be His witnesses to them . . . regardless of who they are.  Our problem is we are human. Jonah was.

As Jonah’s spiritual descent downward led him away from an intimate relationship with the Lord, his prejudicial sin clouded his thinking, as sin always does, into thinking he could somehow flee God’s holy presence.  He thought wrong. Remember David’s words written some three hundred years before Jonah:

7 Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there. 9 If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, 10 Even there Thy hand will lead me, And Thy right hand will lay hold of me. 11 If I say, "Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night," 12 Even the darkness is not dark to Thee, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to Thee. (Ps. 139).

Again, I say: Don’t be fooled.  You might be rationalizing your sin right now as a saint, and you might have convinced yourself that various verses will surely not apply to you, but they will.  When God commands you to be His evangelist until He returns, and you choose not to, don’t think He will be all right with this, and certainly don’t think He’ll leave you alone in your disobedience.  He won’t because He loves you and wants you to grow up and make a more significant impact in the lives around you.  Love, as the writer of Hebrews, moves the Lord to discipline us so we will move to accomplish His will, not ours: “6 For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives" (Heb. 12).  Jonah was about to enter God’s woodshed out on that open, calm ocean. I call this act of love on God’s part . . .

The Refinement (Jonah 1:4-16)

Throughout the ensuing verses, God providentially steps up and does a variety of things to wake Jonah from his spiritual stupor:

4 And the LORD hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up.

The opening phrase, “And the LORD,” is called a waw disjunctive in Hebrew. This is when the coordinating conjunction, “and” (waw), is wedded to a non-verb (viz.,  וַֽיהוָ֗ ). Since a verb should be first in the sentence, this particular construction established a forceful contrast. Jonah bolted, and God jolted his world by hurling a mighty wind onto the ocean, resulting in a massive storm that hit the Phoenician cargo ship. The Hebrew word “hurl,” tul ( טול)), literally denotes throwing a sharp javelin at something or someone (1 Sam. 18:11).  Applied to God, it reveals how He picked up the wind, as it were, in His hands (to employ anthropomorphic language of God who is spirit) and threw it violently at the calm waters of the Mediterranean. Instantly, the wooden vessel probably dealt with thirty-foot, white-capped swells.  No wonder it says the ship was “about to break up.”

Verse 5 gives us the effect of the divinely ordered storm:

 5 Then the sailors became afraid, and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down, and fallen sound asleep.

Irony drips from all of this. The godless Gentiles, who were experienced sailors and had probably seen their share of storms at sea, thought they were on their version of the Titanic. So, what did they do? They did what so many unbelievers do when they face their mortality. They got spiritual by calling out to their gods.  Pragmatically, they hurled their precious cargo overboard to lighten the ship in hopes of making it more difficult for water to crest over the sides of the beleaguered vessel.  As you might guess, the word for “hurl” here is the same one used by God.  He hurled a storm at them, and they hurled their profits over the side in a quest to live.  Ironic.

Where was Jonah, the prophet of God? He was down below deck with the cargo, enjoying a sound sleep.  This is shocking and ironic.  The godless Gentiles are on deck praying, and the godly man is playing by being asleep as if nothing is going on.  How could he sleep at a time like this? Perhaps he had a clear conscience insofar as his flight would (hopefully) allow God’s wrath to consume the Assyrians.  He was in for a rude awakening, physically and spiritually.

As the captain rummaged through some cargo below deck to see what else could be discarded, he came upon a sleeping Jew, Jonah. His words were as if he were a puppet, and God spoke through him.

6 So the captain approached him and said, "How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish."

“Sleeping” is from the Hebrew participle nirdam ( נִרְדָּ֑ם). Grammatically, it denotes durative or prolonged action, and the verb lexically means to snore because a person is in a deep sleep. If you are married, perhaps you can relate. Ostensibly, this means Jonah had enjoyed sleep for quite a while. His physical sleep was merely a snapshot of his spiritual stupor.  Even though he knew divinely ordered judgment was neigh to Gentiles in Assyria, he didn’t care. He probably didn’t care much about the Phoenicians on this cargo ship, either. If he had, he would have been on deck bailing water.

The first words Jonah heard as the Captain sought to arouse him were ironic and funny.

וַיִּקְרַ֤ב אֵלָיו֙ רַ֣ב הַחֹבֵ֔ל וַיֹּ֥אמֶר ל֖וֹ מַה־לְּךָ֣ נִרְדָּ֑ם ק֚וּם קְרָ֣א אֶל־אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ אוּלַ֞י יִתְעַשֵּׁ֧ת הָאֱלֹהִ֛ים לָ֖נוּ וְלֹ֥א נֹאבֵֽד

The command “to arise,” qum (‎  ק֚וּם), is precisely what Jonah heard from God in the initial command (Jonah 1:2).  This must have been one of those spiritual Deja Vu moments for the prophet. Like a good polytheist, the captain wanted to make sure every god had been contacted in a quest to halt the storm. So, he, of all people, challenged the prophet of the living God to pray.  It’s a sad day when an unbeliever is telling you what you should be doing, but you haven’t been doing it because you are in a spiritual stupor.  It’s time to wake up.

No sooner did Jonah climb to the upper deck than the sailors moved from prayer, which wasn’t working, to casting lots to determine who among them had angered the gods. And please note it doesn’t say Jonah prayed. He should have. The Phoenician sailors possessed more spiritual sensitivity than God’s man. Tragic and ironic. To get to the bottom of the origin or causation of the storm, they grabbed several lots:

 7 And each man said to his mate, "Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us." So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.

At this time, various stones sporting different colors were sometimes thrown in a small vessel. One particular color denoted the accused.   Again, the godless sailors acted more spiritual than the prophet of God.  They realized the divine nature of the storm and understood that a god needed to be appeased, for someone had sinned greatly.  As we read, the lot “just happened” to fall on, you guessed it, Jonah.  Do you think this was by chance? No.  There is no chance in a universe created and run by the living God.  He orders all things, including the rolling of dice, the drawing of straws, or the picking up of various color-coded stones.  Solomon tells us this much in Proverbs:

33 The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD. (Prov. 16).

The same God who hurled the wind at the sea was the same God who controlled the roll of the dice so Jonah’s sin would be publicly exposed.  Such are God’s refining ways.  When you willfully decide not to travel to your version of Nineveh, God will refine you by exposing you.

Watch how the Phoenician sailors respond to the lot falling on Jonah. They peppered him with significant questions:

 8 Then they said to him, "Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?"

Instantly, these sailors became prosecuting attorneys seeking to unearth what Jonah had done to anger his God.

Jonah’s groggy response couldn’t have been more accurate and embarrassing:

9 And he said to them, "I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land."

Jonah espoused great theology with every word.  Was he a Hebrew? Yes. Did he fear Yahweh, who had made everything? No, not really. Had he feared the living God, he wouldn’t have been standing on the deck of this creaking and leaking ship.  What a hypocrite.  Non-believers can spot them a mile away.  What is a Christian hypocrite?  It describes a person whose life doesn’t match their beliefs and teachings. Put differently, they don’t walk the talk. He was just like the godless people in southern Israel.  They lived counter to God’s laws and then dared to speak as if holiness dripped from them as they talked about God’s Temple:

2 "Stand in the gate of the LORD's house and proclaim there this word, and say, 'Hear the word of the LORD, all you of Judah, who enter by these gates to worship the LORD!'" 3 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, "Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 4 "Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.' 5 "For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever. (Jer. 7)

They spoke as if the Temple of God meant something to them and that the God of the Temple would protect them, but their lives were utterly compromised.  Trust me on this: a hypocritical saint isn’t going to lead many Ninevites to repentance and salvation because your compromise will blind them to their need.

The response of the sailors should have ironically been the response of Jonah:

10 Then the men became extremely frightened and they said to him, "How could you do this?" For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.

These men were more spiritually sensitive and fearful than Jonah, which is tragic. He should have been stone-cold, fearful of bolting from God’s will, but he wasn’t. Indifference had set in and hardened his heart toward the loss.  Has this happened to you? If so, know that God will work to soften your heart by jolting your life.

Once again, the sailors evidence spiritual sensitivity. They knew that God’s anger and wrath against a sinning servant must be atoned for, but they didn’t know what to do. So, . . .

11 So they said to him, "What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?"-- for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy.

The storm increased in intensity because God cranked up the wind to refine the soul of His wayward servant.  Perhaps the Lord has cranked up the wind in your life.  What is He telling you?

What happened next is jaw-dropping and sad:

12 And he said to them, "Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you."

What should Jonah have done at this point?  He should said this:

“Lord, forgive my bigotry and prejudice against the Assyrians and forgive my indifference toward those good but unsaved men on this cargo ship. I repent and now give you my word. I will head back to Nineveh.” 

Jonah was a tough spiritual nut to crack, as some of you might be toward certain non-believers. Instead of repenting and seeking to obey God’s will, he told them to hurl him into the tumultuous sea. Ah, there is that same Hebrew word again. Ironic.

Because these men didn’t want to be guilty of murdering God’s man, they attempted to row to land. Ironic. They had concern for Jonah’s life, but he didn’t have a concern for theirs.  He should have been taking notes as they spoke.

13 However, the men rowed desperately to return to land but they could not, for the sea was becoming even stormier against them.

They probably rowed because their sails were a shredded mess. Was land in sight? Probably not, but rowing was their only hope in the heavy seas.  After this futile attempt failed because rowing in twenty to thirty-foot powerful swells was impossible, they PRAYED to Jonah’s God. Talk about an ironic moment:

14 Then they called on the LORD and said, "We earnestly pray, O LORD, do not let us perish on account of this man's life and do not put innocent blood on us; for Thou, O LORD, hast done as Thou hast pleased."

God used Jonah’s sinful decision to set these Gentiles up for a redemptive moment.  Stop for a moment and take this in.  If you are not a believer right now, perhaps God has placed you in a storm, and you are spiritually starting to wake up, make observations, and ask good questions.  You, my friend, are not far from God’s kingdom.  When you become sensitive to what God is concerned about, your heart is primed to become Christ’s home.  I believe these men finished their journey as believers and followers of the living God.

What happened to Jonah?  Read on and see:

 15 So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. 16 Then the men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows. (Jon. 1)

At the exact moment Jonah’s body hit the waves, the ocean surface became flat and calm—spooky, eerie, and ironic. How did that happen? It happened because the living God caused it to. Realizing this was divine activity, the sailors did what Jonah had failed to do: they worshipped God and thanked Him by offering sacrifice. As for Jonah, well, his spiritual refinement was about to be elevated to a whole new level, as we shall see in the next chapter.

Let us stop at this point and take the spiritual truth of this story into our lives.  When we bolt from God’s will to spread His redemptive gospel, He will jolt our worlds in providential ways to refine our hearts so they are in tune with His.  Maybe He is jolting your world right now.  What should you do? Pray, “Lord, forgive me for not going to the person or persons I know I should share the gospel with.  I embrace your refinement and ask that your love of the lost becomes my love.”

[1] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 2 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 854.