A Whale of a Tale

For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. (1 Corinthians 12:8-11 NKJV)

We know from this passage (and others) that each Christian has at least one spiritual gift. But sadly today many people don’t use the gift God has given them. For example, prophecy is a gift, but what if the prophet doesn’t want to prophecy? What then? A case exists in the Old Testament where the prophet who didn’t want to speak God’s word attended remedial prophet school — God wants us to use what He’s given us. Jonah was a stubborn, stiff-necked prophet who provides many lessons for us.

Before we jump into the book itself, we must get some background on Jonah and his mission, from no less than the Lord Jesus Himself. In one of Jesus’ exchanges with the Pharisees, the following takes place:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:38-40 NKJV)

Jesus says an “evil generation seeks a sign” — many skeptics today look for a sign. “We don’t know about this Jesus”, they say, “how can we really know what He said or did”. Well, I can’t know for sure what George Washington said or did for sure, yet we all believe the historical records are accurate. No, I can’t go back in time to see for myself, but we do have records and eyewitness accounts of what Washington did. Same with Jesus — we have eyewitness accounts of what He said and did — and they are extremely reliable.

People seek miracles, but a story Jesus tells in Luke 16 illustrates a problem with people who want a sign or miracle. The story concerns a rich man and a beggar; both die but arrive at different destinations. The rich man is in torment, while the beggar is in paradise. The rich man wants Abraham to send the beggar back and warn his brothers so they don’t come to his dreadful place. Quite a sign — coming back from the dead. But Abraham says no, they have Moses and the prophets, and if they don’t believe them, they won’t believe even if someone comes back from the dead. Jesus DID come back from the dead, and yet people today don’t believe it; miracles are a poor way to authenticate a message. We must not focus the book of Jonah on a fish.

Jesus authenticates Jonah as a prophet and the fish story as literal and real; this is no myth or allegory. Skeptics today doubt this story, as there is no “extra-biblical” evidence to support it. But Jesus says it really happened. Not good enough for skeptics? If you believe Jesus is Lord, you have no problem with the literalness of Jonah; if you don’t believe Jesus is Lord, you’ve got much bigger problems than a fish story! Yet we should not get caught up with the fish story — there are lots of miracles in this story. C.I. Scofield explains Jonah is:

A masterpiece of condensed narration, this book has suffered from overemphasis upon the miracle of the great fish … However, neither deletion nor rationalization solves the difficulty of the miracle which remains an object of faith, not explanation. The Book of Jonah is full of the supernatural (Scofield Study Bible page 941).

The theme of Jonah is God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness — these are not the same thing. As we go along we will develop the differences, and learn many lessons to apply to our life.

CHAPTER ONE — THE CALL OF JONAH

Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. (Jonah 1:1-2 KJV)

Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire. The Assyrians worshiped nature (Nelsons encyclopedia page 134); they had a tree god, a sun god, a rock god, etc. Sounds very new-agey, doesn’t it? As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). The New Age is just the same old pagan worship recycled in modern language.

The Assyrian army was known for their brutality and cruelty. They skinned people alive and made pyramids of human skulls from their conquests. When capturing a city they put fishhooks in the jaws of their captives, chaining them together to lead them away. You could imagine for both their cruelty and pagan religions, Israel hated them.

Nevertheless, Jonah gets the divine call from God to go to Nineveh. Is anything unclear in God’s call? It’s pretty clear isn’t it? But before we get too hard on Jonah, remember but for the grace of God their go I. We all get commands from God, and yet how often do we respond like Jonah and run away in the opposite direction? How often do we ignore the commands God gives in His word? Let’s not be too hard on Jonah; we at various times all act like he did. (Other examples of the divine call of God are: Abraham in Genesis 12:1, Moses in Exodus 3:10, Gideon in Judges 6:14, Isaiah in Isaiah 6:8, Paul in Acts 26:16)

How do we handle the call of God? Hopefully better than Jonah. But to make this principle a little more uncomfortable, a principle exists of the “watchman”, as recorded in Ezekiel.

“When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. (Ezekiel 3:18 NKJV)

You see, when the call of God comes, we are accountable to respond. If we don’t we will be held accountable. I will be the first to admit that’s not a very comfortable thought. How many times have I not heeded the divine call? Not a comfortable thought. But back to Jonah — Jonah didn’t like his assignment either.

But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. (Jonah 1:3 KJV)

The chess game begins. God makes a move, and Jonah makes a counter move. But flee from the presence of God? Is Jonah nuts?

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. (Psalm 139:7-8 NKJV)

It’s not going to work for Jonah, just as it won’t work for us either. As you probably know the story already, after Jonah gets a little one-on-one tutoring from God, his attitude changes (a little). But Jonah’s failure to heed the call of God (or at least showing a lack of desire) occurs to other men in the Bible. Stephen tells us in Acts chapter seven that Abraham, after he got the call of God to leave his country, didn’t leave immediately. Moses, after speaking to God in the burning bush, tried to get out of the mission, saying he was “slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Exodus 4:10-13). Even Jeremiah complained about his youth when he received the call of God in Jeremiah 1:4-10. What’s our excuse when God calls? We should learn a lesson from the people in the Bible (especially Jonah) and do what we are called to do; God will equip us with what we need to carry out His mission.

So Jonah traveled to Joppa to find a ship. You can be sure anytime you do receive the call of God, satan will be there with a ship to entice you to avoid the call of God. After all, satan says, you don’t want to do what God says; it doesn’t even make sense. Preach to the Ninevehites? They are the enemies of Israel! Surely God wouldn’t want them saved — are you sure you heard the call of God correctly? Perhaps it’s just last night’s pepperoni pizza. Satan is up to his old tricks — trying to cast doubt on the word of God. While it is important to be sure you heard the call of God correctly (and test ALL things with God’s lie detector — your Bible. God will NEVER contradict His word — if you think He has, you have NOT heard God), it’s just as important once you have heard the word to perform it. Don’t let satan deceive you into doubting the Word of God.

Jonah is going to go down a lot — he went down to Joppa to find a ship, then he went down inside it. Some people just have to go to the bottom before they yield to God. And isn’t that just like us? How many times do we have to hit bottom before we yield to God?

Jonah paid the fare — but he didn’t know how high the price would be. Sin always extracts a price from us. By the way, another of satan’s tactics is to entice you to sin in the first place, and when you give in to the temptation to condemn you for doing it! Don’t listen either time. First, resist the temptation (James 4:7). But we are sinful people and will always make mistakes. So when you do, repent! Confess to God your sin, and learn from your mistakes. Don’t fall for satan’s lies — sin is fun for a season, but in the end produces death. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23 NKJV).

Jonah thinks he’s escaped from God in this chess game, but the Lord has different ideas. It’s a three year old verses Kasparov.

But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was in danger of being broken. (Jonah 1:4 KJV)

God counters Jonah’s move; this is the first miracle in the book. This is no regular storm, this particular storm elicits an interesting response from the sailors.

Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep. (Jonah 1:5 KJV)

These sailors were professionals. If they were afraid it was because they knew this was no ordinary storm. Everyone cries out to his god in the hope somebody would listen and help them. Remember, they had gods for everything — sun, wind, tree, etc. But no god heard them and their desperation continued. They finally threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship in hope it would save them; this was an extreme act of desperate men. These were professionals — if they didn’t deliver their cargo they don’t get paid, as well as not being too popular when they return empty. But they’re not worried about future employment, all they’re worried about is saving their lives. “So Satan answered the LORD and said, Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life (Job 1:4 NKJV)”.

Where is Jonah during all this? Asleep in the lower parts of the ship. He thinks he’s hiding from God and God won’t see him, but he’s wrong. “Can anyone hide himself in secret places, So I shall not see him?” says the LORD; “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:24 NKJV)”

But there’s another important issue we must explore. Jonah is oblivious to the effects his sin has on others. That’s a common theme among people — just talk to any drunk and he’ll say he’s not hurting anyone, so leave him alone. But that’s not true. Your sin does affect others.

For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. (Romans 14:7-8 NKJV)

No one is an island unto himself. Children using drugs grieve the parents. Teenage pregnancies cause great harm not only to the parents of the teenager, but also to the innocent children who frequently bear the repercussions for the mistakes of others. Sin’s effects spread like a thick black toxic waste oozing across the landscape — it affects anyone it comes into contact with, even if they’re not responsible for the toxic spill; Jonah was oblivious to the grief he caused others.

So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not. (Jonah 1:6 KJV)

As they believed in many gods, they wanted to be inclusive and be sure Jonah prayed to his god as well. After all, who knows which god is mad, and which god might hear us and deliver us from the storm? They needed to determine who was responsible for causing some angry god to send this terrible storm upon them, so they decide to cast lots.

And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah. (Jonah 1:7 KJV)

Miracle number 2 — the lot fell on Jonah. You can be sure your sin will be found out (Numbers 32:23). “For My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from My face, nor is their iniquity hidden from My eyes (Jeremiah 16:17 NKJV)”. Recall Cain and Abel back in Genesis. Cain killed his brother and thought he got away with it — he hid the bloody gloves and was sure no one was around who could speak about his murder. But Cain forgot one thing — the Lord knows all. “And He said, What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground (Genesis 4:10 NKJV)”

Cain didn’t get away with his sin, and neither did Jonah (and neither will we). So the next logical question is, since the sailors now know who is the cause for this storm, what can be done to stop it?

Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? And whence comest thou? what is thy country? And of what people art thou? And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land. (Jonah 1:8-9 KJV)

The sailors must have been terrified at this point. Jonah’s God controls the sea - “The sea is His, for He made it; And His hands formed the dry land. (Psalm 95:5 NKJV)” You can imagine the despair setting in on the sailors — how do they stop this storm and save their lives?

Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? For the sea raged, and was tempestuous. (Jonah 1:10-11 KJV)

They were looking to appease Jonah’s God, and assumed Jonah could tell them how to do that; Jonah did:

And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you. (Jonah 1:12 KJV)

Interesting. Why didn’t Jonah jump? Jesus pointed to Jonah as a sign, so a lesson is to be learned. Jonah didn’t jump because a sacrifice was needed; sin always demands a price be paid. Back in Genesis Adam and Eve (after their sin) tried to cover themselves with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). But it doesn’t work. You can never cover your own sin; a sacrifice is needed. In the case of Adam and Eve, God Himself provided for their covering (Genesis 3:21). And the same with us “God will provide himself a lamb (Genesis 22:8 KJV)”. In our case, the Lord Jesus Christ paid the debt we couldn’t — He was the perfect sacrifice for sin. But back to the story.

Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea raged, and was tempestuous against them. (Jonah 1:13 KJV)

What is man’s response to the command of God a sacrifice is needed? Works! The sailors already knew if they sacrificed Jonah the storm would cease. But instead of doing what was commanded, they offered their works. But it wasn’t accepted. Earlier they tried unloading their baggage, but it didn’t work either. The same principle applies to us. We can try and unload our baggage — laying on a couch talking to a guy smoking cigars while answering questions about our mother. But it won’t work. We can try to be good, and not make any mistakes and show God how good we are. But that won’t work either. God demands a sacrifice for sin, and that’s the ONLY thing that will be accepted.

But one thing in the sailors credit, they cared more for Jonah than he did for Nineveh. They tried to save Jonah, while Jonah had no interest in saving Nineveh. Quite the opposite. Jonah wanted to see Nineveh nuked — but we’re jumping ahead in the story.

Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee. (Jonah 1:14 KJV)

They finally give in and do it the Lord’s way; they recognize who is in charge.

So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging. (Jonah 1:15 KJV)

Miracle number three in the book.

Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows. (Jonah 1:16 KJV)

This episode had quite an effect on these pagan sailors. But in the mean time Jonah was left in the sea, but not forgotten by God.

Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17 KJV)

Miracles number four and five — the preparing of the fish and the preservation of Jonah in the fish for three days.

So far, we see God’s grace and mercy for Jonah. Grace and mercy are similar, yet not the same. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve. In Jonah’s case, the fish that preserved him. Mercy is not getting what you do deserve. Again in Jonah’s case, would God have been wrong for smoking him for his disobedience? No. But God didn’t say “you stupid prophet, I’ll show you” — He gave Jonah mercy. So already Jonah has experienced God’s grace and mercy — an important point we’ll come back to later. We have all disobeyed God’s commands, and yet God has mercy on us.

I’m sure Jonah had no idea about the fish. He must have thought he was going to die in the sea, and probably would rather have died than gone to Nineveh. Jonah’s stubbornness is legendary.

CHAPTER TWO — In the belly of the Whale

Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly, And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of sheol cried I, and thou heardest my voice. (Jonah 2:1-2 KJV)

Unfortunately the chapter breaks are man’s design — they frequently break at an inopportune point, as happens here. At the end of chapter one, we see Jonah in the fish three days, and as chapter two opens, it starts out “Then Jonah prayed”. Jonah waited three days before he called on the Lord! His legendary stubbornness again, yet how often do we find ourselves acting just like Jonah?

For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me. (Jonah 2:3 KJV)

Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple. (Jonah 2:4 KJV)

Somehow Jonah had confidence he would see again. Similar words were spoken by Job.

For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27 NKJV)

But back to Jonah.

The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God. (Jonah 2:5-6 KJV)

Jonah’s gone “down” again. Many people have to hit bottom before the Lord can speak to them.

And the voice of God is speaking, and I cannot believe myself - “When there’s nothing left worth seeking, it’s time to trust somebody else (Forty save One, from the CD “Something Fierce”)

Jonah is desperate. So what does he do? Pray.

When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple. They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD. (Jonah 2:7-9 KJV)

“Salvation is of the Lord” — works don’t work. It’s nothing we earn.

And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land. (Jonah 2:10 KJV)

Miracle number six. But notice the fish responds immediately to God’s voice; compare with Jonah!

CHAPTER THREE — Preaching to Nineveh

And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee. (Jonah 3:1-2 KJV)

Sounds like a replay of chapter one, doesn’t it? Another lesson — when faced with a test, pass it so you don’t have to take it over. Jonah wasn’t going to get out of this mission. Had he passed the first time, he wouldn’t have attended remedial prophet development school. But back to passing tests. Suppose I was faced with the following question.

A circular loop of wire can be used to detect electro-magnetic waves. Suppose a 100 MHz FM station radiates 50kW uniformly in all directions. What is the maximum rms voltage induced in a loop of radius 30cm at a distance of 105 meters from the station? (Tipler, Paul “Physics for scientists and Engineers” Volume 2 page 970)

Is this tough? NO! For it’s an open book test - I don’t have to attempt to remember everything as I go, I get the advantage of using the book as I take the test. But as the late-night infomercials say, but wait, there’s more! In addition to using the book during my test, suppose I have the author of the book sitting next to me tutoring me? How hard is the test now? Do you think I’d do better now?

Let’s apply the example of a physics test to our Christian lives. All our tests are all open book (the Bible) tests. If you’re not availing yourself of the lessons contained therein, it’s just as bad as if I walked into my physics final and said I don’t need to study the book, I want to take this test on my own! For any college student, that’s an absurd idea. The student pours over the book, practicing and trying to extract all the information contained in it before the test. But why then do we ignore the Bible during our trials? We have a further advantage of the author (Holy Spirit) personally tutoring us during the test. Why is it we don’t avail ourselves of our special relationship with the author? Could we be as stubborn as Jonah?

In any event, Jonah finally passes the test (after some remedial tutoring).

So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey. (Jonah 3:3 KJV)

“Three days” is unknown, but it’s assumed to take three days to walk around the walls (The walls were 60 miles around and thick enough 3 chariots could race abreast).

And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. (Jonah 3:4 KJV)

Jonah didn’t set up a tent and hand out flyers advertising a revival tent meeting in city — he’s no Billy Graham. You might say Jonah’s heart wasn’t in his work. But fortunately for Jonah (and for us), God gives the following promise when we are obedient to His command to speak His word.

So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11 NKJV)

And Jonah’s words had the desired effect.

So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. (Jonah 3:5 KJV)

The people of Nineveh believed God. But notice it doesn’t say they believed in God — there is a difference. Many surveys taken today say a majority of the people believe in God. But their belief in God does not translate to belief of God — they deny what God has to say — hell is real, there is punishment for sin, and God does want us to live in a certain way. So the people who claim to believe in God don’t believe God’s word.

For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. (Jonah 3:6 KJV)

Jonah didn’t seek the king out.

And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. (Jonah 3:7-8 KJV)

The king responds with a remarkable decree.

Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? (Jonah 3:9 KJV)

They had no idea if it would work.

And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not. (Jonah 3:10 KJV)

Miracle number seven, and the biggest in the book.

CHAPTER FOUR — Life Lessons

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. (Jonah 4:1 KJV)

Jonah hated the Assyrians. His biggest fear has been realized — they repented! Jonah didn’t want to see the people repent, he wanted to see them get blasted. But no one is beyond God’s mercy — it’s available for anyone who wants it — that’s why Jonah is mad. Jonah believed some people were beyond the mercy of God, but that’s just not true. All sin is forgivable except one, rejection of Jesus as savior. No one is in hell for their sin, they’re in hell for rejecting the provision God made for their sin.

And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. (Jonah 4:2 KJV)

Jonah is correct in his assessment of the nature of God. He knew God would give the people of Nineveh a chance to repent, and he didn’t like it. But wouldn’t it have been better to talk it over with God before this point, way back in chapter one? Another lesson — when God gives a command and you have a problem with it, talk it over with Him first; you’ll save yourself a lot of grief.

Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live. Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry? (Jonah 4:3-4 KJV)

The last thing you want is for someone (or God) to point out when you’re in the flesh and pouting — it ruins the fun.

So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city. (Jonah 4:5 KJV)

Verse 5 starts out “so Jonah” — Jonah is in such a pout he doesn’t answer God’s question from verse four. He certainly doesn’t want to talk about it, or deal with his hatred of the people, so he just conveniently ignores God and continues his pouting outside the city, safely away from ground zero. But just as in chapter one, the Lord isn’t going to let Jonah off the hook so easily (pun intended).

And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd. (Jonah 4:6 KJV)

Miracle number eight in the book. God gives Jonah grace — getting what you don’t deserve. Jonah didn’t deserve the plant, but God gave it to him anyway. This is the first time Jonah is happy in the book. He wasn’t happy in chapter one getting this assignment, he wasn’t happy about the deliverance from the fish, and he definitely wasn’t happy the people repented. But give him a plant and he’s happy. Jonah still hasn’t learned his lesson yet, so God continues to work with him.

But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. (Jonah 4:7 KJV)

Miracle number nine. Why would God do this? Perhaps God is teaching Jonah a lesson. “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NKJV)”. But Jonah is stubborn; he still has lessons to learn.

And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live. (Jonah 4:8 KJV)

Miracle number ten. Where could Jonah get away from the wind? Back in Nineveh? Jonah had work to do and was avoiding it. Jonah just saw the biggest revival in history, shouldn’t he be teaching them? This was God’s way of prodding him to action. It’s your choice Jonah, but wouldn’t you be more comfortable back in the city, doing what you should be doing?

And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death. (Jonah 4:9 KJV)

Jonah finally admits his anger. The Bible speaks about anger, and it’s not a good thing. Why? It’s a way for satan to influence you to do something you wouldn’t normally do. “Blind with rage”, as the saying goes.

A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, And a man of wicked intentions is hated. (Proverbs 14:17 NKJV)

He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. (Proverbs 16:32 NKJV)

“But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matthew 5:22 NKJV)

Jonah is like us! How often do we find ourselves arguing with God like this?

Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle? (Jonah 4:10-11 KJV)

120,000 children were in the city; we can thus assume roughly half a million people lived in the city of Nineveh. But the Lord asks if Jonah doesn’t care about the children and people, can you at least feel sorry for the cattle? Apparently not. Jonah is stubborn and won’t yield to God.

The book ends without Jonah’s response because it’s a question for us — How do we deal with God’s mercy? This is a question we must explore further, for it is the central theme of Jonah.

GRACE AND MERCY — Lessons from Jonah

Grace is getting what you don’t deserve. Jonah got his share of grace — remember the plant. When Jonah should have been back in Nineveh, he was pouting — yet God showed grace on him by providing a plant to shade him. What is grace? Max Lucado says…

Content. That’s the word. A state of heart in which you would be at peace if God gave you nothing more than he already has. Test yourself with this question: What if God’s only gift to you were his grace to save you. Would you be content? You beg him to save the life of your child. You plead with him to keep your business afloat. You implore him to remove the cancer from your body. What if his answer is, “My grace is enough” Would you be content?

You see, from heavens’ perspective, grace is enough. If God did nothing more than save us from hell, could anyone complain? If God saved our souls and then left us to spend our lives leprosy-struck on a deserted island, would he be unjust? Having been given eternal life, dare we grumble at an aching body? Having been given heavenly riches, dare we bemoan earthly poverty?

But there are those times when God, having given us his grace, hears our appeals and says, “My grace is sufficient for you”. Is he being unfair (Lucado, Max “In the Grip of Grace” page 131)

God will provide for our needs (Luke 12:22-26). Our problem is we think we need much more than we do. God says with food and clothes be content — no mention of a Lexus. Paul understood how to be content. “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content (Philippians 4:11 NKJV)”. Paul was writing from a prison (not like the prisons we think of today — complete with HBO and ShowTime). Paul writes from a dungeon with rats and filth, yet he was content. That’s a key to the Christian life — to be content and not complain to God about your circumstances.

Compare Jonah with Job. Jonah disobeyed a direct call from God and therefore faced unpleasant consequences. But Job was just minding his own business and gets hammered. Notice Job didn’t have the advantage we have — the first chapter. Job had no idea what was going on or why, yet he still says:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.” In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong. (Job 1:21-22 NKJV)

Quite a difference from Jonah. Jonah was only happy about grace, and only when that grace was given to him. But it’s not Jonah’s biggest problem, mercy is. Mercy is not getting what you do deserve. When you throw yourself on the mercy of the court, you admit you did what you are charged with, but ask for leniency, or not to get the punishment you deserve. Jonah was upset about Nineveh getting mercy (chapter four verse one).

Put yourself in chapter four, but let’s change a few of the characters first. Obviously, instead of Jonah, use your name. But for Nineveh, lets use Jeffrey Dahmer. If you don’t know who he was, he was a famous serial killer who had a few things in common with the Assyrians. He also liked to save human parts of his victims, and that’s as much detail as we need to go into here. If you think of him as an Assyrian, you get the idea. But Jeffery was reported to become a Christian before he died (Lucado, Max “In the Grip of Grace” page 35-36). And to make the story a little more like what Jonah faced, suppose your son/daughter/friend was a victim of his. Does that bother you? Could you replace Jonah with your name and Nineveh with Dahmer and have the same result? Would you pout and be angry with God for saving someone who killed your child or spouse?

You bet. We’d pout and stew just like Jonah, and here is where we need to learn the lesson. The Lord says “Is it right for you to be angry?” Yes — even unto death is our reply. He doesn’t deserve mercy — he butchered my son. He doesn’t deserve to live — in fact, hell can’t be hot enough for him. And our anger burns — after all, it’s justified, look what he did.

But when we calm down, the Lord whispers to us “You don’t deserve mercy either”. Checkmate! Here’s the problem — do you feel some people are too evil to be saved? We have ideas some people are beyond mercy — like Jeffery Dahmer. But our ways are not God’s ways. In God’s kingdom, mercy if available to anyone who requests it — and that’s the root of our problem. We just can’t let go of our need for revenge or so-called “justice”.

But we have a right to be angry, they did something wrong — someone has to pay. And someone did — “It is finished” Jesus said, better translated paid in full. When we want vengeance for a wrong committed to us we must always remember it’s already been paid for. Jesus paid the debt for ALL sin. But we don’t like that idea, just as Jonah didn’t like it.

Yet we still pout and complain and raise our fist to God and say He doesn’t understand our unique situation. The person who hurt me is beyond mercy, and we argue with God.

  • “I’ve been betrayed” — Jesus says so have I (Luke 22:21 — Jesus even ate with his betrayer)
  • “I’m hated for no reason” — Jesus replies a servant is not beyond master , if they hated me, they will hate you (John 13:16, 15:18, 15:25)
  • “I’m innocent, I haven’t done anything wrong” — Jesus says so was I (Luke 23:4, Matthew 27:4)

He knows what we’ve been through; there is no reason to complain. So we’re back to our question: How do you handle God’s mercy? Not to yourself, but to a truly bad person. You see, we don’t have a problem with God’s mercy toward us, after all, we’re not that bad. But Jeffery Dahmer? Look how bad he is — he doesn’t deserve mercy, he deserves the hottest part of hell. But you must remember, the difference between you and he is only one of degrees (no pun intended). NONE of us qualify for heaven. To use a sports analogy, who bats 1,000? Nobody. The moral guy bats 300, Billy graham bats 350, Charles Manson bats 050. But does anybody meet the requirement of 1,000? No — we all fall way short. We all need God’s mercy, and nobody is beyond the mercy of God. Jesus said “all sin is forgiven man” (Matthew 12:31).

We need to plea for mercy, not justice — for ourselves as well as others.

How do you respond to God’s mercy to someone who has wronged you? (As a side note: People will let you down. Put your trust in Jesus only. Sooner or later any person will let you down). The justified hurts are the worst. Your husband or wife had an affair, the world says get ’em. Someone is gossiping about you at work, make something up and spread it around so they know what it feels like. But is this the way of Jesus? Let’s look at how Jesus viewed the world’s perception of revenge in Luke 9:51-56.

Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. “For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village. (Luke 9:51-56 NKJV)

Question — why are movies from Chuck Norris and Steven Segal so popular? Answer — they get the bad guy. They’re not beating up on your neighbor, but on murderers, rapists and thieves. I heard a review of one of those movies once and someone was asked how they liked it. The response? “I just like to watch him hurt people”. But that’s ok, after all, the bad guys deserve it. But God says His mercy is available to all. We are ALL “bad guys” in need of God’s mercy.

Jesus’ response to the disciples? “The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”

Peter also provides a lesson on forgiveness, as he asks Jesus a question.

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21 NKJV)

The Rabbi’s taught to forgive three times. I’m sure Peter thought he was being generous. When Peter is involved, you can be sure of a lesson. Ready, Fire, Aim! That’s Peter.

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:22 NKJV)

490 times. Jesus must have thought no one would actually keep track of this. But knowing Peter, I don’t think he would have got the point, Peter probably was thinking — 490 times! OK, I’ll do that, as long as on 491 you blast ’em. We’ve got an agreement here, right Jesus? And Jesus slowly shakes His head and says “Beam me up Father, there’s no intelligent life down here”. As He does so many other times when the disciples aren’t getting it, it’s story time.

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. “And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. (Matthew 18:23-24 NKJV)

10,000 talents — over $50 million dollars. This guy has a debt he could never pay.

“But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. “The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ’Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ “Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. (Matthew 18:25-27 NKJV)

“Master”, “moved with compassion”, “released him”, “forgave the debt” — do these sound familiar? In this part of the parable, the master is the Lord, who moved by compassion for us paid our (the servants) debt for us, since we never could. Naturally, being forgiven made quite an impression on him. Well, not quite, as we pick up the story again.

“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’(Matthew 18:28 NKJV)

100 denarii is about 3 months wages or approximately $3,000. For you mathematicians, five orders of magnitude exist between the two debts. The actual amounts are not significant, only the difference between them.

“So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ “And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. (Matthew 18:29-30 NKJV)

The first servant had a debt forgiven he had no ability to ever pay. But then he was unwilling to forgive his fellow brother a small sum. He was willing to accept mercy for himself, but was unable to grant it. This is, of course, a problem.

“So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. “Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. ‘Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’(Matthew 18:31-33 NKJV)

God takes forgiveness very seriously. When we think of how much He forgave us, shouldn’t we also forgive others? If we don’t, we’re in big trouble

CONCLUSIONS

Jonah has many lessons for us, but let’s just review a few important ones.

  • When you receive the call of God, how do you respond? Like Jonah and avoid it? Or do you obey as a good servant would?
  • Works and casting away baggage are unacceptable to God. The game is played by His rules.
  • What about mercy? How do we handle it? Especially when it’s to someone who has hurt us or otherwise we feel doesn’t deserve it.

Jonah — a whale of a tale indeed.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Courson, Jon Jonah

Lucado, Max In the Grip of Grace

Nelson’s Illustrated New Bible Encyclopedia, Thomas Nelson Publishers

McArthur, John The McArthur Study Bible

Missler, Chuck Jonah (Tape cassettes with notes), Koinonia House

NIV Bible commentary, Zondervan Publishing House

Scofield Study Bible, Oxford University Press

Thompson Study Bible, Kirkbridge Bible Company

Passages marked NKJV are from the New King James Version of the Bible Copyright (c) 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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