Pastor Kirk

Reflections from a spiritual pilgrim in Toledo, Ohio

Enemies

Jonah, 6 July 2014

Big Idea: God can be trusted and obedience is His love language.

Series Introduction

Do you like books?

The Bible. It’s a great book. It’s a big book. Actually, it’s 66 books.

Over the past three and a half years since I’ve served as your pastor, we’ve examined several of these 66 books. Specifically, we have studied James, John, and Ephesians. They are all popular books found in the New Testament.

But what about the other 63? What about the Old Testament and those short New Testament books nobody every seems to talk about?

Recently a list was assembled of the least-read books of the Bible according to
BibleGateway.com. This series will look at several of them, beginning with a popular story in an unpopular book…Jonah.

Most of you know the story. God sends Jonah to Nineveh, but Jonah runs from God. He's swallowed by a great fish, puked back up, and then goes to Nineveh to obey God…sorta! There’s a lot more to the book of Jonah than a whale—and there might not have even been a whale!

Before we look at the text of these books, we will briefly examine the context. This is essential when reading anything, especially the Bible. It has been said that you can make the Bible say anything you want, and that’s largely true, especially if you ignore the context, miss the big picture of the story of God, and merely extract sound bites. So here’s a little context:

First, the
genre or type of literature is narrative. It tells a story. It is not poetry or a scientific textbook or a history book.

Second, the
author was likely Jonah.

Third, the
date of the writing is between 782 and 745 BC.

The
location of the beginning is the city of Joppa.

Jonah is one of the minor prophets.

Veggie Tales made Jonah the subject of their first feature film.

Many know the main story. God tells Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh, a wicked city but not a pagan city. They knew and worshipped God…at least they did at one point. This was not an evangelism mission to proclaim good news to unbelievers but a prophetic mission to call backslidden believers to repentance.

The story

The book of Jonah can be summarized in twenty words. Are you ready?

God decrees

The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (1:1-2)

Jonah flees

But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD. (1:3)

Storms follow

Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. (1:4)

Fish swallows

But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights. (1:17)

The book of Jonah is either historical or allegorical/parabolic. For thousands of years it was believed to be a true account of actual events. In the 19th century, however, some began considering it a parable or allegory because of the alleged impossibility of surviving 3 days and nights in the belly of a fish.

It seems many now believe the events were possible and large fish—not necessarily whales—have been discovered. Some say it was a shark. There is an account of a sailor in 1758 that fell overboard in the Mediterranean and swallowed by a shark (Carcharias). Upon being hit by a cannon ball, the shark vomited out the sailor who was picked up by a boat with little injury. (Haupt:
Jonah’s Whale in American Philosophical Society, vol. 46, 1907)

Some used to believe there were no whales in the Mediterranean, but sperm whales are found there and are large enough to swallow a man. The head of a giant sperm-whale may be more than 30 feet long!

I believe it is an historical account, but even if it was merely a story designed to teach like Jesus’ parables, it packs a punch! It’s also worth noting how Jesus referred to Jonah (Matt 12:38-41, Luke 11:29-30, 32).

Second chances

Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” (3:1-2)

Jonah advances

Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city — a visit required three days. (3:3)

God relents

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. (3:10)

Now we come to the part of the story I want to emphasize.

Jonah’s lament

But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.
(4:1)

Why? He hated the Ninevites. They were like Buckeyes! LOL! Seriously, though, they turned away from God and he didn’t want God to waste His love and blessings on those who abandoned the faith. It sounds a lot like the older brother in the story of the Prodigal son, doesn’t it?

Jonah is so upset about God showing grace—unmerited favor—to the Ninevites that he wants to die!

Jonah’s case

Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (4:3)

These are strong words! Fortunately for the people of Nineveh, God wins the debate!

God’s grace

But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (4:11)

So What?

Jonah disobeyed, obeyed, and was angry that God was gracious (ironic!). So what?

Are you obeying God? Obedience is His love language. Obey and avoid the detour!

Are you compassionate for others? Regardless of how they look, smell, vote, talk or act, they are created in the image of God with dignity, value and worth. Jonah wanted the Ninevites destroyed. God had other ideas. It’s not our place to judge. The Great Commandment is to not only love God but to love others, and, of course, we love God by loving others.

God is in control. We are not. The book of Jonah is about God’s all-sovereign power and care. He is the God of second chances. He’s the God of mercy and grace.

You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

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