Following the chronological order of the Old Testament; I am in II Kings and II Chronicles and taking a side tour to Jonah during the reign of Jeroboam II.
In verses 1 and 2, the Lord speaks clearly and specifically to Jonah. Go to Nineveh and cry against their wickedness.
Makes sense. He is a prophet; that's his job.
Instead, in verse 3, he "flees the presence of the Lord". And while their is debate about where, exactly Tarshish was; there is no doubt that Joppa and ships on the Mediterranean Sea were in the opposite direction.
The opposite direction.
I mean...I go in the opposite direction I intend all the time; because I am not very spatially intelligent and tend to get turned around easily. But Jonah had to have paid good money to get on a ship in those days. He's working hard to "flee the presence of the Lord".
Verse 4 takes us to the boat and explains that God "hurled a great wind on the sea", causing a great storm. The ship began to break up.
That's pretty descriptive language. I think of God causing or God creating or making. But hurling? Let's just say I'm glad it wasn't me in the path of it.
Verse 5 is crammed full with interesting information.
- The men on the ship were afraid. The men on the ship did this for a living; and I don't think storms on the Med are unusual. For them to be afraid also gives us a glimpse of how bad it was.
- The men on the ship were religious. Each prayed to this god. It doesn't say that they shut-gunned up a bunch of prayers to any and all gods; but each to his own.
- More evidence of how bad it was, they started throwing cargo overboard. Again, this is what they did for a living. While it makes to do that; I imagine you're pretty slow to do it knowing it might be the end of work for you.
In addition to information about the men on the boat, verse 5 also tells us a lot of information about Jonah.
He went below, laid down, and went to sleep.
And while this may bring to mind, for many, the image of Jesus asleep in the boat during the storm, there are a couple of profound differences.
- Jesus was asleep. He didn't walk away from them and go to sleep.
- Jesus knew He could calm the storm; so He knew there was no danger, as He was in control. Jonah had NO such knowledge or control.
- Jesus knew he could teach His disciplines and help them to grow in this teachable moment. There is no evidence Jonah had any consideration for the men at all.
With all of that in mind, I come to a third observation I suspect I will beat to death during my time blogging about the Book of Jonah. He is a very, very unlikable figure. And seems lie a very bad man. he is a prophet of God; so God chose him for some reason we are not shown in this text; but like Sampson and so many others; being chosen by God does not stop you from being a callous, selfish man. And Jonah was that.
- These men were afraid. Jonah could have talked them about His God and how He is mighty to save.
- He could have addressed God; and dealt with the situation.
- He could have helped them in some practical manner.
- But no. He left them to their fears, wrecked careers, wrong gods, and panicked labor while he napped! Wow.wow.wow.
Finally, in verse 6 the Captain intervenes. He doesn't even ask Jonah to help with the survival task. He just asks that Jonah call to his god, in hopes that maybe his god will be concerned enough to keep them from perishing.
In verse 8, the crew decides to cast lots to see who's fault this is and it lands on Jonah. They start hammering him with question to help them understand what the situation is that is causing this.
In reply, he explains that he is Hebrew; and then claims to fear the God of heaven who made land and sea.
Ironically enough, the men seem to immediately understand what this meant. They became "extremely frightened". They were so afraid before they were dumping cargo; but this made them more afraid! And they knew Jonah did it to them and couldn't understand why.
The storm was increasing, so they asked what to do to him to calm the sea. He tells them to toss him in the sea. And he admits this will calm the sea because this is his fault.
Previously, I thought this was finally a noble thing on his part; but on further contemplation, it's just more selfishness. HE could have ended this. Why is he making religious men do something awful, that they will have to live with, so he doesn't have to? Evidence of this interpretation comes in verse 13. They chose to spare him and row desperately toward land. They couldn't bring themselves to harm him and he still did nothing to help them.
Well well-intended, this strategy did not work because God wanted Jonah in the water. And their lack of understanding wasn't going to change God's plan. The storm got even worse.
Note to self: God plan will prevail whether I understand what's going on or not.
Finally the men cry out to the Lord. They all abandoned their own Gods and called out to Jonah's even though Jonah wouldn't even call out to Him. They begged not to perish and not to have to shed innocent blood. I take that to mean they really, really didn't want to cast Jonah out.
Of course, they finally did as the Lord ordained and threw Jonah into the sea, which immediately calmed.
At that point, they became believers. They offered sacrifices and took vows. Even though Jonah didn't seem to care about them, God used the situation to spread His Name and Fame to them.
Verse 17 covers the whole version of the story most people know- A great fish swallowed Jonah and he was in the stomach for three days and nights. Again, some might liken this to Jesus. Even Jesus references this in Matthew 12:40; but Jesus went to the cross voluntarily to save our souls. Jonah seems to have been for Jonah alone.
And although Jonah was deeply flawed, God pursued and used him. Kept him alive to fulfill his purpose. Thank you, Lord. We don't earn it and we don't deserve it; but Your Grace and Your Purpose sustain us.
And while Jonah's brand of selfishness drives me a bit batty; I need look no further than my own life for a comparison. Jonah's disobedience, selfishness, and sin hurt other people- the men on the ship, the owners of the cargo, other ships on the sea ta the time. And my disobedience, selfishness, and sin hurt others. I've eaten myself into pretty serious health problems. And while I suffer directly, I affect everyone around me. The quality and care of my family, work, church, and all of those I mean to serve suffers. Medical costs that could have gone to better purposes. And many more. It's one thing to have medical issues. It's another to continue (for years!) to make known mistakes with food that cause the known medical issues.
Who's Jonah now? (me)
Wiersbe theorizes why Jonah ran from God's will. Maybe it was patriotism, maybe it was that his hometown was so far north that he had (maybe even more than once) seen how cruel the Assyrians could be. For whatever the reason, he thought God was wrong and wanted to get as far as possible away from the appointed destination.
Wiersbe also makes an interesting point about Jonah's circumstances. He points out that Jonah found a ship, had the money, and was even able to sleep during the storm. It looked like everything was going his was and that maybe even working for him. This is a problem when we look around for signs to support something we know is wrong. Such as numerology, you can add up the numbers any way you like to get the results you want, if you're looking for evidence to do wrong.
God called the Jews to be a blessing to the world. (Genesis 12: 1-3) I tend to forget that they were the original priestly nation. The whole point was for them to be God's hands and feet to bring the heart of all people back to God. Very little of their story has anything to do with that. God spends the whole time trying to get through to them, let alone have them get through to everyone else. I'm not judging. I'm afraid the same could be said about my own life. It's just a good and constant reminder that we should be a blessing to the world in the name of God.
Wiersbe says that the question in Chapter 1, verse 8 is actual a nickname they gave to him- the one who brings all the trouble. I think that's interesting.
MacArthur states that this is the only time God sends a prophet to warn one of the nations for which he has made judgement. Reasons for this exception may be that it was as much about Israel as it was Assyria or Nineveh. They should see that God's goal was always to bring His name to the world. And not only was Israel not doing that...they weren't even repenting and getting right with him themselves.
Just as a curiosity, MacArthur notes that the Hebrews has a word for whales and that is not the word used here. It's an unnamed species. That fish was appointed by God for this task. Heaven and Earth are His and all of the other living things are His to command.
One thing that comes to me, reading this chronologically, is how Israel's standing at the time really feed into who Jonah was and why and how he acted.
- Jeroboam was evil and yet God used Jonah to help Jeroboam II prosper because Israel kept getting worse and worse and God was doing giving them every single chance to turn things around.
- But this prospering amid being evil seemed to make both Israel and Jonah arrogant and rebellious.
- We know the Assyrians were evil and cruel. But we forget that Jeroboam II was evil.
- Jonah ignored the evil in his own nation and decided who deserved to hear God's Word.
- Jonah knew Jeroboam II was evil and he also knew the Lord sent prosperity to Jeroboam II through Jonah. So he knew he might well be bringing the same types of prosperity to Assyrian, if they repented.
I know I keep kind of saying the same thing; because I know there is a nugget there; but I keep stumbling around it. But I also know I wouldn't have seen this connection, or perceived Jonah in a concrete, real life way, if I hadn't been picturing him in the court of evil Jeroboam II helping him prosper, only to be sent out to the king of Assyria in Nineveh with a Word from God.
I guess I used to think of Jonah as pious and so loving of God's word that he didn't want to share it with bad people or something. Then when we did a bible study on Jonah, I guess I just thought of him as a petulant child, unwilling to do what he didn't want to. But when I add in the context of the time he came from, a different, compiled picture begins to form. A man of his times. An arrogant, rebellious nation, prospering beyond what it deserves and its prophet. Feeling superior. Jonah knew who God was. And the people and king sort of knew who God was. But because everything was going well in the land, they thought they had God firmly under control. They were gaining back lost territories, which meant winning battles and winning booty. They were flush with cash and taking victory laps.
Amid this swagger, the prophet was told to go to the enemy and offer a way to God. Why comply with such a downer of a calling when he can stay home and look down on the world from his prosperity?
I'm sure my sarcasm can come across as judgement; but it's not. It's conviction. And I don't mean moral conviction against them as much as being convicted in my heart as I recognize myself and my country.
It's heartbreaking to see how prosperity and comfort can cause one to think of one greater than one ought to. And by one, I of course mean me. And my country. America is as blessed as we are because of the Lord. And though we continue to prosper, albeit in decline, we think He is still pleased with us and our pronoun debates, riot, abortion, and other ungodly legislation and activity.
Our eyes have to be always on the Lord. We can't have our flagpoles turn into Asherim poles- worshipping an idol instead of the God who founded the country for His glory.
And we cannot forget there's a whole big world out there. The USA influences politically, financially, recreationally...but we were founded not just as a haven but as a basecamp- from which to launch the King's light to the world. That's so easy to forget when it's so comfortable in the tent.
Luckily, God's willing to, graciously, remind us of our need to die to self. Which Jonah's about to learn in Chapter 2.