First Baptist Church
Des Moines, NM
Here we are on the last day of our look at the so-called Minor Prophets. Those would be Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, and todayÖ Jonah. As weíve seen this week, these prophets have a very consistent message and that is "repent!" Each prophet details a situation in which Godís people were misbehaving and God was about to mete out punishment. In each case, true repentance would result in Godís restored blessings. Today, in Jonah, weíll look at a different twist on this story. May God bless this message and allow it to reflect the truth that is Jesus Christ, to His glory, Amen!
In the childrenís Sunday school version of Jonah, the emphasis is usually on Jonah and the great fish that swallowed him. Thatís an important part of the story, but itís only part of the story and it often misses the reason for why Jonah was swallowed up in the first place. Hereís why:
Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me." But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. (Jonah 1:1-3 NKJV)
Jonah was instructed to go to Nineveh and preach to them. But instead of doing that, he fled from the Lord via a ship. While on this ship, God sent a storm which threatened to destroy the ship. At that time, Jonah confessed that he was the reason for the storm and urged the sailors to throw him overboard. They did, and the fish ate him. After 3 days, Jonah himself repented and the fish spat him up on shore. Just so you can keep it on hand as an example, hereís Jonahís speech of repentance:
Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish's belly. And he said: "I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, And He answered me. "Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice. For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me. Then I said, 'I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.' The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head. I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God. "When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple. "Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy. But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD." So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. (Jonah 2:1-10 NKJV)
After this, the Lord spoke to Jonah and Jonah headed off to Nineveh to preach. Immediately upon his arrival and subsequent preaching, Nineveh repented of her sins, with the people covering themselves in sackcloth and ashes. They turned from their evil way and God spared them. This was repentance in action. Jonah shouldíve rejoiced, right? After all, he preached, they repented, God spared them- if thatís not "Mission Accomplished" then what is it?
Jonah, however, didnít see it this way. The Bible says this:
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. (Jonah 4:1 NKJV)
He became so angry that he asked God to kill him!
So he prayed to the LORD, and said, "Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!" (Jonah 4:2-3 NKJV)
Jonah then stomped out of the city, made himself a shelter, and sat in it, in the shade. The text says:
And the LORD God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very 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 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." Then God said to Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?" And he said, "It is right for me to be angry, even to death!" (Jonah 4:6-9 NKJV)
At this point, Jonah is angry because the plant which sheltered him is dead. He thinks heís justified in his anger, of course. We always think our actions are justified! Whatís so interesting is that heís totally ignoring the great repentance of Nineveh. Previously, we learned that Nineveh was a 3-dayís walk across. Thatís big!!! Instead of celebrating this great repentance, though, Jonah is sulking. And when the plant that provides him shade- a plant that God provided- dies- again, because God prepared a worm to kill the plant and prepared a vehement east wind- Jonah is even more unhappy. But, Godís response shows the depths of His mercy:
But the LORD said, "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. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left- and much livestock? (Jonah 4:10-11 NKJV)
God exposes the self-concern and hypocrisy of Jonah. God, of course, has a real knack for exposing the root of the problem, much to our consternation. And thatís the case here. Jonah is concerned about and has pity on a mere plant while failing to see the bigger picture of Godís pity on Nineveh, a city of more than 120,000 people and their livestock.
The message that I see for us, is that weíre so often like Jonah. Some one repents of their sins- alcoholism, adultery, murder, theft, idolatry, pride, whatever it might be- and far too often we say things like "well, thatís great. Letís see if it sticks" Or we say "Well, thatís one sin out of the way. Five thousand more to go." Thatís Jonahís attitude. The correct attitude oughta be "Praise the Lord they recognized their sin!" or "Praise the Lord they repented of that one sin! Thatís a great start!" But even beyond that, our attitude should simply be "Praise the Lord!" If it werenít for Godís great grace and mercy, there would be no need for repentance. After all, repentance in and of itself is nothing if it doesnít facilitate Godís forgiving grace. In other words, God could simply say "Well, they repented. Thatís just peachy, but it's no big deal because Iím still going to hold them accountable."
In truth, a god who was only a God of justice would have to do that since a crime is a crime and payment must still be made. Fortunately, for us, though, God has allowed Jesus Christ to make the payment for our sins. Anyone who sees their sin, repents of it, and turns to Christ for the payment will get Christís righteousness laid to their account. What the book of Jonah teaches us is that God has pity on anyone who repents. What Jonah himself teaches us is something about our own attitude. Ironically enough, Jonah and us often need a good dose of repentance ourselves!
Well, I think that about wraps up our survey of some of the Old Testament "Minor Prophets". The message that threaded through each one was a message of repentance, grace, and forgiveness. I urge you to consider your own heart and see if there is a need for repentance there. If there is, follow Peterís advice on the day of Pentecost- repent and be saved from this perverse generation. Be found not in your righteousness, but in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. In His name, Amen.
Back to Obadiah
Forward to Micah