Jonah 1:3

Sermon preached on January 9, 2005 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

When I was a teenager my dad told me to take a storm window off one of the second story bedrooms. At that time the only ladder we had was a very old wooden one. It was so rickety that I was actually afraid to use it. But I had my orders so I got it out and put it up. Another thing about the ladder was that it was barely long enough so I had to put it almost straight up. I didn't like going up it because I was afraid one of the rungs would break. But I got up and got the heavy storm window off. But when I did the extra weight was too much for the rung I was standing on and it broke. I started to fall and then my feet hit the rung below, but that broke too. And so it was with every rung on the ladder—I kept breaking them as I hit them. And for some reason I kept holding the window in my hands. It was a rough ride down but I guess every rung broke my fall a bit before it broke. At the end of it I wasn't hurt, (except for some bruises) and the window wasn't broken. The ladder was finished—all that was left were the two sides, I think there were just two rungs together at the top—every other rung was broken.

If someone had told me beforehand what was going to happen, how every rung would break and that all I had to do was to hold on to the window and I wouldn't get hurt and the window wouldn't be broken—I would have had a difficult time believing them. I would have said they were crazy and that it was impossible. How could that possibly work out? I would have said that that was not the way to get the window down safely. But it worked out.

As strange as it may seem, sometimes God's will is like that.
We are sometimes tempted not to obey not just because we don't understand God's will, but because we know that it's the opposite of what is best. That's the situation that Jonah faced. God told him to go to Nineveh and warn the people there of their impending doom. But Jonah knew that God was going to have mercy on them. Charles Lee Feinberg writes,

"The very wording of Jonah's prophecy of warning contains within it the assurance of God's mercy awaiting their repentance. Else why the forty day period?Ö Note, too, how the Ninevites themselves understood the message. They did not throw up their hands in despair, but raised them in penitent supplication to God. The Ninevites surely did not regard the message as one of irrevocable doom."

Jonah didn't want any part it. We read,

"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."

Nineveh was about 500 miles to the east of Israel. Scholars aren't exactly sure where Tarshish was. But they know that it was the region beyond Sicily. It may have been a city in Spain, near present day Gibraltar. There are a couple of references in the Old Testament to the 'ships of Tarshish' an expression which denoted ships intended for a very long voyage. If Tarshish was near Gibraltar, then it was 2500 miles west of Israel. God told Jonah to go 500 miles east. He starts to go 2500 miles west.

Jonah was called to do something hard and difficult. He refused. He tried to run away from God's will, to evade it in the most emphatic way.

One of the main lessons our text teaches us is that

you are to embrace God's will even when it is difficult, even when it's the last thing that you want, even when it seems to be detrimental to the kingdom.

Jonah is an example of what not to do. When he received God's command he ran away. The great question is:

Why did Jonah run away?

We find the answer at beginning of chapter 4.

Jonah didn't want God to be merciful to Nineveh.

Jonah had no problem with Nineveh being destroyed. This is clear from what we read later in Jonah. At the end of chapter 3 we read about God's reaction to Nineveh's repentance, (verse 10)

"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."

And at the beginning of chapter 4 we read of Jonah's reaction.

"But Jonah was greatly displeased
and became angry.
He prayed to the LORD,
'O LORD, is this not what I said
when I was still at home?
That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish.
I knew that you are
a gracious and compassionate God,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
a God who relents from sending calamity.
Now, O LORD,
take away my life,
for it is better for me to die than to live.'"

Why didn't Jonah want God to be merciful to the people of Nineveh?

I believe the reason is that Jonah saw Assyria as a threat to Israel. Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria.
T. McComiskey writes,

"As the chief city of Assyria Nineveh was the crystallization of the culture and power of that kingdom. As such, it represented to the OT prophets the seat of the cruelty and oppression that the Assyrian empire had brought to bear on Israel."

It was a great city, located on the Tigris River just opposite the modern Mosul, Iraq. It was at the heart of a ruthless empire. For decades the power of Assyria had been growing. A few decades before Jonah, they had a great victory over King Ben-Hadad of Damascus. Some years after that King Jehu was forced to pay tribute to them. All that happened before Jonah arrived on the scene.

Not long after Jonah's time Tiglath-Pileser III conquered Galilee, the Plain of Sharon, and Gilead. In 721 B.C. the Assyrians captured the capital city of the northern kingdom, Samaria and
deported its more prosperous citizens, replacing them with people from other provinces of their empire. The northern kingdom was so completely destroyed by the Assyrians that the people who were left were in danger from wild beasts. (2 Kings 17:24f)

The Jews that were left intermarried with these foreigners and their descendants became known as the
Samaritans. You'll recall in Jesus' time many of the Jews looked down on the Samaritans. They were looked down upon and almost considered beyond redemption because they were not only corrupt religiously, but they were corrupt racially as well.

Now we don't know much about Jonah's thinking and reasoning, but it is quite possible that
Jonah saw the rising threat from Assyria. He understood that if they came against the nations of Israel and Judah that it would be the end of them. Jonah probably knew of their policy of deportation and replacement with foreign peoples. Perhaps he couldn't help but think that the coming of the Assyrians would be the end of all hope for Israel and the people of God. I suspect He didn't understand how God could do what He was going to do. Indeed, when the Assyrians did come against Samaria they almost took Jerusalem and Judah as well. It was only the intervention of the angel of the Lord who, in one night, killed 185,000 of them, that enabled Jerusalem to survive.

So Jonah was faced with a great difficulty. I think his problem was more than not understanding what God was going to do. He was afraid for the people of God.

God seemed to be working at cross purposes with Himself.

You'll remember Jesus' words about a kingdom divided against itself. In Matthew 12:25 He said,

"Every kingdom divided against itself
will be ruined,
and every city or household
divided against itself
will not stand.
If Satan drives out Satan,
he is divided against himself.
How then can his kingdom stand?"

It could very well be that Jonah thought that God was working at cross purposes with Himself. If the Assyrians destroyed Samaria and Judah, how could the Jewish people survive? How could they remain pure? How could the Messiah be born?

That's the way that it often seems with God's ways. God seems to be working at cross purposes with Himself. His ways don't make sense to us.

Abraham faced the exact same situation when God told him to take his son Isaac and offer him as a sacrifice.

Abraham knew that the promise was through Isaac. He knew that Isaac had to live. How then could God tell him to kill Isaac? God seemed to be working at cross purposes with Himself.

What should a Christian do in such a situation? Proverbs 3:5 gives us the answer,

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;"

So Jonah ran away. He didn't want God to spare Nineveh. He knew that God would use his message of doom to awaken the Ninevites and bring them to repentance. He didn't understand how that could be good for Israel, for the people of God. Indeed, from his perspective, it was the worst thing that could happen. So he ran away. He rejected God's plan. It didn't make sense to him. He tried to stop it from coming to pass. He ran away from God's presence.

How different was the obedience of Jesus.

Now what we must note here is that the story of Jonah is not just an unusual and interesting story. In many ways it points beyond itself to the mission and work of Jesus. In other words, it has great redemptive historical significance.

There are certain parallels between Jonah and Jesus that we should note. Remember Jesus' words in Matthew 12:39-41? He said, (See also Matthew 16:2f)

"A wicked and adulterous generation
asks for a miraculous sign!
But none will be given it
except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
For as Jonah was three days and three nights
in the belly of a huge fish,
so the Son of Man will be three days
and three nights in the heart of the earth.
The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment
with this generation and condemn it;
for they repented at the preaching of Jonah,
and now one greater than Jonah is here."

Jonah's experience in the belly of the fish pointed forward to the time between Jesus' death and resurrection. Jonah points us to Christ and His work. We would be remiss if we missed this.

There are other,
less obvious parallels. For example, in Jonah we read about the sea becoming calm after the sailors threw Jonah into the sea. This points is to the New Testament where we read about Jesus rebuking the stormy sea and making it calm. It also points to judgment falling on one rather than on all. Remember what Caiaphas said in John 11 after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and many of the Jews were putting their trust in Him? Many in the Sanhedrin were afraid of losing their influence. They said, (verses 47-48)

"Here is this man performing many miraculous signs.
If we let him go on like this,
everyone will believe in him,
and then the Romans will come
and take away both our place and our nation."

Then Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up and said,

"You know nothing at all!
You do not realize that it is better for you
that one man die for the people
than that the whole nation perish."

The apostle John then commented,

"He did not say this on his own,
but as high priest that year
he prophesied that Jesus would die
for the Jewish nation,
and not only for that nation
but also for the scattered children of God,
to bring them together and make them one."

So too, in Jonah we have judgment falling on one and others being spared. When they asked him what to do, Jonah replied, (2:12)

"Pick me up and throw me into the sea,
and it will become calm.
I know that it is my fault
that this great storm has come upon you."

The sailors were reluctant to do what Jonah said. They did their best to row back to land. But God resisted their efforts and they could not and the sea grew even wilder than before. They said,

"O LORD, please do not let us die
for taking this man's life.
Do not hold us accountable
for killing an innocent man,
for you, O LORD,
have done as you pleased."

It's interesting that they referred to Jonah as an innocent man—which indeed reminds me of Pilate's declaration about Jesus. After they threw Jonah into the sea, we read,

"But the LORD
provided a great fish to swallow Jonah,
and Jonah was inside the fish
three days and three nights."

That pointed to Christ and His work.

So too, Jonah's disobedience here points us to the obedience of Jesus.

The cross has been a stumbling block to many. How could strength, power and salvation come out of such weakness? How could life come from death? In sending Jesus to die it seemed that God was working at cross purposes with Himself. John the Baptist found it hard to understand. You'll remember John the Baptist's question about Jesus? In Matthew 11 we read that when John heard what Jesus was doing, he sent messengers to Jesus to ask,

"Are you the one who was to come,
or should we expect someone else?"

When they came to arrest Jesus, Peter took out His sword and started swinging. How could God's salvation come to pass if Jesus died?

When God's will is hard and difficult to accept—how should we react? You should follow the example of Jesus.

Jonah tried to run away. But Jesus embraced God's will and fully obeyed it.

How different it was with Jesus.

He had such a hard and difficult task. He was called to be, (Isaiah 53:3)

"a man of sorrows,
and familiar with suffering"

He was called to embrace the cup of the cross. He was called to embrace the wrath of God for our sins. He was called to death.

It was such a difficult cup. Remember how in the
Garden of Gethsemane He asked the Father to take the cup from Him? He asked that if it was possible for the cup to be removed from Him. Remember how His sweat became like great drops of blood and how He complained that He was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death? His cup was so much more difficult than Jonah's. Yet how did He react to it?

Hebrews 10:5f speaks of Jesus coming to the world and His embracing God's will for Him. It says,

"Therefore, when Christ came into the world,
he said:
'Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings
you were not pleased.'
Then I said,
Here I am—
it is written about me in the scroll—
I have come to do your will, O God.

What a horrible cup it was. Yet there was complete acceptance. In John 4:34 Jesus said to His disciples,

"My food is to do
the will of him who sent me
and to finish his work."

That's how we should react. We should always delight in God's will. Our job is to obey—to be righteous, holy and full of love even when it seems that those tactics contain within them the seeds of our destruction.

How thankful we all ought to be for Jesus, for his obedience.

He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. Yet He opened not His mouth. He obeyed. He accomplished the mission that the Father had for Him.

The great lesson for us in this is:

You ought to obey God when it is difficult. You ought to obey God when you don't agree with His plan. You ought to trust His will for your life and embrace it.

God's plan is wonderful. It is magnificent in its details and glorious in its goal. As we read in Romans 11:33-36,

"Oh, the depth of the riches
of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen."

We ought to obey God even when He seems to be working at cross purposes because God's will is powerful in its accomplishment. One of the reoccurring themes in the book of Jonah is the great power of God—how His power is great and extends everywhere. Wherever Jonah went, God's power was there.

Lastly, for those who are not Christians.

You need to stop running away from God.

Very often the path of disobedience is easy. Jonah had no trouble getting to Joppa. No trouble finding a ship going to Tarshish. No trouble paying the fare. No trouble sleeping during the storm. But it was all leading to disaster.

So too, your easy path is leading you to destruction. Your only hope is the mercy of God shown in Jesus Christ. Jesus said,

"A wicked and adulterous generation
asks for a miraculous sign!
But none will be given it
except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
For as Jonah was three days and three nights
in the belly of a huge fish,
so the Son of Man will be three days
and three nights in the heart of the earth.
The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment
with this generation and condemn it;
for they repented at the preaching of Jonah,
and now one greater than Jonah is here."

Turn from your easy path. Turn from your sin. The end of those ways is death. Turn to Jesus and find salvation in Him.