Jonah 1:4-17


Sermon preached on January 16, 2005 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

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.


There's a show on TV that has a great title. It's called, "
What Were You Thinking?" It's a show about people who do stupid and idiotic things which have been caught on video tape. For example, they'll show people trying to outrun the police on a high speed chase. They'll show people attempting stupid stunts and the stunt going terribly wrong and instead of them looking like Evil Knivel they look like total amateurs. "What were you thinking?" really means, "You weren't thinking at all, were you? You weren't using that gray matter in your head."

Jonah chapter 1 shows us that Jonah would have been a good candidate to use that phrase on. God tells him to go to Nineveh and preach against it. But instead of obeying Jonah tries to run away from God. He knows that God is the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land—yet he tries to run away. It doesn't make any sense at all. How can you run away from God? As we saw in Psalm 139, our Responsive Reading last week, God is everywhere. You can't run away from Him. "Earth to Jonah. What were you thinking?"

Have the words, "What were you thinking?" ever been appropriate to use on you? I've lived long enough to know that they could have been applied to me many times over. None of us want to do stupid and idiotic things. This is especially true when it comes to our obedience to God. It's one thing to do something stupid—but it's so much worse when that stupid things involves sin and disobedience to God.

No matter who you are, Jonah 1 contains lessons for you. This morning I want to look at some of these lessons, to help ensure that in regards to our obedience to God, no one will ever say to us, "What were you thinking?"

The main thing we will help us in this regard is an accurate view of God's power.

Jonah didn't want to go to Nineveh to preach to the people there. But what we see here is that God's power was put into effect to accomplish His purposes. God sent a storm to stop Jonah. This storm was for the good of Nineveh, for the good of Jonah and for the good of the sailors. Let's look at these three things.

First of all, we see that God's plans to have mercy on Nineveh were not thwarted by Jonah's disobedience.

God's great power was displayed for the good of Nineveh.

God was firm in His purpose to have mercy on the Ninevites. In chapter 4 we read of Jonah's prayer to God. He said,

"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."

Jonah tried to thwart this purpose. He didn't want God to be merciful to Nineveh. He was probably afraid that God having mercy on them would be detrimental to the nations of Israel and Judah.

Jonah's disobedience was absolutely incredible. I can't recall another prophet so willfully disobeying God. Jonah was supposed to be an instrument of blessing to the people of Nineveh. What a poor prophet he was. Even when he preached to Nineveh, his heart wasn't in it. He was so disappointed when God did have mercy on them. Did he pray for the Ninevites when he was preaching to them? I doubt it. What a poor prophet he was. He didn't want God to have mercy on Nineveh.

But Jonah could not thwart God's purposes. His running away did nothing to stop God having mercy on Nineveh. God was determined to have mercy on Nineveh and He did have mercy on them. This actually brings to mind a phrase from Romans 9. God said, (verses 15-16)

"I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion
on whom I have compassion."

He had determined to have mercy on Nineveh and He had mercy on them. Jonah could not stop it from coming to pass.

Thus one of the great truths that we are taught in this text is that God is firm in His resolve to have mercy.

This is a truth that you who are Christians should keep close to your hearts. God is firm in His resolve to have mercy. Nothing can change that. As we read in Isaiah 46:9f,

"Remember the former things,
those of long ago;
I am God,
and there is no other;
I am God,
and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times,
what is still to come.
I say:
My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.
From the east I summon a bird of prey;
from a far-off land,
a man to fulfill my purpose.
What I have said,
that will I bring about;
what I have planned,
that will I do.
Listen to me,
you stubborn-hearted,
you who are far from righteousness.
I am bringing my righteousness near,
it is not far away;
and my salvation will not be delayed.
I will grant salvation to Zion,
my splendor to Israel."

God is firm in His resolve to bring His righteousness and salvation. You Christians should rejoice is this truth.

It doesn't matter if people hate you and want you to be forsaken by God.

You'll remember that Balak, King of Moab hated the Israelites and wanted them to be cursed. He called Balaam to do it. Balak wanted the Israelites to be separated from God and His mercy. But Balaam could not curse them. Instead he blessed them.

But Balak would not give up. He persisted and asked if there was some way that he could possibly get God to hate the Israelites. Balaam came up with the idea of sending
Moabite women in the Israelite camp and inviting the Israelites to the sacrifices of the Moabite gods, the worship of Baal and to sexual immorality. Many of the Israelite men engaged in sexual immorality with the Moabite women. (Numbers 25 and Revelation 2:14) God was indeed angry and sent a devastating plague on Israel. 24000 Israelites died. But God would not let His people perish. Phinehas was very zealous for God's honor and was instrumental in stopping the plague. The end result was that the people of Israel were not destroyed. Some were killed, yes. But as Paul said in Romans 9:6- not all Israel were of Israel. God preserved His people, His remnant. (Romans 11:4-5) God's grace was not removed from them. He had determined to have mercy on them, and indeed, He did so.

The second thing we see in our text is that

God sent the storm for the good of Jonah.

God's great power was displayed for the good of Jonah. Why did God send the storm? In a very real sense it was for Jonah's sake.

Jonah's sin didn't stop God from having mercy on him.

God didn't have to send the storm to stop Jonah from going to Tarshish. He didn't have to arrange it so the great fish would swallow Jonah. God could have had someone else, another prophet go to Nineveh. Remember Mordecai's words to Queen Esther when he was urging her to act on behalf of the Jews? He said, (Esther 4:13-14)

"if you remain silent at this time,
relief and deliverance for the Jews
will arise from another place,
but you and your father's family will perish."

Mordecai knew that God was going to save His people. He knew that if Esther didn't do her duty that God would raise someone else up to do it.

In the same way, God didn't need Jonah. He could have saved Nineveh though someone else. God doesn't need any of us. Remember what John the Baptist said to the Pharisees and Sadducees when they came to him when the was baptizing in the Jordan? He said, (Matthew 3:7f)

"You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
And do not think you can say to yourselves,
'We have Abraham as our father.'
I tell you that out of these stones
God can raise up children for Abraham."

God didn't need Jonah. God sent the storm for Jonah's benefit. God was not finished with Jonah. He was determined to send him to Nineveh.

What mercy God had on Jonah in spite of his sin! He sent the fish to swallow Jonah, to save him. The sea was such that even a strong swimmer would not have been able to survive for long. I know what it's like to swim in calm water and I know what it's like to swim in rough water and let me tell you it's a whole lot easier in calm water. In rough water sometimes you find yourself gasping for air and just when you think it's safe to take a big breath the water will slap at your face just when you breath in and instead of getting a gulp of good air you inhale water. God could have let Jonah drown for his disobedience. But He prepared a fish to swallow Him. He saved Jonah and gave him the great task of bringing the message of repentance to Nineveh.

Aren't you like Jonah, sinful and unworthy? Think of your sins. Every day our sins cry out against us. But are we destroyed? As Jeremiah declared in Lamentations 3:22,

"Because of the LORD's great love
we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail. "

Jonah deserved to perish for his sins. But God was merciful to him. Jonah is in glory today because of God's great love. His sin did not separate him from the love of God.

The same is true for your Christians. God has determined to have mercy on you. He will indeed have mercy on you. Nothing can prevent it. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:35,

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall trouble or hardship or persecution
or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
As it is written:
'For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.'
No, in all these things
we are more than conquerors
through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future,
nor any powers,
neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

God is firm in His resolve to save His people. Nothing can separate us from His love, not the hatred of men, not our own sins. Remember what Jesus said in John 10:27f,

"My sheep listen to my voice;
I know them,
and they follow me.
I give them eternal life,
and they shall never perish;
no one can snatch them out of my hand.
My Father,
who has given them to me,
is greater than all;
no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand.
I and the Father are one."

God is firm in His resolve to have mercy on you. As we read in Romans 11:29,

"for God's gifts
and his call
are irrevocable."

God is faithful to His people. He is true to His promises. If you're in Jesus God has determined to have mercy on you. He will indeed have mercy. As we read in Philippians 1:6,

"being confident of this,
that he who began a good work in you
will carry it on to completion
until the day of Christ Jesus."

But even more than that. God didn't just save Jonah. After the fish vomited Jonah up—God told him to go to Nineveh and preach to them.

God re-commissioned Jonah to preach for Him.

It's interesting that Joppa was the port that Jonah sailed from in trying to avoid going to Nineveh. Jonah didn't want God to have mercy on the people of Nineveh. He didn't want God to have mercy on those Gentiles. Yet God sent him. How merciful God was to him.

Joppa was also the city where
Peter was when he had the vision that the Gentiles were going to be called by God. Peter was in Joppa when Cornelius called him to his house.

Peter was also someone who had committed a great sin. He had denied Jesus. But at Joppa God called him to preach to the Gentiles.
Peter went from there and preached to the Gentiles and the Holy Spirit fell upon them. Twice God used the port of Joppa to show that the Gentiles were in His plans. Twice he used great sinners to go forth with His message of grace.

In the same way, hasn't God been good to you in giving you an opportunity to work for Him for His glory, for the advancement of His kingdom here in Canton. In His mercy God has given us the message of reconciliation.

We're like Jonah. We're like Peter. We're sinners to whom God has been gracious. God has been pleased to give us the message of reconciliation here in the North Country. Let's not squander the opportunity.

Thirdly, we see that God's great power was displayed for the good of the sailors.

The storm was good for the sailors because it showed them the true God. In verse 5 we read that the sailors were pagans. When the storm came,

"each cried out to his own god."

But through Jonah they came to know something of the true God, the God of Israel who made the sea and the land. Jonah told them that he was running away from him. They saw actual demonstrations of His power. When Jonah told them to throw him overboard, they resisted and tried to row back to land. But when they did so the sea grew wilder than before.

God wasn't going to let them continue in their ignorance. They weren't going to be allowed to think that they had power to control their destiny. They were not going to be allowed to think that by their own power they could resist God and row back to land.

Then when they threw Jonah into the sea, the sea immediately became calm. It happened so quickly that
the sailors greatly feared the Lord, offered a sacrifice to Him and made vows to Him.

So in a very real sense God's power was displayed for the benefit of the sailors. They went from ignorance to a knowledge of the Lord of heaven and earth.

There is a great lesson to
those of you here who don't know Christ.

You are to let God's providences draw you to Jesus.

The things that happen to you are not accidents. God is in control of all things. All the good things that happen to you are designed by God to get you to go to Christ. Romans 2:4 speaks of the 'riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience' toward you. Then Paul writes, don't you realize,

"that God's kindness
leads you toward repentance?"

Other things that happen around you are warnings to you to go to Christ. Jesus spoke about how the fall of the Tower of Siloam and Pilate's slaughter of the Galileans were warnings to repent. He said, (Luke 13:5)

"But unless you repent,
you too will all perish."

What has been your reaction to the tsunami that killed so many people a couple of weeks ago? Over 150,000 people. They all seemed so safe, some spending time at the beach and in results. Others were just going about their daily lives as they always did. There was no indication that that day was going to be any different than any other. But it was. So quickly it brought so many before their Maker.

Make no mistake about it.
There is a connection between sin and disobedience and bad things happening. One of the great lies of the world today is that there's no such connection. To the world disasters, suffering and death are accidents of nature and there is no spiritual lesson in them. They will tell you that both good and bad people were killed in the tsunami and that there are no lessons about morality in it.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It is true that good and bad people died in the tsunami. It is true that sometimes good people suffer more than the unrighteous, as in the case of
Job. But to suggest that there is no moral lesson is totally wrong. Jesus said, (Luke 13:5)

"But unless you repent,
you too will all perish."

Why were the 10 northern tribes eventually destroyed by the Assyrians? It was because they had disobeyed God. We read about this in 2 Kings 17. We read, (verses 5f)

"The king of Assyria invaded the entire land,
marched against Samaria and laid siege
to it for three years.
In the ninth year of Hoshea,
the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria.
He settled them in Halah,
in Gozan on the Habor River
and in the towns of the Medes."

Why did it happen? We read,

"All this took place
because the Israelites had sinned
against the LORD their God,

who had brought them up out of Egypt
from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
They worshiped other gods
and followed the practices of the nations
the LORD had driven out before them,
as well as the practices
that the kings of Israel had introduced."

Has news of the tsunami changed your life? If it hasn't you're not listening. God is trying to teach you something of the utmost importance and you're like a little kid who's just not getting this most important lesson. That day when Jonah was on the ship the sea taught the sailors about their need for repentance. On December 26 the sea brought that lesson to the fore again. God's power over the sea brought the sailors of Jonah's ship to repentance.

Will the sailors of Jonah's ship rise up on the Day of Judgment to condemn you—because they repented when they saw God's power over the sea and you didn't. Turn to Jesus now.