Thoughts come to mind about Jonah, his ordeal and discussion with God about the Gourd. He did what he could to avoid doing what God wanted him to do and warn Nineveh of impending calamity. Our problems, it seems become worse than all the world’s problems and of deepest concern to us.
Jonah the Reluctant Prophet
What is important to us? How many have lost a pet - a cat, a dog, tropical fish, rabbits or something similar. Years ago I loss some tropical fish because the water heater went out of control. The fish tank became a slow cooker and killed 90% of the fish.
Not long ago I found our precious cat, Tigger had died. We had her for about 10 years. It upset me very much to lose such a delightful cat. In my anguish and distress the thought came to mind about Jonah, his ordeal and discussion with God about the Gourd, or vine as some may call it.
All too often, though we are aware of our calling, our lives get filled with so many things such that we can readily lose track of our calling or it gets put on the back burner.
1. Jonah the Reluctant Prophet
Often thoughts of Jonah has brings many of us to Matt 12:39-40 where Christ speaks of His being in the heart of the earth, even as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish, for 3 days and 3 nights. But why then are there 4 chapters to explain the story of Jonah? Is there something more?
Let’s take a stroll through the Book of Jonah to see what other lessons we can learn from this man who was called by God.
Let’s begin reading in Jonah 1:1-3 Jonah was commanded to go to Nineveh an important city of the Assyrian empire, 550 miles to the East but he tried going to Tarshish[i], away from the presence of the Lord. Nineveh was to the East, but Jonah decided he wanted to go West. Hypothetical conversation between God and Jonah: Tarshish –Spain & the Costa Brava currently called the Spanish Riviera (ala 1962).
Do we too flee the presence of the Lord? Luke 14:28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— Have we truly counted the cost of our calling? Did Jonah count the cost early in his calling by God?
Do we get wrapped up in the cares of the world? We read in Mark 4:19 and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
Jonah said he was afraid and hired passage a ship at Joppa to go West to Tarshish –just the opposite of what God wanted. Hypothetically, why was Jonah afraid? The Ninevites were a terribly evil people? Like sticking ones head in the jaws of a lion? Had he be wrong many times in the past? Was he overly preachy as a youth? The Bible does not record his early history.
Jonah 1:4-5 A storm came and threatened destruction of the boat. And notice the hardened but terrified seamen (as Navy and Merchant Marines are portrayed) prayed to their gods. But what did Jonah do? Jonah fell asleep even as all the others called on their gods; He fell asleep despite his calling. In Jonah 1:6 The captain asked Jonah what are you doing? Pray to your God! How many of our nation’s Christians fall asleep even as the Nation faces impending doom and calamity? Reminds me of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25:1.
Sleep Analogy: Carbon Monoxide poisoning in 1962 while in the Army.
Let me make something perfectly clear. These men DID NOT worship the same god as Jonah. Sometimes we think that if a person merely mentions the name of God or Jesus we all pray to the same God. This has become a very popular AND FALSE concept in religious and political circles in recent times. Many people in and out of the Church can say “Lord, Lord” and not do the things of the Lord as they take on the religions of the world around them.
Recently, I was speaking to a number of people with a strong Christian background. We, Christians and non-Christians often complain and bemoan financial disarray of the Nation, the other political problems, how politicians do their own will rather than the will of the people, let alone the right things. As a so called Christian people we forget our problems may actually be a reflection of the moral disarray and confusion of the Nation and its rejection of very fundamental Godly principles. We play lip service to godliness. We think all we need do is say the name of Christ, but forget repentance and obedience to the Laws of God.
Jonah 1:7-8 The unconverted and uncalled crew wanted to know who offended god to bring on such an impending calamity. They cast lots at a time to make a discernement of God’s will when God’s Spirit was not yet given to many people. In the NT this was replaced with the giving of the HS in Acts on Pentecost 31 AD. That is another subject for another day.
Jonah admitted his guilt of running from the face of the Lord in order to fill his time with his own pleasures – He took passge on a ship going from Joppa (or Jaffa) to Tarshish (or Spain)!
How many of us fill our days with pets, hobbies, computers, wide screen TVs, birthdays, walks in the park, Disneyland, the internet, financial news and what ever. Not that we can’t do these things, but do we fill in our time to the exclusion of the things God wants us to do. This is not speaking of emergency types of situations.
Jonah 1:9, 10-12 Jonah declared he feared God and knew he should do God’s will, but did not. Are we not sometimes the same way? Jonah told them to throw him overboard after realizing the calamity came on the ship because of his own failure to obey God.
Jonah 1:13-16 But the hardened seamen recoiled in horror at the suggestion and wanted to show Jonah mercy more than what he had shown later in the book of Jonah.
Then we read in Jonah 1:17 that he was in the belly of the great fish (or “dag”) for 3 days and 3 nights. Ironically, on of the god’s of Nineveh was a great fish god!
Jonah 2:1-6 A repentant Jonah pictured in the fish turning white from the gastic juices, the stench of seaweed, digesting fish and other foul odors. Did Jonah really die? Some say yes some no. Even if he did die he was resurrected back to physical life to do the job God had for him.
Jonah 2:7-10 He lost hope- his soul faints? He had good intentions during a severe affliction. Isn’t that also like us? Salvation is of the Lord, not a multitude of gods! Every knee shall bend toward and worship Christ!
2. Jonah Finally Preached the Message to Nineveh:
The old time theologian, Charles Spurgeon (~1885) said, Let it never be forgotten that Jonah was a man of God. I often hear great fault found with him, and he richly deserves the condemnation; he was not at all an amiable person; but, for all that, he was a man of God. When he was in the very depths of the sea, when he appeared to be cut off from all hope, he prayed as none but a man of God could pray. … But he did still believe in his God;” though …” he tried to run away.”
Jonah 3:1-3 Jonah finally did what God told him and he went to Nineveh and did Not try to take his “vacation” to Spain. Nineveh was 3 days journey 60-120 miles in circumference or was it 60 miles long.
Jonah 3:4 Jonah gave the warning message of destruction coming in 40 days!
Jonah 3:5-10 But what happened to Nineveh? It repented and was saved. Later we will see Jonah bemoaned it (Was I like that in 1974 when Europe did not strike at the arabs during the oil crisis?)
3. Jonah was Angry
Jonah became angry, pouty and sullen. Let’s continue in Jonah 4:1-4 He would rather be dead than wrong. He wanted to be right so bad, he wanted Nineveh to be destroyed. This is unlike the Apostle Paul centuries later who grieved if only he could die to save those on the verge of being lost. What a contrast!
Jonah 4:5-11 5So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city. 6And the Lord God prepared a plant (Heb=Kikayon = gourd or something like acastor bean plant tht could grow 8-15 ft tall like I had in AZ) 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 (gourd) 7But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, (maggot or larva, possibly a crimson grub) and it so damaged the plant that it withered. 8And 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, (Years ago I prayed I would die since my asthma was so bad – and a local minister told me he expected me to die within a few years of coming in the Church) and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9Then 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!” 10But 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. 11And 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?”
Charles Spurgeon also declared years ago, “Jonah could not escape the fury of the wind, especially when his gourd was withered.… the fierce rays of the sun beat upon Jonah's head, where he seems to have been weakest, though he probably thought himself to be strongest just there.” At this time he was in his special comfort zone.
Jonah was an ordinary man like each of us. He was a “reluctant prophet” who tried to flee to Tarshish when God sent him on a mission in the other direction towards Nineveh.
4. A People of Compassion With a Job to Do
Consider the life of Jonah, but also consider God wants us to do His Will!
We need to Finish the Work:
In Jn 4:34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.
Jonah had his weaknesses like each of us. He in a sense lacked proper compassion, but we are not to be that way.
Jonah was wrapped up in the cares of his age but we read this of Christ in Matt 9:36 But when he saw the crowds he was moved with compassion for them, because they were harassed, and cast away as sheep not having a shepherd.
Also, in Mark 6:34 And on leaving [the ship] [Jesus] saw a great crowd, and he was moved with compassion for them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. They in a sense were like Nineveh not knowing their left from their right.Perhaps a contemporary of Jonah, but another prophet of God, Ezekiel expressed a bit more compassion and pleading with Israel.
Let’s briefly look at Ezek 18:31 Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel?
Ezek 33:11 Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’
In conclusion, we like Jonah have a commission from God. Jonah was an example of a reluctant prophet who cared more for self. We at times are like reluctant Christians concerned about self image, desires and what other people would think of us or have us to do. Soemtimes we can’t say, “No!” For the world wants us to go along with them or say we should do things their way or our own way!
We forget we were called as a kingdom of priests to teach the God’s ways to the world and a give a warning message from God in a humble and compassionate manner.
Finally, Christ had this to say in Jn 17:4, I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.