There are some spectacular occurences in the Book of Jonah, starting in chapter 1. Weaved in the midst of these are 4 keys lessons for all of us today. ◊
Have you ever overtly rebelled against God? It could simply be doing something or anything that you know is against the principles, will, or word of God.
As humans, if we’re honest, at some level we all have done wrong. You don’t even have to be a Christian to acknowledge that we’re not perfect in the eyes of any perfect standard. We’ve all rebelled and misbehaved or been disobedient to whatever standard one holds.
Now consider the curious case of a man named Jonah.
Jonah, Chapter 1
Jonah was a prophet of Israel who lived during the reign of King Jeroboam II in the Northern Kingdom (786–746 BC). He was instructed, (literally “the word of the Lord came to Jonah…”) to leave his home in Gath-Hepher (see 2 Kings 14:25) in the region of Galilee, and “Go to the great city of Nineveh,” the capital city of the dreaded and ruthless Assyrian nation. Nineveh (modern day Mosul, Iraq) was about 500 miles northeast of Galilee.
As a Hebrew prophet, he was directed by God specifically to preach to the city inhabitants about their wicked ways.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah,son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1-2)
But Jonah overtly disobeys God and heads in the opposite direction toward Spain:
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. (Jonah 1:3)
Jonah travels 50 to 60 miles due west and boards a ship in Joppa (modern day Tel Aviv, Israel) heading further west to Tarshish, along the western coast of the Mediterranean in southern Spain, about 2500 miles away.
But God, who created and can influence all things, intervenes here and disrupts the ship’s voyage with a violent storm:
Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. (Jonah 1:4-5a)
Interestingly enough, the sailors all believe there is a purpose or spiritual cause of this calamity. Eventually, Jonah is confronted and interrogated:
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”
Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” (Jonah 1:5b-8)
Jonah knows the power of the Lord, the God of heaven, and recognizes his sin of disobedience. He then devises his own solution:
He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)
The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”
“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (Jonah 1:9-12)
The sailors do not initially agree with the plan. Even these pagan men do not believe it right to take another’s life. They acknowledge the Lord, pray to Him, and then after throwing Jonah overboard, they offer a sacrifice and make vows to the One True God who controls the wind and the seas:
Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. (Jonah 1:13-16)
And the power and intentions of the Lord are demonstrated even still:
Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17)
Lessons in Chapter 1
While the ending of Chapter 1 leaves the reader hanging with a supernatural occurrence that pushes credulity, remember that Jesus Christ Himself references Jonah in his discourse with the Pharisees (see Matthew 12:38-41, Luke 11:29-32).
The question of the reality of the huge fish will be further addressed in Chapter 2. In the meantime, there are several takeaway lessons in Chapter 1 involving God’s handling of Jonah’s direct disobedience.
Here are 4 key lessons:
- God has plans for human life. – As we see here and in the whole context of the Bible, God is active and involved in the ways and means of mankind, His creation.
- God communicates and desires obedience. – God has revealed Himself and communicates through various forms to His creation. Obedience is implied in deference to our Holy God.
- God controls nature. – All of nature is under the hand and control of God, its Creator.
- God is merciful. – All-powerful God shows His true nature in love, grace and mercy to disobedient and foolish mankind over and over again.
Are you obedient to the Lord God?
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. – Matthew 12:40
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