Jonah: The Story of a Place and a Person
The nation of Assyria is represented by Nineveh in this story of the minor prophet, Jonah. It is story well known for an event in Jonah’s life which resulted in him being swallowed by a great fish and spending three days and nights in the belly of this fish in the bottom of the sea. I want to focus in this story on the place of Nineveh and the country of Assyria. I also want to focus on the prophet, the person, Jonah.
Assyrians were brutally cruel people. We would describe them today as terrorists. Their kings gloated over their victories and inflicted gruesome punishment on their conquered enemies. Many of their victims were beheaded, impaled or burned. (Sound familiar?) One of their kings erected a pyramid of chopped-off heads in front of a captured city’s gates. They were much feared and hated.
What is the history of this place, Nineveh, located in Assyria? Let us look back at its beginning and see how it came to be. For it is as old as Genesis. In Genesis 10 we read of the descendants of the sons of Noah after the flood. Ham had a son named Cush. Cush was the father of Nimrod who is described as a mighty warrior who would establish a kingdom. “The first centers of his kingdom were Babylon, Erech, Akkad, and Calneh, in Shinar. From that land he went to Assyria, where he built NINEVEH.
The name Nimrod is Hebrew for ‘we will rebel.’ Babel the city known for its Tower was a city built out of pride and self-centeredness for the explicit purpose of exalting themselves. “Come let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11) Their purpose was in defiance of Gods’ command to multiply on the earth and increase upon it. God ordered them to scatter, they said we will not be scattered.
Nimrod was a rebel who used his might to turn an entire civilization against God. Rebellion is always about control. Nimrod was the worlds’ first dictator and his major project was erecting the Tower of Babel. His plan was to unify the nation and build a nation which would reach to the stars in its lofty goals an advanced, progressive society. A nation built on selfish pride has a foundation which will not last, for God resists the prideful but gives grace to the humble.
America was a nation founded on Biblical truths. A nation which our forefathers worked hard to build to honor their Maker, Almighty God. Somewhere along the way, in the almost 400 years since the Pilgrims landed, we have seen our culture turn from the founding father’s principles to become a progressive society which has made a name for itself. It is a nation which has increasingly become a nation which has rebelled against God.
I am headed toward a study of Revelation, but I first wanted to visit this study in Jonah. In Revelation we will see God’s final judgement. But we know God loves the world, He loved the citizens of Nineveh. For we will see Jonah is a study which reveals God as a God of second chances and second opportunities. I believe based on this account of God’s activity, God would want us to bring a message of repentance to America before His judgment falls on our beloved country. I see in myself and many other Christians, our hatred not only of the sins of our fellow countrymen and leaders, I see a hatred of the sinners. But does not God love them? Of course He does. And He is not willing that any should perish, but all would come to repentance.
God judges disobedience, but He shows mercy to the repentant.
“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.” (Psalm 103:8) The whole world is now living in the time of Grace. But His judgement is coming. The signs are telling us the time is near. But for now God is withholding judgment, and I believe His Word clearly reveals what He would have us do at this time.
What would God have us do? “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.” God wanted Jonah to go to Nineveh, the cruel enemy of Israel and give them an opportunity to repent.
God wants us to give the people of America an opportunity to repent. Surely it is time to send out the message: IT IS TIME TO REPENT, AMERICA. And remember, according to 2 Chronicles 7:14 repentance begins with us- God’s people. “If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
As we study the history of the world as portrayed in the Bible, we see a pattern. We see seasons in the history of nations. Spring is a time of refreshing, new growth, and warm weather. We rejoice as plants begin to bloom, seeds bring forth the green we had been missing for those winter months of cold, short days and bare trees and brown earth.
And spring is followed by summer. A time we slow down, school’s are out, family vacations, fishing, swimming- we all love summer.
Then comes autumn, with its changing colors and cooler days after the heat of July and August. But we know what lies ahead- winter. Often we hear meteorologists talk about the approaching winter and forecasts of either its mildness or severity. By observing certain signs in nature they can predict a mild, normal or severe winter season. Jesus said to the Pharisees and Sadducees: “You know how to interpret the signs of the sky (regarding weather), but you cannot interpret the signs of the time.” (Matthew 16)
I believe we are on in the late autumn season of our nation. As baby boomers we have lived in the spring and summer seasons of our country. We were born in the spring season following the harsh winter of the 1930’s depression, the great war of the 1940’s. We have lived in the spring and summer for almost 70 years. But signs of a harsh winter of judgement are being revealed here in the autumn of our country’s life. They begin in 1963 when we took prayer out of the schools. Ten years later, somehow the Supreme Court found in our Constitution, a document prayerfully shaped by our forefathers, had granted the right of abortion to a woman. We lost a questionable war in Viet Nam. We have been involved in war for decades, never seeming to experience lasting peace. Now here in the 21st century, the Supreme Court has somehow found the right for same sex marriage as provided in our Constitution. And terrorist are living among us as the research shows Christianity is waning.
We are living in Nineveh, having re-built the Tower of Babel. As it was in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, so will it be when the Son of Man returns.
Yes Revelation and its judgement awaits the world. Another world dictator is waiting in the wings. But in the meanwhile what would God have us to do?
Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against its wickedness and offer repentance and the mercy of God. Because God loves them.
God called Jonah to do this. But Jonah thought he had a better idea than God. And this is where our story begins.
Jonah did not want to see Nineveh repent, he wanted to see Nineveh destroyed. Jonah loved his nation Israel and hated the nation of Assyria and Nineveh, its chief city. His patriotism and love of his country took precedence over the will of God. “For God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable. Just as you who were one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, (Paul was speaking of the Jews) so too they have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on all.” (Romans 11: 29-32)
This is a story about disobedience in our lives. It is story of God’s mercy. It is a story of God’s love. The message of the Gospel is clear: Everyone is loved. Everyone is wrong. Everyone must recognize they are wrong and change through faith in Christ. God loved Jonah. God loved Israel. God also loved Nineveh and its citizens.
Jonah knows this is the Word of God. Jonah’s response? “But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed to Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed to Tarshish to flee from the Lord.”
You cannot flee from the Lord. He is omnipresent. Obedience to His Word – to His commandments is not optional. You cannot take it or leave it without consequences. Disobedience will be judged. “But why do you call me, Lord, Lord and not do the thing which I say?” (Luke 6:46)
Watch what happens next. When you will not listen to the Word of God and obey it, God will find a way to get your attention. He will send an attention getting event into your life. God not only orders the steps in our lives, He also orders the stops. Jonah is trying to do the impossible- run away from God. You cannot outrun God. He will not let you. He will stop you because you are headed in the wrong direction. A storm in the life of a believer can spill over into the lives of those around them. Sin in one family member’s life can impact the whole family. The same is true of the church. The sailors on this ship were about to discover this truth of how the sin of disobedience in Jonah’s life would put their life in peril.
Know this about God in His dealing with His children: God never allows His people to sin successfully.
Notice how Jonah was lulled into a false sense of security and peace. Jonah goes below deck and fell into a deep sleep. Jonah hated the citizens of Nineveh. He did not want to see them repent and forgiven. He wanted them to be destroyed. He could build a strong case for their rightful destruction based on their wickedness and cruelty. But vengeance is mine, says the Lord.
In the meanwhile, we see our disobedience can impact those around us. The Lord sent a storm, a great wind, so violent, the ship begins to break up. Jonah’s disobedience has put all of these sailors aboard this ship in danger.
The captain of the ship goes below to see about Jonah and finds him asleep. “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god. Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish!” (Jonah 1; 6)
Then the sailors said to each other: “Come let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.”
When crisis strikes, people who never use the name of God except as a swear word, all of sudden want to appease God somehow to save them from their dire circumstances. Many will not be brought to prayer unless they are scared to death.
Already they have begun to cast cargo overboard, for material possessions are of no value when one fears for their very life. (We may learn that sometimes we may lighten our loads for the safety of our souls. With less to carry, we might sail through life more safely.)
When 9/11 occurred, people were fearful. They could not believe our security had been breached so easily. We realized we had been living with a false sense of security that we could not be attacked on our own soil. Yet a handful of terrorists armed with box cutters had brought down the Twin Towers in NYC along with the lives of over 3,000 people. Our Pentagon was attacked. All of a sudden- we were a fearful nation calling out to God to help us. Billy Graham and other noted pastors were constantly being interviewed on television and were praying in the name of Jesus. Churches were filled.
For a while it seemed a real revival was taking place. Then time passed by and we did not have any more attacks and we went back to business as usual. Jonah must have experienced a false sense of security in disobeying God. After all he had found passage on a ship, had the money to purchase a ticket and promptly went below and fell into a deep sleep. ARE WE IN A DEEP SLEEP, CHRISTIANS? ARE WE EXPERIENCING A FALSE SENSE OF PEACE?
Is the Lord saying to us- why do you call me Lord, Lord and NOT DO WHAT I ASK YOU TO DO?
Did you notice what was missing? The captain asked Jonah ‘to call on his god and maybe he would take notice of us and we will not perish.’ Jonah did not pray.
When you are disobedient, sinful and non- repentant- you will lose the power of prayer. Jonah does not even attempt to pray.
God sent a wind to fetch Jonah and bring him back to Nineveh. The very wind which blows where it wants- is God’s servant and obeys His commandment.
The sailors asked Jonah: “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?
“He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” (Verse 9)
“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.” These are the questions we must answer.
Who is responsible for the trouble we find ourselves and our country in today? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you? What have you done? Jonah’s answer reveals he is awakening from his sleep and rising up. He realizes what the problem is. He is a Hebrew, who worships the Only True God who created the heavens and the earth. He also realizes he is the cause of the trouble and tells them to pick him up and throw him into the sea and it will become calm. What were the Jews who had the truth of the Living God supposed to be doing? To be a blessing to all the nations.
Are we to blame for the trouble we find ourselves in today? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you? Are we not citizens of heaven? Are we not God’s children? His chosen, who have been made holy and are dearly loved. Are we not to be light and salt? Have we who are the light of the world put our light under a basket? Is this basket we have put in under- our church? Is this where we let our light shine in the walls of our church building? Has our salt lost its saltiness?
G K Chesterton once wrote a short letter in reply to a question asked on the editorial page of the local newspaper. The question the editorial asked was: “What is wrong with the world today?” GK Chesterton wrote back: “I am.” G.K. Chesterton. Are we, God’s children who are called by His name the problem? .
In the meanwhile the sea was growing rougher and they asked Jonah what they should do. Jonah told them to throw him overboard and it would become calm. Jonah recognized God’s hand in the events and knew his disobedience was the cause of the storm. The sailors tried to row to land, but God would not permit them to do so. Finally they threw Jonah into the sea. It immediately became calm. We are told as a result these men feared God and offered a sacrifice to the Lord. Here in these efforts we see another truth. These sailors tried to find safety in their physical efforts. Their self-efforts and labor could not provide them with safety. Safety lay in the sacrifice, not the labor. You cannot save yourself from your sins, only by placing you faith in the sacrificial work of atonement Christ made for us all at the cross.
JONAH AND THE GREAT FISH
In the meanwhile, God provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.
From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. (Jonah 2:1)
The national ship of our country is being tossed in a mighty wind. It is in danger of breaking up. Our culture is sinking deep in sin and rebellion. But there is still hope and God tells us what to do. It begins with God’s people who are called by His Name. If we would right our national ship it begins with us. We must seek God’s face with earnest and contrite hearts.
- Humble ourselves. Confess our sins and turn from them. Obey His commandments.
- Pray for America. Pray for our families. Pray for our church, West Jackson. Pray for our leaders.
- Seek God’s face. Ask God what does He want you to do?
We have all been blessed to be born in America. Our citizenship in a free country means something. We have also been born again and are citizens in heaven. We are called to be light and salt in a dark and decaying world. As responsible citizens of heavens we are to be responsible Christian citizens in our country. Beliefs must be lived out. We cannot choose those which we will obey and leave the others out.
If you and I run from our duties- we can expect God to send something in our lives to bring us back to our duty. God will not allow us to be disobedient without disciplining us.
Charles Stanley recently issued a call for prayer- to pray for America.
“The time has come for us to pray- believing the Father can mightily reverse the tide assailing our nation. The truth of the matter is, when we fight our battles on our knees, we win every time.” Charles F. Stanley.
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Savior. “(1 Timothy 2: 1-3)
Charles Stanley’s Life Principles:
*The dark moments of our life will last only so long as necessary for God to accomplish His purpose in us.
*Brokenness is God’s requirement for maximum usefulness.