The Prophet Jonah
Jonah 3:1-5, 10; 4:1-11
INTRODUCTION Jonah was an unwilling prophet compelled to preach a message from God to the city of Ninevah, to wicked people whom he knew to be enemies of God and enemies of the prophet's own people Israel. The first two chapters of the book of Jonah tell of Jonah's vain attempt to escape the divine call. Finally, after three days and three nights in the belly of a great fish which God had prepared to accommodate the rebellious prophet [Jonah 1:17], Jonah submitted to the revealed will of God.
Before condemning Jonah too harshly for his prejudice against the Assyrians, perhaps we ought to ask ourselves how eager we are for the salvation of personal, family, or national enemies, and how obedient we are to the command of Jesus: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" [Matthew 5:44].
Verses from Jonah 3 and 4 included in the lesson may be outlined as follows: 1. Repentance, Jonah 3:1-5, 10. a. Change in preacher, 1-4. b. Change in people, 5. c. Change in prospects, 10. 2. Resentment, Jonah 4:1-3. a. Angry reaction, 1-2. b. Angry request, 3. 3. Reproof, Jonah 4:4-11. a. Pertinent question, 4-5. b. Personal question, 6-9. c. Perceptive question, 10-11. NOTES ON THE TEXT:
REPENTANCE, Jonah 3:1-5, 10. Warnings of divine judgment are generally conditioned upon failure of sinners to repent [Jeremiah 18:8; Luke 13:3]. It was because of Jonah's preaching that the people of Ninevah repented. This fact is made clear enough here, and is confirmed by Jesus Himself in Matthew 12:41. As we go on through the lesson we can see that this was God's purpose from the beginning, as Jonah had suspected.
Change in Preacher, 1-4. Earlier Jonah had refused to obey God, and had foolishly fled from the divine call. He had learned now that "salvation is of the Lord" [2:9], and his "fish-belly theology" included another bit of knowledge that some advocates of their own limited ideas of "divine sovereignty" have not learned: God's man must obey God's commands.
So Jonah had learned to obey, however reluctantly. He was still in need of some further instruction, but at least he had learned to obey God and to preach God's message.
Change in People, 5. Believing God here evidently involved believing not only in His justice but also in His mercy, believing that God's dealings with men are related to men's attitudes toward God. In other words, the people of Ninevah repented of their sins [verse 8] and believed [verse 9] so that they might obtain mercy from God, though it seems that this hostile prophet offered no personal encouragement to such belief.
Change in Prospects, 10. Nevertheless, because of the truth of the prophet's message and in spite of the hostility of the prophet's heart, the people of Ninevah obtained a change in prospects, as "God repented of the evil that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not." See again Jeremiah 18:8. Actually it is apparent that there was no change in the character of God; the change was in the character and conduct of the people -- a change which qualified them to receive mercy instead of judgment.
RESENTMENT, Jonah 4:1-3. Quite evidently, divine mercy is not dependent on the good will or the evangelistic zeal of the preacher. On the contrary, it is because God is gracious and kind and merciful that we need to learn to express His love to others besides ourselves. Jonah had a hard time learning this lesson, if he ever learned it, as we may dare to hope he did. But the record stands that Jonah resented the mercy extended to Ninevah.
Angry Reaction, 1-2. Maybe Jonah might have been less angry if he had not anticipated the result of his preaching. No doubt he appreciated the love of God shown to himself and to his own people, but such was his hatred toward the Assyrians that he could hardly endure the thought that God was merciful to them also. Worst of all, God had compelled him to be instrumental in the deliverance of his enemies. And all this just as he had expected!
Angry Request, 3. Hastily and angrily Jonah requested death for himself; it were better to die quickly he thought, than to live to see God's blessings upon his hated enemies. He did not have the good sense or grace to pray for a better mind and a kinder heart that would make his life worth living. How thankful we ought to be that even when we know not what to ask for as we ought, God knows how to bestow good gifts!
REPROOF, Jonah 4:4-11. Instead of granting Jonah's foolish request, therefore, God gently reproved the prophet, giving him abundant material for reasonable thought and spiritual improvement. Challenging the spiritual intelligence, the reproof took the form of three questions.
Pertinent Question, 4-5. "Doest thou well to be angry?" It seems that Jonah did not dare to offer an answer to this question, referring to his anger that Ninevah was spared. Surely he knew in his heart that he was wrong, but he was not about to admit it, either to himself or to God. Maybe, he thought forlornly, the destruction of Ninevah was only postponed for a few days; he would take up a watch and see.
Personal Question, 6-9. Like all of us, Jonah needed a real and vivid experience of personal involvement in divine providence to help him see the needs of other people in spiritual perspective. For one day he enjoyed the shade of a gourd which God miraculously provided; the next day it withered; and in the exhausting heat of the sun and the east wind, Jonah again angrily wished to die. Then came the second question, this time a personal question: "Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?"
And in the abundance of his self-pity, Jonah hastily answered this time that he was right to be mad enough to die, if we may so paraphrase.
Perceptive Question, 10-11. Of course, Jonah's anger because of the gourd was not really pity on the gourd, but self-pity, because he had lost its shade. We can only hope that he was able to perceive this truth. But his supposed pity on the gourd, on which he had bestowed no labor, laid him open to God's third question: "Should not I spare Ninevah?" Besides some hundreds of thousands of sinners who had repented, there were in the city of 120,000 infants too young to know their right hand from their left, "and also much cattle" -- all the creatures of God.
Here ends the book of Jonah. Again his answer, if any, is not recorded. Let us hope he got the point. More important, let us have the mind of Christ [I Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5], rather than the mind of Jonah.
CONCLUSION [Exodus 33: 19] God spoke these words to Moses in answer to Moses' prayer, "I beseech thee, show me thy glory." This is the glory of God, so far as man is able to see it: God's goodness goes before us; His name is proclaimed before us; His grace and His mercy are bestowed according to His own will. This last statement was true even when it displeased Jonah; and it remains true whether it pleases us or not. May we learn to be pleased with all that pleases God! ================
[From Ashland Avenue Baptist paper, January 6, 1978, pp. 2-3. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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