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Jonah

 

Jonah was a real person, 2nd Kings 14:25, “He [Jeroboam II] restored the territory of Israel from the entrance of Hamath to the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which he had spoken through his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet who was from Gath Hepher.”  Jonah preached during the reign of Jeroboam II, was born in Gath-Hepher, a town in Zebulun (a few miles N.E. of Nazareth), probably coinciding with the reign of the Assyrian king Assur-dan III (772-755BC).  Jonah, when we really analyze his actions, was a really patriotic prophet of God, sent to Israel and Jeroboam II to work with them.  As judged in the history of the House of Israel in http://www.unityinchrist.com/kings/3.html the overall mission of the prophets from Elijah to Jonah was successful.  Their mission was to lead Israel out of Baal sun-god worship and into repentance and following the true God of Israel, and to warn the northern House of Israel of the coming Assyrian invasion, conquest and deportation of those who didn’t repent.  Historically it can be proven that six and one half tribes out of the ten did repent and were allowed by God to evade Assyrian captivity, fleeing voluntarily to a safe haven just north of Armenia.  But obviously, judging by his actions, Jonah didn’t want to see Assyria invade the land of Israel at all.  Assyria, following the reign of Adad-nirarii III (873-810BC), was in very poor shape.  Internal strife coupled to external pressure from neighboring enemies (Urartu [Armenia]) and the Aramaean states kept Assyria in a defensive stance militarily until the powerful reign of Tiglath-Pileser III arrived in 755BC.   This period of time marked by upheaval within and without Assyria is the time of Jeroboam II and the time of Jonah’s ministry as well.  Assyria is down.  Jonah, the patriotic Jonah doesn’t want to see Assyria repent and come out of their national decay and weakness.  Assur, Arrapha, Gozan and many other rival states and dependencies were in revolt against Assyria at this time.  But God apparently aware of Jonah’s patriotic mindset, threw him a real curve-ball of an assignment.  You’ve gotta love God’s sense of humor here, even though Jonah didn’t.  God commanded Jonah to bring a prophetic warning to the capital city of Assyria, the city of Nineveh, and that prophetic message was to repent or face destruction.  He thought his job was to bring that warning message to Israel, but not to Assyria.  He knew if Assyria heeded God’s message through him, that God would spare the Assyrians, and then Assyria might become strong again and attack Israel (which they did in 745BC).  Jonah did not want to see that happen.  How reliable is the Book of Jonah?  Pastor Chuck Smith says this about the Book of Jonah, “The Book of Jonah has probably been assailed by more critics than any other book of the Bible.  The story of a man being swallowed by a great fish is just too hard for some people “to swallow.”  But this is no problem for me whatsoever.  You see, if you can believe in God, a God who can create an entire universe, a God who can create man, a God who can keep this world going and hold it all together, then believing in the possibility of a special fish that could swallow a man should be no problem.  There may be many authorities who would consider me to be ignorant because I would believe this story, but that doesn’t bother me at all.  I am in good company.  Jesus Christ Himself believed in the story of Jonah and cited it as historical fact (Matt. 12:39-41; Luke 11:29-32).  If Jesus believed the story of Jonah, then I believe the story of Jonah.  Case closed.”  [The Word For Today Bible (NKJV), p. 1164, par. 1-2] 

 

Jonah 1:1-17

 

You Can’t Run From God

 

Jonah 1:1-9, “Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.’  But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.  He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.  But the LORD sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.  Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load.  But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.  So the captain came to him, and said to him, ‘What do you mean, sleeper?  Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.  And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.’  So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.  Then they said to him, ‘Please tell us!  For whose cause is this trouble upon us?  What is your occupation?  And where do you come from?  What is your country?  And of what people are you?’  So he said to them, ‘I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.’”  The overall lesson from the Book of Jonah is that we cannot run from God, nor can we run from the various assignments he’s given us to accomplish.  Jonah was, as a prophet of God, ordered to go to the Assyrian Empire, right to its capital city Nineveh, and to warn them of God’s coming judgment if they didn’t repent of their sinning lifestyles as a nation.  Assyria was northeast of Israel where Jonah lived. As these verses show, Jonah went to the southern seaport of Israel, Joppa, and booked passage on a ship bound for Tarshish, about as far from Assyria as one could go in the opposite direction!  Tarshish was a major Phoenician-Israelite seaport on the Atlantic coast of Spain just north of Gibraltar.  It was the jumping-off point for ships going up the Atlantic coast of Europe and for those making Atlantic crossings, which Phoenicians were actually doing back them (see America BC, by Dr. Barry Fell).  Jonah headed in the exact opposite direction God was telling him to go in, Jonah has done what I am afraid many of us do in our lives with God, when God gives us a job or responsibility to handle.  But God, Yahweh, is not about to let Jonah ‘get away with it.’  Jonah’s motive was not far from what some of ours might be, his actions were based on a sincere love and patriotism for Israel, his native country, and this motive was so strong in him that he was willing to die for it, as will be seen.  As a matter of fact, Jesus would use the picture of Jonah to represent his own stay in the grave for three days and three nights.  Jesus’ sacrifice was to save all of mankind. Jonah’s (in his own mind) was to save Israel from Assyria (and he was willing to die to save Israel).  He was supposed to bring God’s warning to Nineveh so that they wouldn’t be destroyed by God if they repented of their sinful lifestyles.  Jonah knew that should the Assyrians heed God’s warning of judgment through him, that God would spare them.  Then when they grew strong again (as prophecied by Amos) they would come against Israel.  Amos was a contemporary of Jonah, he was preaching during the reign of Jeroboam II, just as Amos was.  They probably knew each other, or at least knew of each other.  So he probably had heard God’s prophecies through Amos about Assyria conquering Israel.  The prophets God had been bringing into Israel had been working hard to restore true worship of God, from Elijah, Elisha, Obed, and now Amos and Hosea in his own time, coupled to his own efforts.  Jonah did not want to see Israel’s dreaded enemy repent and receive God’s favor.  So Jonah is running from God and his God-given assignment, shipping out on a Phoenician-Israelite ocean-going vessel headed for Tarshish on the Atlantic coast of Spain.  So what does God do?  He whips up a very intense storm out at sea.  The ship had probably just gotten out of sight of land (about 23 miles) when things got real nasty.  My submarine spent time on the Mediterranean Sea.  A storm with 30-foot waves could whip up in a mere 24 hours.  These by nature were very superstitious sailors.  The Phoenicians who were now a part of an Israelite-Phoenician maritime-naval alliance, had been a serious seagoing maritime empire since before 1000BC.  They had seen the Mediterranean swallow whole ships with their crews.  They knew this storm had the capability of doing just that.  So they cast lots [like rolling the dice, which is where dice came from---and it was snake-eyes for Jonah], desperately hoping their gods would show them who on board was responsible for such a storm.  Perhaps the storm had come up without warning signs, which experienced sailors like them would have recognized.  They were about to be introduced to the true God of Israel, and it would leave a lasting impression on them.  Verses 10-16, “Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, ‘Why have you done this?’  For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.  Then they said to him, ‘What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?’---for the sea was growing more tempestuous.  And he said to them, ‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you.  For I know that this great tempest is because of me.’  Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them.  Therefore they cried out to the LORD and said, ‘We pray, O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.’  So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.  Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took vows.”

 

Jonah 2:1-10

 

The Great Fish, Jonah’s Prayer, and his deliverance

 

Jonah 1:17, “Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah.  And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”  He must have been conscious or slipping in and out of consciousness during these three days and three nights, because look at the next verse.  Jonah 2:1, “Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly.”  Whatever this “great fish” was, Jonah remained conscious, apparently, for three days and three nights, and then he prayed a desperate prayer for deliverance.  Verses 2-10, “I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, and he answered me.  Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.  For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; all your billows and your waves passed over me.  Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’  The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; the deep closed around me; weeds were wrapped around my head.  I went down to the moorings of the mountains; the earth with its bars closed behind me forever; yet you have brought up my life from the it, O LORD, my God.  When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer went up to you, into your holy temple.  Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own mercy.  But I will sacrifice to you with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed.  Salvation is of the LORD.’  So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

 

  The prayer itself was composed of these Psalms of David:

          Verse 2: Psalm 3:4; 120:1; 18:4-5; 30:3

          Verse 3: Psalm 88:6-7; 42:7

          Verse 4: Psalm 31:22; 5:7

          Verse 5: Psalm 69:1-2

          Verse 6: Psalm 49:15; 56:13; 103:4

          Verse 7: Psalm 107:5; 142:3

          Verse 8: Psalm 31:6

          Verse 9: Psalm 50:14; 69:30; 107:22; 3:8; 37:39

This also shows us the Word of God probably included not just the Torah but Judges, 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st Kings and 1st Chronicles, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes.  Jonah showed a definite knowledge of Psalms here.  Verse 17 of chapter 1 shows us Jonah was in the “great fish’s” belly for three days and three nights before he prayed this prayer.  Whether conscious or unconscious for most of his ride inside this fish, at the end of those three days and three nights Jonah prayed that prayer and was immediately vomited out onto the beach (1:17; 2:1).

 

Jonah 3:1-10

 

Jonah Preaches at Nineveh

 

Now God speaks to Jonah again, and Jonah was far more favorably responsive to God this time around.  Jonah 3:1-4, “Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.’  So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the LORD.  Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent.   [i.e. three days to walk across it] And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk.  Then he cried out and said, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’”  The city of Nineveh was huge, as implied by verse 3b.  The actual city had a circumference of about eight miles, but the administrative district of Nineveh had a circumference of about 55 miles.  Diodorus Siculus (1st century BC) gave the circumference of the city as about 60 miles.  Jonah did not proclaim his warning message in the name of the God of Israel, Yhwh, Yahweh, but in the name of the Creator God, Elohim, which would have been less offensive to the Assyrians.

 

The Reason for Prophecy

 

God’s criterion when giving judgment is found in Jeremiah 18:7-8, “The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it.”  The real reason for God giving the prophecies, is so that when people see what is coming, they can be motivated to change and thus avoid God’s punishment.  So we as believers are not meant to keep the meaning of God’s prophecies locked safely away within our church walls.  Prophecy, coupled to the Gospel message, should be shouted from the housetops.  Nineveh and its king repented at the Word of God through Jonah, and they were a carnal Gentile nation without the Word of God.  God does not want the Great Tribulation, World War III to come upon mankind.  And we do know many people will come out of the Tribulation---undoubtedly due to our warning proclamation of the Gospel.  God desires for all mankind, Jew, Israelite and Gentile, that they would repent as we see Nineveh did here.  Verses 5-10, “So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.  Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.  And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, ‘Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste of anything; do not let them eat, or drink water.  But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.  Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish?’  Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that he had said he would bring upon them, and he did not do it.”  Why did Jesus praise the Ninevites in Matthew 12:41?  “Jonah’s message was simple: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  There was no exception clause.  He didn’t say there was still an opportunity to repent.  It sounded like it was too late for that.  But the people, from the king on down, repented in sackcloth and ashes.  They thought, “Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?”  They had no promise of forgiveness, but they repented anyway.  They figured there might be a chance for them, but they certainly had no guarantees.  By comparison, we today have God’s promise of forgiveness if we confess our sins, and yet we often don’t repent.  This is why Jesus said the men of Nineveh would testify against His generation (Matt. 12:41).  All the Ninevites had was a word of condemnation, and yet they repented.  We have a promise of forgiveness through Christ, and we resist and reject Him.”  [The Word For Today Bible (NKJV), p. 1167, col. 2, comment on Jonah 3:4-10]

 

Jonah 4:1-10

 

Again, the Purpose of Bible Prophecy

 

Verses 1-5, “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.  So he prayed to the LORD, and said, ‘Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country?  Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.  Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than live!’  Then the LORD said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’  So 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.”  “What a godly guy this Jonah was, upset at the forgiveness and grace of God.  How could God ever use a man like him?  How could God ever use people like us?  Jonah would rather die than see the people of Nineveh saved.  He hated the fact that God was loving and gracious!  And how often do we share this attitude?  We love God’s grace when he shows it to us, but we hate it when he gives it to those we think don’t deserve it.  We betray our attitude that it really isn’t grace at all when we are blessed.  It is really because we are better than other people.  We just don’t understand grace.”  [The Word For Today Bible (NKJV), p. 1168, col.1, comment]  Verses 6-10, “And the LORD God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his miserly.  So Jonah was very grateful for the plant.  But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered.  And 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, and said ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’  Then 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!’  But 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.  And 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?’”  “And one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left…” either refers to the entire population or to young children.  Estimates of Nineveh’s population at that time was 175,000.  God is probably referring to the Ninevites as being spiritual babes, not having his Word, so not knowing right from wrong.  The Book of Jonah demonstrates the overall purpose of prophecy.  Prophecy is given by God to give the people of the world a chance to repent.  We must learn the lesson God was teaching Jonah, that the prophecies of God are not meant just for Israel---or for God’s people, the Church---but are to be shared with the world!  And so it behooves us as the collective Body of Christ to be getting ourselves in our various denominations “on the same page” in our interpretation of Bible prophecy---and not be selfish with our knowledge of prophecy like Jonah was!

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