|Volume 19 Number 6 June 2017||
Most grew up with the story of Jonah and the big fish. In summary, Jonah was a man of God who did not listen when sent to preach destruction to the great city of Nineveh. He was on a ship running from God’s command when a storm threatened the lives of those on board. Jonah was cast overboard, swallowed by a great fish and spat out three days and nights later. After his release, he went to Nineveh with God’s message that worked and wrought repentance. After picking out the best spot to view the destruction, Jonah was comforted by a plant that soon died. The loss of the shade made Jonah angry, and God asked him how he could be upset about the death of a plant and look forward with anticipation to the death of 120,000 people.
Jonah is a story about a man who lived in the early centuries B.C. that speaks to life today. It demonstrates disobedience, denouncement of sin, displeasure of people and God, and delivery given by God to those who repent. Peering into the story of Jonah helps us understand how God works even today.
Disobedience is the reason for the story’s existence. The Ninevites disobeyed God’s will and caused the Lord to take action. “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me’” (Jonah 1:1-2). Nineveh acted against God’s will and had to be punished for acting corruptly. In fact, listen to the message Jonah was to deliver to them, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). For their disobedience God planned to overthrow their city. How the overthrow was to happen is uncertain. Possibly a raiding band was to attack. When this happened, men were killed, young children may have been killed and women were carried away into slavery. Maybe God would rain fire like he did on Sodom and Gomorrah, destroying it utterly so that archaeology cannot find traces of its existence. Whatever the case, God was going to destroy the city for its disobedience.
However, the citizens of Nineveh were not the only ones who disobeyed. Jonah decided to run from the presence of the Lord (1:3). This did not work out so well for Jonah who was never out of the presence of the Lord, and nor can man ever hide from God. God punished His prophet’s disobedience by allowing the great fish to swallow this timid teacher. God made sure that disobedience did not go unpunished.
In the same way as God wanted them to obey, he wants people to obey today. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). The overriding theme of John’s writings is that Christians must walk in God’s light to show love for Him. The greatest commandment He gave is to love Him (Matthew 22:37). Love for God is the foundation for all the Christian does.
Just as parents have reasons for telling their children what to do, God has reasons for telling His children what to do. While not all His reasons may be fully understood, an understanding of all His commandments is possible. The Christian’s task is to obey. Otherwise, one will be cast into a sea that burns with fire and brimstone where the worm does not die.
Along with disobedience comes denouncement. That was the reason Jonah was sent to Nineveh. He went there to denounce the sins that the Ninevites committed because God was not happy with the events that were transpiring in the great city. Jonah was to pronounce God’s denouncement on their evil ways and warn them of impending doom.
In a similar way, the men on the boat in the storm denounced Jonah as they cast him overboard. They said, “We pray, O Lord, please do not let us perish for this man’s life” (Jonah 1:14). They saw that God was punishing someone because of disobedience and did not want to participate with that man’s sin. They knew who the guilty party was, and they separated themselves from that man and his sin.
The post-modern world says everyone is right and no one is wrong. There are no black and white issues, only shades of gray. Political correctness and making sure no one is offended causes many to sugarcoat sin and not stand against it. The Lord’s church today must stand more strongly against the evil practices of the world. Jesus taught that the children of this world act wiser than the sons of light (Luke 16:8). That is because they use their resources to promote their agendas. Homosexuals and abortionists use their voices loudly to propagate their philosophies. The Lord’s church must teach with the same fervor about morals and God’s truth on issues. The children of the world are far ahead of the children of light on these matters because they are using their resources against us. Denounce evil.
Christians must also separate from evil. At times, it is lying in wait within your own body. It resembles cancer. Doctors treat cancer carefully until they properly identify it. Once it is identified, it is removed, and radical efforts are taken to clean up the remaining tissue surrounding the tumor. This is what the men did on the ship. Once they properly identified the problem, they cast Jonah into the raging sea to remove the tumor from their presence. Then, they offered sacrifices and vows to clean up what was remaining. This was in step with what God commands concerning an erring brother. First, identify; try to rectify. Then, we must exclude (Matthew 18:15-20). The world must know the church is separate from sin and does not abide it. Paul called us to come out from the world and be separate (2 Corinthians 6:17).
The reason sin must be denounced is because it causes God displeasure. God was displeased with the Ninevites because of their disobedience. He sent Jonah as a warning and planned on destroying them. Their wicked action caused God’s displeasure.
Jonah also caused God some displeasure. God was displeased with Jonah enough to cause the storm, have him cast into the sea and swallowed by the great fish. Even more than that, He took away the shade of the gourd that He had provided in Chapter 4, causing great anger in Jonah. Jonah was hot before the gourd grew. He got accustomed to the comfort afforded by the gourd’s shade, and it was taken away. As he was perched to enjoy the destruction, he proclaimed, God showed displeasure in Jonah’s sinful attitude of taking pleasure in the downfall of others.
When we do not follow God’s instructions in our lives, we cause God displeasure. He is not going to prepare a great fish to swallow anyone today because He has chosen not to act in that manner any longer. Yet, that does not mean He is not displeased with sinful actions. The churches in Revelation saw this first hand. The church in Ephesus left its first love and was in danger of losing its lampstand. Those in Pergamum who followed Baalam and Baalak and caused stumbling blocks were in danger of facing war with the Lord’s tongue. Thyatira tolerated Jezebel and faced sickness, pestilence and death. Sardis was told to wake up or be attacked like a thief in the night. Laodicea was told to warm up and get back to serving God or to be vomited out (Revelation 2-3). God is not happy when His people disobey.
Matthew 28:19-20 teaches followers of Christ to teach, baptize and teach again those who are lost. Instead of going to Tarshish, the church needs to get busy teaching worldwide. Jonah went on a joy ride with some friends instead of doing his work. If you do not get started teaching today, there are two terrible outcomes. The first is that you will be cast out for disobedience because of God’s displeasure. The second is that today’s church will mirror Judges 2:10, which reads, “When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel.”
Christians must obey because God offers deliverance. Jonah got back in line with God after being swallowed by the fish. He vowed to do what God wanted him to do (2:9). Since he had changed his mind, plans and actions, God caused the fish to spit him out on shore so that he could get back into God’s work. He did just that, preaching to the lost souls in Nineveh that they were under God’s condemnation.
Nineveh was delivered from its punishment. The people in Nineveh believed the message God delivered through Jonah (3:5-9). The king ordered a fast in the land; neither men nor cattle were to have anything to eat or drink. He also ordered that they put on sackcloth to show their mourning and turn from their evil ways. They demonstrated true godly sorrow that brought about true repentance in the lives of those in Nineveh. This was all in the hope of pleasing God so that He would withdraw his burning anger toward them.
As a result, God relented concerning the calamity He had planned for Nineveh. Their true repentance brought God’s pleasure back to them. Today, God calls for repentance, too. “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent” (Acts 17:30). When a sinner repents, He relents. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). God is not there in the sky hoping for the opportunity to crush humans. If He were, no one would ever survive. Instead, He is there hoping that everyone will take the opportunities presented to them to serve Him so He can say, “Well done good and faithful servant…” and bless His people with a home in Heaven.
God spared Nineveh because there were 120,000 souls there worthy of saving. They were lost, and He did not want that. Jesus went through Samaria in John 4 because there was one Samaritan woman whose soul was worthy of saving, and she brought an entire town to Jesus. The same compassion that drove those two events still exists today. In dealing with others, show that same degree of compassion. Make every effort to save the lost and help keep the saved, saved. In so doing, denounce disobedience because it causes God displeasure. If you denounce it in your life, He will deliver you. That deliverance is a home everlasting where you will outshine the sun through God’s glorious radiance.