Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Jonah I- 1:1-17
Down, Down, Down
June 28, 2015
We come now to the great little book of Jonah. This book is most excellent for many reasons.
It must be read in faith with the authority of the Scriptures in mind. We take this story as a literal rendering of the story of a prophet of Israel. He lived under the rule of Jeroboam II in Israel and Uzziah in Judah around 760 BC. He was from the Philistine city of Gath, the same city of Goliath.
He lived in time of rising opposition to Israel. They had enemies on every side. Syria, to the north, was a problem but the large rising power was Assyria, to the North and East. The Assyrians were raising an empire centered in a mighty city, Nineveh.
The editor to Calvin’s Commentaries quotes ancient sources in stating the following about Nineveh.
“It must then have been in circuit about 60 miles. Its walls are reported to have been 100 feet high — 33 yards and 1 foot, and so broad that three chariots might run abreast, and adorned by 1,500 towers, the height of which were 200 feet. From the circumstance of having in it 120,000 not knowing the right hand from the left, supposed to be infants, some think that its population must have been above two million. It was situated on the river Tigris on the eastern side, not far from the present Mosul.”
“In building this city, as reported by Bochart, there were no less than 140 myriads of men for eight years. A myriad being ten thousand, the number must have been one million, four hundred thousand. Such a city none has ever built since, was the declaration of Diodorus: and there has not probably on record an account of such a city. That it had large gardens, and even fields, within its walls, there can be no doubt.”
Assyria was the dominant imperial empire around and after the destruction of Samaria in 722 BC. Jonah is prophesying before Israel is defeated and Samaria is destroyed. Jonah’s resistance to God is in light of the threat of Assyria.
Perhaps Jonah could have embraced preaching to Nineveh with the hope that their obedience would result in Israel being saved from destruction. However, that is not what he thinks, nor what happens. They do repent and this gives some reprieve to the immediate destruction of Israel but the writing was on the wall.
The Assyrian conquest finally comes in the days of Isaiah. Tiglath-pelezer III conquered the Northern Kingdom and relocated the leading men of Israel.
His successor, Sargon II, finally conquered the capital city of Samaria and deported the citizens. He repopulated the remaining remnant of the capital city of Samaria with Assyrians. Thus, the inhabitants became known as Samaritans.
Jonah 1:1 Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.
The Lord said to rise up and go, but Jonah went down. He continues to go down until he is in the depths of Sheol.
Jonah’s response is very interesting. God told Jonah to go cry against Nineveh because their wickedness is come before Him. The message God gave Jonah, “Yet 40 days and I will destroy this city,” speaks of God’s destruction of Nineveh. Jonah would have rejoiced at that. But Jonah seems to know that God’s intention is exactly the opposite of what he tells Jonah.
He told Jonah to cry against and proclaim destruction. But His intention was for Nineveh to repent and be saved. If they had not repented, the destruction would have come. But they did repent and they were saved.
This message rings true for all individuals and nations who’s wickedness rises up to God. Preachers are to cry out against wickedness.
“There is a day of reckoning!. Turn now or face a holy God!”
This is not a message of hate. This is not a message of judgment. This is not a message of spite. This is not a message of self-righteousness. It is, in fact, a message of mercy. If destruction is imminent, who would not call out to you in distress?
If a bridge is out and continuing in the same course meant certain death, a car coming up the road who failed to wave you down and warn you of the danger would be complicit in your death. Would it be judgmental if they frantically yelled at you to stop and turn around before it was too late!
This is the job of the preacher. Jonah should have been glad to see Nineveh repent. He was in a bad way.
3 But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
The Lord told Jonah to rise up and go to Nineveh but Jonah rose up and went to Joppa. This is the exact opposite direction he should have gone. Joppa was southwest from Galilee. Nineveh was to the northeast. Jonah was opposed to the command of God. Furthermore, he sought a boat at Joppa to sail north to Tarshish, which is the same place that the apostle Paul is from. It is interesting that Paul also resisted the will of God and was forcibly brought to his knees.
The Hebrew words translated “from the presence of the Lord”, is literally “from the face of Yahweh”.
Jonah went to great detail in his rebellion. It is one thing to make a sudden lapse of judgment as Peter did when he told the Lord not to go up to Jerusalem. The Lord rebuked Peter and he quickly came to his senses. Jonah is not like that. He is very deliberate in his actions. Peter may have had Jesus’s interests at heart when he resisted Him. He knew Jesus would be threatened at Jerusalem.
Not so with Jonah. Jonah knows that he will be threatened at Nineveh along with all the Jews who are soon to be subjects of Assyria. Jonah knows what God is telling Him and he is opposed to God’s will in the matter. He has a set a course that he is determined to follow. He wants to flee from the presence of the Lord. He doesn’t merely get angry and say or do something rash. He goes to Joppa and inquires about the boats sailing for Tarshish. He finds one, agrees on a price, pays the fare, and continues his downward flight.
Furthermore, he throws his lot in with pagans who do not love the face of Yahweh. He is among those who have no love for the God of Israel. He willingly goes with them. Perhaps he thinks God will leave him alone. But God has called him to a particular task and pursues Jonah in his rebellion and escape.
Jonah 1:4 But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken. 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep.
The Lord cast onto the sea a wind. He threw it at Jonah. This verse is alive with illustrations. The elements are not impersonal. God throws His breath into the sea and blows up a storm. The ship is thinking about being broken. This is very good literature and not at all mechanistic. The world does not work based upon natural law as many have erroneously assumed. Science cannot describe such storms. It is a pleasure to live here in Lynchburg where the meteorologists have such a difficult time with the weather. They make forecasts and then hedge their bets with all sorts of qualifiers. They don’t know how much truth they utter when the say “This storm has a mind of its own.” It really does.
The mariners were afraid of the storm.
But Jonah was indifferent. He had thought to escape from the face of Yahweh and was unconcerned about this storm. He was cast into a deep sleep. His sleep was perhaps brought on by God Himself. Jonah thought to escape from God but God was not only in control of the tempest but was also in control of the sleep of Jonah. Jonah was stupefied with sleep. Radam. This is the same word for sleep used to describe the sleep that God caused to fall on Adam when he took a rib from him to form Eve.
6 So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.
The storm is starting to make believers of these saltmen. God is in the storm.
7 And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah. 8 Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou?
The men perceive that Jonah has something to do with the storm. They cast lots to be sure and the lot speaks true. The fault is Jonah’s but the storm as attacked all of them.
9 And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.
Jonah gives testimony to the one true God. This is interesting since Jonah is still in rebellion against God. This might be the turning point where he realizes that his actions are harmful to other men.
10 Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. Jonah 1:11 Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous. 12 And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you. 13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.
The men react better than Jonah. They fear the Lord and will not harm Jonah. All these man try to save Jonah but God is out to get him. The sea worked against them in a great tempest.
14 Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee. 15 So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.
The men had previously cried out in fear and anguish. Perhaps they had cried out to the wind or to their own gods. But now they cry out to the Lord, the one true God who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that in them is.
They realize even before Jonah does, that they cannot thwart the will of God. They tried rowing hard against God and it did not work. They give in to Him. This is more than Jonah has done at this point. The God of the sea wants Jonah and the men deliver him up. And when they do, the sea is satisfied and grows calm.
16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.
These men are now great God feared, offering sacrifice to God and taking vows to serve Him.
If you are a Christian, even your rebellion will bring glory to God. God will not tolerate turncoats. There is a day of reckoning. Whether you crash and burn or crash and are resurrected, God will glorify Himself in your story. This should be both frightening and comforting at the same time.
17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Jonah was down but not down enough. He had to go lower still. It is interesting that God is sending Jonah to Nineveh, a great pagan city and a threat to Israel. On the way, Jonah mingles with a bunch of pagan sailors. These were no doubt very rough men. Old salts. In the process, God shows Jonah that these men respond better than he does.
A stormy sea and a miraculous calming bring them to submission to the Lord. But not Jonah. He must needs go lower still. Down, down, down.
Jonah spent three days and nights in the belly of the fish. Afterwards,
Don’t go down-When once you start to refuse the presence of the Lord, you have already started down. As you continue to refuse the presence of the Lord, the decline will increase. You will keep going down, like Jonah. But if you are God’s, He will pursue you in your course.
No Right Way Off the Path
Many make unwise decisions not being able to discern which way to go. They make excuses simply because opportunity was placed before them. But when you have already entered into a cycle of disobedience, those opportunities may only be opportunities for more disobedience. If you are running from the face of God, then any friendly face looks better than His. Don’t be deceived by the foolishness of your own heart. God has given us very clear direction in His Word. If your present circumstance runs into conflict with what God has already revealed, then you cannot claim to be in the right place or to have some private revelation of the Lord’s will for your life. Getting back may be difficult. Perhaps the Lord must send a fish to eat you up. But if you are faithful, if you cry out to him from your hell, He will rescue and restore you. However, if you continue in your own delusions, you will perish without mercy in the depths of the sea.
Like a child who runs from his father, the only safe place is to face God and not run from Him. He is dangerous. You better keep your eye on Him. If you become His enemy, you are in great danger. If you become His friend, you are in great security. But you must see His face. A child has only to see a twinge of a smile, a kind gesture of the hands from father, and those terrors that the world is coming apart disappear.
How can you ever expect to know God’s will for your life considering your vocation and location if you will not be obedient to what He has already revealed? It is likely that like Jonah, you can find a ship sailing to Tarshish. The Lord is perfectly willing for you to sail on a direct course with Him. He may give you a fair voyage only to bring a tempest upon you. This is not very complicated.
When Jonah’s mates threw him overboard and the sea was calmed, they feared exceedingly and offered a sacrifice unto the Lord and made vows.
The fear of the Lord in acts of Providence is a powerful force. It often has the effect of bringing us to our knees and causing us to submit to the authority of the Lord, offering our service in deeds and vows.
But consider what God has done. Instead of demanding our sacrifice and our vows, He was the sacrifice. He made the vows.
Jesus gave Himself to calm the storm. Jesus promised to never leave us or forsake us. Jesus sent His Spirit to dwell with us always. Jesus prepared a sacrificial meal for us to proclaim peace to us and to nurture us in the strength of the Lord. It is all gloriously backwards. We can never do for Him what He has so amazingly done for us.
All that is left is to be full of awe and gratitude. Come and welcome.
Our Father, who is a God like You, that pardons iniquity, and passes by the transgressions of Your people? You do not stay angry for long because You delight in mercy. We thank You that You have turned again to have compassion upon us. You have subdued our iniquities and have cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You have fulfilled your promise that You swore to our fathers in the days of old, truth to Jacob and mercy to Abraham and peace to Your people in Jesus, here at the Table of the Lord. We thank you, O Lord, our God. Amen.
Based on Micah 4:1-2
Our Father, we thank You that in these last days it has come to pass that the mountain of the house of the LORD has been established in the top of the mountains, and exalted above the hills and people now flow unto it. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God whose Son is Jesus; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for the law has gone forth out of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem, to Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the Earth. We give You thanks, O Lord. Amen.