-Introduction: Jonah, the son of Amittai, is a Jewish prophet who is asked by the LORD to deliver a message of repentance to the nation of Israel’s avowed rival, the Assyrians, somewhere around the year 785 B.C. Jonah is also mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25 as a prophet during the time of Jeroboam II, who was the most powerful and influential king of the northern kingdom of Israel. 2 Kings 14:25 also tells us that he was from Gath-hepher (Modern day Arab village of El Meshed), which is just 3 miles northeast of Nazareth on a hill. Tradition maintains that he is buried near that location. Jonah quite possibly could have been a member of the prophets at Bethel mentioned in connection with Elisha’s ministry from 2 Kings 2:3. The purpose of this book of Holy Scripture was to show the extent of God’s grace, mercy, and compassion as a message of salvation for ALL people. This short historical narrative is unique to prophetic literature in the Bible because it is not centered on the prophecy as much as the story of the prophet who was: 1) reluctant to answer his call, 2) revived by the LORD’s mercy, 3) renewed by his own second chance, and then 4) angry with God’s actions in giving Nineveh a second chance. This book is themed around some very important biblical concepts including: 1) God’s sovereignty, 2) God’s redemptive message to the entire world, 3) God’s offer and call to repent or turn, and 4) God’s amazing compassion on the transgressor. This book is also mentioned by Jesus, the Messiah, as a picture of His death, burial, and resurrection (Matthew 12:38-41). There is sure to be personal application as we immerse ourselves with the man and message of Jonah, so enjoy the journey!
-Chapter 1: The word of the LORD came to Jonah, the son of Amittai, telling him to arise and go to Ninevah, which was around 500 miles to the north and east of Israel where Jonah lived. All God told him was that he would cry out against this great city of Assyria because their wickedness had come up before the LORD, and He was displeased. Nahum gives us more detail into the condition of this pagan and idolatrous culture in later times. They contrived evil plots against God (Nahum 1:9), they exploited the helpless (Nahum 2:12-13), they were known for cruelty in war (Nahum 3:3), and they participated in idolatry, prostitution, and witchcraft (Nahum 3:4). Jonah did arise, but with this knowledge of how vile his audience was and probably fear of them to at least some degree with national disdain for his enemy, he went in the opposite direction “from the presence of the LORD (Jonah 1:1-3a).” He went south and west to the Mediterranean port city of Joppa (Modern day Jaffa just south of Tel Aviv) and bought a ticket for Tarshish, which was some place unknown to scholars but to the west and an important city by its own right (1 Kings 10:22; 22:48, Psalm 72:10, Isaiah 2:16; 23:14, Jeremiah 10:9, Ezekiel 27:12). Jonah boarded the vessel again “from the presence of the LORD (Jonah 1:3b).” As they set sail somewhere out in the Mediterranean Sea, “the LORD hurled a great wind” upon the waters and a great storm occurred to the point of the ship threatening to break apart. The sailors rationally became very afraid as this was happening, and every man cried out to his own god for relief and deliverance. They threw the cargo overboard to keep the ship from taking on water and sinking. However, Jonah was sleeping down in the hold of the ship oblivious to the situation above somehow. The captain of the vessel approached him asking, “How is it that you are sleeping?” Then he implored the sleepy passenger to “Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish (Jonah 1:4-6).” Lots were then cast to see if they could determine who was at fault for all this calamity upon the sea. Of course, providentially the lot fell on Jonah. After they questioned him about why these things were happening, what his occupation was, where he was from, what his country was, and what people he was from, he informed them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land (Jonah 1:7-9).” This intensified the frightened state of these men and they exclaimed, “How could you do this?” The text says that these men now knew that “he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them (Jonah 1:10).” Now that he had their undivided attention due to the circumstances, they asked, “What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?” The storm was increasing in intensity and something needed to happen quickly or they would indeed perish. Jonah, knowing that he had disobeyed God and had probably come to the end of his rope offered the suggestion of throwing him overboard. He confessed that it was on his account that this great storm had come upon them, and he predicted that the waters would calm down immediately if he were gone thus ensuring the safety of the sailors (Jonah 1:11-12). Instead of heeding his advice, initially the men renewed their efforts to save the entire body of people on the boat. They “rowed desperately to return to land but they could not, for the sea was becoming even stormier against them (Jonah 1:13).” At that point they called on the LORD God of heaven and earth confessing, “We earnestly pray, O LORD, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood on us; for You, O LORD, have done as You have pleased (Jonah 1:14).” After acknowledging the sovereignty of God Almighty, they threw Jonah overboard, as he had recommended, into the sea, and “the sea stopped its raging (Jonah 1:15).” “Then the men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows (Jonah 1:16).” As this was happening, the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah. He went into the stomach of this huge animal for three days and three nights (Jonah 1:17).
-*Application* Sometimes God has to do extravagant and incredible things to get our attention. He sees all; everything comes before Him. And often He will work circumstances, and even the animals, to carry out His over-arching will and purpose to the fulfillment of His glorious desires. He does as He pleases. Fortunately, the LORD is a God of love, grace, mercy, and compassion. His patience is everlasting, and His call is designed to bring us back to Him. I love the fact that God used Jonah’s disobedience to share His power and goodness with the sailors in this narrative. They went from calling on their gods to worshipping the true and living God through this course of events. They were pursued and the truth hit them like BAM!!! Right in the face!!! In this world with many frightening things going on, it is a reality that we can call upon the LORD and truly be delivered from our distress, no matter what it may be.
Verses to Memorize: Jonah 1:2, 17