Jonah was a real person, this is not some kind of Old Testament parable, this is history. As mentioned earlier, chapter 1:1 says that he was the son of Amittai as mentioned in II Kings 14:23-27. Jonah was the prophet who served during the reign of Jeroboam II in the Eighth Century before Christ. Not all of his prophecies are recorded, but one of his major predictions was that the northern kingdom would have peace from its enemies to the North (this was fulfilled later in the reign of Jeroboam II). This may be why he was reluctant to go to Nineveh in the first place. He wanted them destroyed (one way of fulfilling his prophecy).
Lessons for the Jews
Of course, when the Jews, who knew Jonah, who knew his life and prophecies had read this book, it contained several lessons for them:
1. God is the God of all men.
The Jews tended to be rather exclusive with God thinking He was only concerned with them and their well-being. This story showed them that God is the Lord of all, not just one people.
2. They had a responsibility as the light of the world.
In Romans 1:18-23, Paul says that the knowledge of God has always been evident to man:
- Through the creation
- Through the conscience of Man
In Jonah, we see that God makes Himself known through the witness of His people. In every age, people have had access to God through His special people:
- The patriots before Moses' time
- The Jewish Nation before Christ
(They revealed God to the people around them.)
- The church of Christ after the appearance of our Lord Jesus
The book of Jonah defined the extent of their responsibility to reveal God beyond the borders of the Jewish nation.
3. God's Nature is Love
The Jews tended to see God as the God of Mt. Sinai
- The God of terrible pressure, power
- The God of law
- The God of justice
- The God of punishment
- The God of holiness
Jonah's book reveals an equally important and over-arching quality of God's character. He is the God of love and compassion.
They knew that God loved them but that He could also love their enemies, love those that disobeyed and hated Him, opened up a new horizon of possibility that would affect their lives and relationship with God and each other.
Lessons for Modern Day Christians
Certainly the story of Jonah and the whale or great fish has been a favorite Bible school lesson for generations. Aside from a very powerful story, it contains so many good lessons for us today, too many to mention here, but I chose three to leave with you tonight.
1. Jonah was Much Like We Are — A Combination of Gifts and Faults
Religions have traditionally gone from one extreme to the other in this area:
A. We're all bad
Calvin believed that man was totally depraved and unable to make a moral decision without the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit. From this, came all kinds of perverted ideas and social practices that hurt us. The doctrines of predestination and mistakable grace which became the mainstay of so many Protestant and Evangelical denominations began with this misconception.
B. We're all OK
This is what we're living through today. Nothing is bad, everything is relative, you are politically incorrect if you judge anything as bad.
To these extremes, the book of Jonah clearly exposes the truth about mankind:
- Because we are made in the image of God, we can do some pretty good things, even some Godly things that are spiritual in nature.
- Because we are sinners, we also have the potential for evil in our lives, sometimes terrible evil.
Jonah teaches us that everyone has a combination of good and evil within them. It's not 50/50, sometimes more good than evil or visa versa, but always there is both (shouldn't be surprised).
2. God's Word is Powerful
Despite Jonah's pig-headedness, his prejudice, his pride, when he preached God's word, it was productive:
- The pagan sailors believed and they and their ship were saved.
- The pagan Ninevites heard Jonah's preaching, believed and repented, and they and their city were spared.
- Even Jonah himself when he spoke to God believing in his power, was saved from his predicament.
The power of God's word for condemnation or salvation reminds me of a story about a young girl and an atheist:
A little girl who was in Bible school was talking to her uncle who was an avowed atheist. He asked her, "Do you really believe that Jonah was in the belly of a fish for three days?" She answered, "Oh, yes I do, cause the Bible says so." Then he said, "What did he do, what do you think he ate while he was in there?" She thought for a minute and replied, "I don't know. I"ll ask him when I get to heaven." And he, thinking he had her, said, "What if he doesn't go to heaven?" She smiled and replied, "Then you'll have to ask him!"
God's word is powerful to save, to build, to transform, to correct as well as to judge, to condemn and punish forever. This is why those of you who choose to make church attendance and Bible class a priority over the many pressures and activities of the world are wise, because you are filling up on the kind of power you need to deal with this world effectively and eventually move into the next world.
3. God is A God of Love and Forgiveness
The shining truth of Jonah that spans for centuries is that God is not only the same God, but that He is a loving and merciful God.
A. He was merciful to the sailors. They were pagans, they worshipped idols and were involved in terrible practices. They were not searching for God, God went and searched for them and found them through Jonah.
B. He was merciful to Jonah. His sins were greater because he knew God, but he disobeyed anyway. Despite this, God, in His love pursued Jonah:
- When Jonah was in the belly of the fish God went there to hear his prayer, to witness his repentance, to draw him out of his grave.
- When Jonah was angry in Nineveh, God blessed him anyway and was patient with him in his anger.
God was merciful to the Ninevites. They were not only pagans, but they had attacked and killed God's people. Yet God still felt compassion for them and reached out to them. And when they repented, He saved them and their city.
Of all of the lessons of Jonah, the one that is repeated over and over again is that God is a loving and merciful God and He will forgive and save those who come to Him in faith and repentance. As John says in I John 1:9:
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
None of us will probably be in the belly of a fish, but sometimes:
- We're in a pit of depression.
- We're in a battle with sin.
- We're overwhelmed by doubt or fear, or guilt or discouragement
During these times, let's remember the God of love and mercy who can come to us no matter where we are and save us and forgive us as we believe and trust in His word.
Are you in the belly of a fish as far as your life, or marriage, or health, or finances are concerned? Call on God in prayer and faith and He will answer you. If we can minister to you in any way, please don't hesitate to call on the church now as we stand and sing.