Jonah 3:1-10 Mission accomplished

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One of the perfections of the Lord that should fill us with amazement is his patience.  In so many ways his people test his patience, often repeating the same offences.  If it were left to us, we would probably write off the offender, but God draws us back in repentance and restores us to fellowship and to usefulness.  We consider Jonah 3:1-10 Mission accomplished.

1. The commission

Jonah might have expected that his mission was over – how could God use such a failure?  But God is a God of grace and everyone he uses is a failure.  ‘Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time’ (v1) – that is full of encouragement for failed servants.  There is still usefulness in the Lord’s service (although not necessarily the same work).

Note v3 ‘Nineveh was a very important city’ – a statement that Nineveh is important to God.  Though he will exercise judgment if there is no repentance, he has a deep concern for these sinners.  He is indeed ‘a gracious and compassionate God’ (4:2).  His people should have the same heart of compassion for the unsaved, not delighting that ‘they get what they deserve’.

‘Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went’ (v3) – he exhibits a trust in the Lord he should have shown earlier.  This is the attitude the Lord’s people should manifest – ‘I will hasten and not delay to obey’ (Psalm 119:60).  Willing obedience is the fruit of grace.

We recall Jesus’ reference to ‘the sign of Jonah’ (Luke 11:29-30) – the ‘sign’ is divine authentication by deliverance from death and ‘one greater than Jonah is here’ (v33) – to reject the Messiah is deeply sinful and indeed fatal.

2. The response

Jonah preached the message of judgment faithfully (v4) and, contrary to his desire, there was a widespread positive response that included even the king:

  • ‘The Ninevites believed God’ (v5) – the beginning of a true gospel response
  • They repented, shown outwardly by wearing sackcloth (v5), including fasting.  They throw themselves on the mercy of God – ‘God may yet relent’ (v9)
  • They matched words with actions.  They ‘give up their evil ways’ (v8).  True repentance requires a change of life (Acts 26:20).

3. The deliverance

By grace the Ninevites respond appropriately to Jonah’s message, the response desired and enabled by the Lord.  So ‘God relented of the disaster he said he would do to them’ (v10, lit.) – a gracious deliverance.  How can an unchanging God (see 1 Samuel 15:29) ‘relent’ (or ‘repent’ as in 1 Samuel 15:11)?  God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes and promises.  That means that when the creature changes (e.g. by repentance), the Lord responds in a way fully consistent with his nature and withholds threatened judgment – not to act thus would be to contradict his gracious nature.  The sinner’s only hope is such a gracious God.

Jonah 2:1-10 Salvation comes from the Lord

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One of the greatest blessings of being a child of God is prayer.  It is a privilege that cannot be overvalued but is often underused.  We struggle with praying, allowing all kinds of factors to hinder or distract, but as one commentator says, ‘A Christian cannot come into a place so abnormal that he cannot pray to God there.’  We consider Jonah 2:1-10 Salvation comes from the Lord.

1. The plight

Note v1 ‘From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord’ – if we submit to the authority of Scripture, we accept the record, whatever its difficulties.  This is the prayer of a man whose mind is filled with Scripture, especially the Psalms.  We should use God’s Word in our praying in times of trouble.  There is a vivid description of the storm (v3) and Jonah knows it is the result of his disobedience (1:12).  He is near the end of his strength – ‘I have been banished from your sight’ (v4) – the sight from which he had earlier fled.  But v3 is crucial – ‘you hurled me’ – he sees the hand of God in events.  This is the Lord’s doing.

2. The prayer

Jonah evaluates his situation and seeks mercy and deliverance from the Author of his trial.  He does not despair – he has sinned but ‘I remembered you, Lord’ (v7).  Despite his sin, Jonah’s faith has not failed; indeed it is rekindled – ‘my prayer rose to you’.  Jonah can pray with confidence born of faith in the covenant God who will not finally banish him (v4).  He has taken the path of repentance and can speak thus before he is delivered – ‘you listened to my cry’.  As a result – ‘you brought me up from the pit’.  The God of the covenant will not let his children finally fall.

3. The pledge

Jonah knows all other sources of help are ‘worthless idols’ (v8).  He has experienced grace – in the face of his sin God has been very gracious in restoring the reluctant prophet.  Note Jonah’s response: ‘I, with songs of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you’ (v9).  This is gratitude to the God who, he is confident, will deliver him.  What the Lord has done thus far convinces him that full deliverance will follow.  Believers can testify, ‘The Lord has remembered us; he will bless us’ (Psalm 115:12).  Grace restores us to the place of obedience.

4. The principle

The principle demonstrated by Jonah’s experience is summed up in v9 ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.  This is the theological centre of the book.  The Lord – the God of the covenant – is the only Saviour.  This applies to deliverance from physical dangers and especially from spiritual lostness under the wrath of a holy God.  It is significant that Jonah’s experience is cited in relation to Christ in Matthew 12:39 – ‘the sign of Jonah the prophet’.   These events foreshadow the mission of the Saviour who took the punishment of his people, ‘banished’ (v4) from the Father’s sight – so that we might receive eternal life through him.

Jonah 1:1-17 The reluctant prophet

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The story of Jonah is familiar, but how are we to approach it?  Many dismiss it as fiction or myth, others see it as a parable or allegory.  The view of Jesus is decisive – he treats this as a historical record (see Matthew 12:39-41 and Luke 11:29-32).  Jonah brought an encouraging message about Israel’s flourishing during the reign of Jeroboam II (782-753BC) – see 2 Kings 14:25.  This book is very different.  We consider Jonah 1:1-17 The reluctant prophet.

1. The commission given

‘The word of the Lord came to Jonah’ (v1) – this is a commission directly from the Lord, with his full authority.  It is a command to be obeyed.  God requires action – ‘Arise’ (ESV).  The specific mandate is ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it’ (v2).  Most OT prophecies against the nations were not taken directly to them but were for the instruction of God’s people, but Jonah is to go and speak face to face with the Ninevites.  It is a message of judgment ‘because its wickedness has come up before me’.  The Lord speaks as Judge (Genesis 18:25), but the message also implies hope, for there is forgiveness for the repentant, including those in Nineveh (Jeremiah 18:8).  If they repent, they will be forgiven.

2. The commission refused

‘But Jonah ran away from the Lord’ (v3) – going in the opposite direction.  This is defiant rebellion.  It is unlikely that Jonah thought he could escape the presence of the God ‘who made the sea and the land’ (v9), but he was trying to make the fulfilment of his commission impossible.  Someone else would have to go.  The reason for Jonah’s response is in 4:2 ‘I knew you are a gracious and compassionate God…who relents from sending calamity’.  He does not want Nineveh to be spared and is afraid it will be.  Probably he had 2 reasons:

Nationalism: Assyria was an enemy of Israel and he did not want it strengthened.

Isolationism: he was unwilling to think of God being gracious to any non-Jews.

3. The divine chastening

The Lord’s plan will not be thwarted and Jonah will be chastened.  The wind and storm show the Lord is in sovereign control.  Sadly the prophet is rebuked by a pagan for not praying (v6).  God determines the outcome of casting lots and Jonah admits responsibility for events (v12).  He realises his sin and the fact he is in God’s hands.  Chastening has brought him to the point of sincere repentance, the result of God’s loving discipline (Hebrews 12:6), a reassuring truth that should always be an encouragement to God’s people when they go astray.

4. The divine mercy

Here we see the wonder of God’s grace.  Despite Jonah’s sin, the Lord shows him mercy and provides the ‘great fish’ (v17) for his deliverance.  God sets Jonah back on the path of obedience.  Nothing but grace can explain this.  Jonah is still commissioned to go to Nineveh – another token of grace.  The God whose actions impressed the pagan sailors (v16) is able to change the sinful hearts of the Ninevites.  Jonah’s mission can be a means of grace to them.