We all know the story of Jonah—the prophet who disobeyed God and got swallowed by a whale. My purpose in writing this series of articles is not to provide a super clear summary of the book. Instead, I will be writing down my thoughts on each chapter as I preach through them at Harvest Community Church. For an excellent commentary on the book of Jonah, check out Man Overboard! The Story of Jonah, by Sinclair B. Ferguson. Expect more soon!
OUR NATURAL TENDENCY when reading any book like this is to focus too much on the character the book is named after. We tend to see the book through their eyes, considering them to be the main characters. It is not so with the book of Jonah. Although it is a great thing to see yourself through Jonah’s eyes, we must never forget that Jonah’s struggles are not the point of the book; Jonah is not the main character of the book of Jonah! The first character mentioned, in fact, is God Himself. We see the main point of the whole book in the very first two verses:
“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).
God is offended by the wickedness of the Ninevites. God is just, and He cannot stand the sight of their sin that has come up before Him. Notice, however, that God does not send an army to wipe them out; He sent a prophet. God sent Jonah to cry out against them—to warn them of their imminent destruction so that they would repent. It was God’s mission of mercy to send the Ninevites a message of imminent destruction.
The main point of the book of Jonah as seen in the first chapter is that God is just, but He is also merciful to people who do not deserve it.
In order to fully understand the depth of God’s justice and mercy, we must not only see this chapter through Jonah’s eyes, but also through the eyes of the sailors and the Ninevites. We must be able to identify ourselves with all of the characters in order to understand how they each experienced God’s justice and mercy.
Seeing Through Jonah’s Eyes
Like Jonah, we think we can run away from God’s commands. Jonah was given a clear command— “Cry out against the Ninevites because their wickedness offends me.” However, Jonah hated the Ninevites, who were well known for being incredibly evil. Jonah hated them so much that he tried to run away from God so that mercy would not be given to them. Jonah did not only hate the Ninevites, however; his rebellion shows that he hated God’s mercy as well.
Like Jonah, God has given us commands to follow, and we have all fled from them. For instance, God commands us to read His word, but we would rather watch TV instead. God commands us to love our spouses, but we yell at them and fight with them over petty things. God commands us to share the gospel with the lost, but we would rather gossip with them. God commands us to be holy, but we look at pornography, we tell lies, and we hate people when they do us wrong. God commands us to be His people, but most of the time, we look exactly like the fallen world around us. This is a hard truth to accept, but when we flee from God’s commands, we loudly proclaim that we hate God.
This is a hard truth to accept, but when we flee from God’s commands, we loudly proclaim that we hate God.
We think we can run away from God, but just like Jonah, we can’t.
There is never a moment when God is not in control. There is never a moment when God is not present. There is never a moment when God does not care. It was not by chance that Jonah was able to find a ship to Tarshish—there is no such thing as chance. God allowed Jonah to flee from Him so that He could correct Jonah in the belly of a sea monster. God allowed the sea monster to come so that Jonah could repent. God allowed it all to prepare Jonah for his mission to the Ninevites. God is sovereign over sin.
Like Jonah, we think our sin doesn’t matter, but it does. Like Jonah, we think we can get away with sin, but we can’t. We think God does not see each and every sin we commit, but He does. God is nearer to us than we think—He knows each and every evil thought we have ever had, and it grieves Him. God is just, so we cannot get away with sin. Our sin warrants punishment in hell.
God’s justice should frighten us when we look at Jonah’s example. Jonah tried to flee from God’s commands, and he ended up in the stomach of a sea monster. Friends, the end result of rebellion against God is much more frightening. The fires of hell sting much more than the stomach acid of a great fish. We have all fled from God’s commands, and it is perfectly fair for Him to punish us.
We should be frightened by God’s justice like Jonah was, but that fear should lead us to repentance. We must be terrified of God’s justice so that we can experience His mercy.
God’s mercy shown to Jonah should amaze us. As is seen in later chapters, Jonah was punished in the stomach of the great fish for a reason. Jonah was being punished so that he could experience God’s incredible mercy firsthand. God was on a mission of mercy to save the Ninevites, but He was also on a mission to restore Jonah. We should be frightened by God’s justice like Jonah was, but that fear should lead us to repentance. We must be terrified of God’s justice so that we can experience His mercy.
Seeing Through the Eyes of the Sailors
Like the sailors, we think we can find salvation without God. Contrary to what you might be currently thinking, this truth applies to all of us.
When the raging storm hit, the sailors first cried out to their false Gods to help them. Once the sailors learned that the storm was caused by the one true God, they attempted to escape God’s wrath on their own by paddling harder. When they paddled harder, the storm got stormier. Nothing helped them.
For us, this attitude manifests itself in many ways. We think we can survive without God. We think there are ways to find fulfillment, satisfaction, and purpose apart from God. We do not rely on God. We expect to find wholeness in other things. This is especially true when we face hard times—when the going gets rough, we turn to things other than God to bring us comfort. Those things are our idols.
On top of this, our greatest problem right now is that we deserve to go to hell. Perhaps you are under the delusion that you can save yourself from hell by being a good person. The reality is, though, that nothing we do on our own can ever save us.
Just like the sailors, we think we can save ourselves, but we can’t. Just like the sailors, we think we do not need God, but we do.
Salvation is from God and nothing else. Nothing the sailors did calmed the seas until they turned to God for help. They tried everything they could think of, but nothing worked. The storm only calmed when the sailors recognized that they were helpless before God, begged God for help, and obeyed Him by throwing Jonah into the sea.
God’s justice shown to the sailors should lead us to recognize our own helplessness. We can do absolutely nothing to find fulfillment and joy on our own. We can do absolutely nothing to escape the punishment we deserve.
God is our only hope, but if we do not repent, He is our greatest danger.
God’s mercy shown to the sailors should lead us to rely on God with all of our might. God is our only hope, but if we do not repent, He is our greatest danger. Only God can save us from our impending destruction, so we must come to Him with humility and obedience. We must find our salvation, purpose, and fulfilment in God alone.
Seeing Through the Eyes of the Ninevites
Like the Ninevites, we think we are just fine.
The Ninevites were absolutely wicked. So much so that their wickedness, like the stench of a corpse, rose up from the earth to offend God’s senses. God could not stand the Ninevites’ sin so He sent Jonah to tell them to repent, or else they would face total destruction. The Ninevites did not know God. They lived in sin, and their consciences were seared to the point that they were unaware of just how evil they were.
We are the same. We hate God by nature. As we have already seen, our hatred of God manifests itself in our lives in many ways. Our sin is offensive to God. God is just, and it would be perfectly fair for Him to destroy us now. Even a single sin against God is worthy of eternal punishment. All of us have sinned at least once in our lives. That means that it would be perfectly fair for God to send all of us to hell right now.
Like the Ninevites, we do not consider the weight of our sin. We think we can sin freely, and we never stop to consider the consequences. The end result of any sin, no matter how large or small, is eternal death.
Just like the Ninevites, the reality is that we are not fine. Destruction is much nearer to us than we think. God does not procrastinate. God is not lazy. Your sin is offensive to God, and He looks at it with burning anger.
God’s justice to the Ninevites, then, should awaken us. Jonah was sent with a clear message in chapter 3— “yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The penalty for their sin was destruction, and it was coming soon. It is the same for us. The penalty for our sin is hell, and it could come in forty days, forty minutes, or even forty seconds. Your sin did this.
God is on a mission of mercy to save your soul. Humble yourself before God and cling to Him!
God’s mercy to the Ninevites should lead us to repent. God sent a prophet to the Ninevites to warn them. God gave the wicked Ninevites a second chance by giving them a warning and allowing them time to repent and turn from their ways. God was offended by their sin, but He determined to save them. Likewise, God is on a mission of mercy to save your soul. Humble yourself before God and cling to Him!
God is just, so He punished Jonah for his rebellion. God is just, so He punished the sailors for trusting in themselves. God is just, so He threatened the total destruction of the Ninevites. God is just, so we all deserve eternal punishment in hell.
Here is the good news—God is so merciful that He sent us His Son, Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, to give us a means through which we might be restored to Him.
We are evil, but Jesus was good for us. Jesus lived His entire life without sinning, and was punished in our place for the sins we committed. He rose from the dead three days later so that any person can be saved if they repent of their sins and trust in Him.
Like Jonah, stop fleeing from God and flee to Him. Like the sailors, stop trusting in yourself, and trust in God. Like the Ninevites—repent!
Turn to Christ now while there is still time.